twice-yearly developers forum kicks into gear in San Francisco Tuesday, investors will have a twofold agenda. Not only will they key into big product pushes from the chip giant, but they'll look for Intel's strategic response to competitive hustle from rival
Advanced Micro Devices
Much scuttlebutt has centered on whether Intel will demo a silicon architecture to match that of a chip already on the market from AMD. If Intel previews the chip during the conference as speculated, it would be a tacit admission that it's
feeling the heat from AMD's two-for-one silicon strategy.
AMD's architecture has the capacity to crunch either 32 or 64 bits of data at a time, while Intel currently offers separate silicon for each purpose. Critics say Intel and co-developer
screwed up by investing so much money and time in the beleaguered Itanium chip, which is optimized only for 64-bit applications. The two companies counter that the software applications will likely be built out over time, saying the chip will gain an audience as more customers start to need high-end computing.
Yet Intel may have no choice but to offer a chip that competes with AMD, whose Opteron chip has steadily gained traction among the top server makers.
Last week, even management at
, a stalwart Intel-only shop, allowed on a conference call that
the Opteron architecture is a nifty idea.
"Dell is not going to use AMD processors, so the next best thing they can do is to get Intel to accelerate the launch of its 64-bit processor," said Manoj Nadkarni of Chipinvestor.com, which offers independent research on semiconductor stocks.
Setting aside the 64-bit brouhaha, Intel will seek to promote new chip offerings geared to impress consumers, fulfilling a pledge it made at the tech industry's massive consumer electronics shindig in December. At the time, Intel said it would focus on electronic devices this year just like it did wireless computing in 2003, when, with much fanfare, it debuted the Centrino Wi-Fi chip.
"That's in keeping with a major trend we're noticing: the orientation of the desktop PC towards consumer devices," said IDC analyst Shane Rau.
In that vein, Rau said Intel is likely to talk up the shift to PCI Express, a chip-to-chip interconnect standard that will allow faster data feeds between PCs and external gadgets. Down the road, as more software applications are written to take advantage of the shift, computer users will see benefits like faster networking and better graphics.
Among the products to take advantage of the standard will be Grantsdale, Intel's forthcoming chipset for high-end PCs, which will offer high-definition audio capabilities and an integrated wireless access point.
"What you're going to see is a pretty big focus on multimedia -- that will be a big drive for Intel this year," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the tech-focused Enderle Group.
In that vein, Intel has already touted a PC it helped design that can share digital content with televisions, which is expected to hit the market midyear. It will likely offer more comments at the developers forum on its plans for liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS) chipsets intended for big-screen TVs. Intel has said that by 2005, its chips -- which will compete with offerings from
-- should force down prices for 50-inch and bigger TV sets below the $2,000 mark.
Another product with consumer appeal is wireless USB, a high-speed personal area network technology that allows PC users to quickly transfer data between their computer and external devices without messy cables.
In any case, this week's developers forum should offer a helpful read on where the world's biggest chipmaker will throw its weight around next. That's useful fodder for investors, since most of Intel's products on show are planned to hit the shelves over the next 12 months.