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Products Will Decide Intel's Future

The chipmaker will have a hard time rallying until its products start standing out in the market again.

This column was originally published on RealMoney on Oct. 19 at 10:33 a.m. EDT. It's being republished as a bonus for readers.


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shareholders who want to know what will get the stock moving after the Street's tepid (at best) reaction to Tuesday night's earnings report should focus on the company's products.

As I've noted here before,

Intel has been asleep at the product innovation wheel

, allowing

Advanced Micro Devices

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to take the lead in high-end processors.

AMD even went so far as to challenge Intel to a

live battle

of their respective dual-core processors. While I initially thought AMD jumped the shark with that promotion, the momentum is in its favor, and it is tough to bet against the company, especially since Intel hasn't answered that challenge.

Investors should pay heed to two issues from here.

The first is Intel's upcoming dual-core Bensley server chips, which could provide a counter to AMD's success with its dual-core Opteron and allow it to take back market share. If the Bensley platform, expected early in 2006, doesn't perform at least as well as AMD's products, Intel will find itself in product-marketing hell, especially with AMD's Opteron server chips already laying the smackdown on Intel's Xeon line.

The rumor mill is saying that Bensley isn't doing so hot in testing, but I wouldn't put an awful lot of stock into that claim just yet. However, the real-world performance of these chips could have an effect on Intel's stock price, because right now Intel is looking like a boring tech giant that needs to prove it can still innovate. If Intel fails to do that, AMD will take even more market share and investor dollars from Intel.

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The second area Intel shareholders should be wary of is


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turning to AMD chips sooner or later, especially if Intel can't top AMD's innovations. To date, and to the detriment of its shareholders, Dell has exclusively used Intel chips. Of course, for the average PC user, any old processor will do. But now that Dell has moved into high-priced

gaming PCs

, a move likely prompted by the success of independent gaming PC makers Alienware and VoodooPC, it is completely illogical for Dell not to offer AMD chips. PC gamers are an extremely discriminating bunch and aren't swayed by the "Intel Inside" logo.

Two additional developments on the horizon could benefit Intel. First, Microsoft's upcoming Vista and Office 12 should have enough useless features to slow down the average PC, requiring hardware upgrades by users. Second, Media Center PC's (computers aimed at functioning as total entertainment machines) are gaining in popularity, and with plenty of processor-intensive high definition content on the way, consumers will need faster computers. The only question, is will Intel step up?

I'm not counting Intel out just yet. In fact, in the interests of competition (and a cheaper, faster PC for me), I hope AMD's success has spurred Intel to get back in the labs and come up with something new, fresh and, most importantly, fast.

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In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, Comeau doesn't own or short individual stocks. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Michael Comeau performs stock analysis for



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. His market interests include consumer technology, retail, and small- and mid-cap financials. He appreciates your feedback;

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