Portable all-in-ones and mini-PCs are among the new classes of desktops Intel is a fan of

Intel Corp. (INTC) continues to struggle to leverage its substantial semiconductor process lead on the mobile front as sales of traditional PCs decline.  The good news is that the jury is out on whether this slump is permanent, or simply the result of certain factors such as consumer difficulty with Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Windows 8 and the rapid expansion of tablet sales.
I. Bringing Desktop Sales Back From the Brink
The hardest hit segment of Intel's business has been PC desktop sales.
Much as Intel has looked to Ultrabooks to revive laptop sales, at the 2014 Game Developer Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, Intel emphasized the importance of new desktop form factors to improving sales.
According to Intel, in terms of desktop sales, emerging form factors and enthusiast/high-end desktops are the two current areas of focus.  Intel's Desktop Client Platform Group VP Lisa Graff told developers at the GDC that Intel will continue to ramp up its offering of chips with high end integrated/on-die GPUs, with the rollout of the next generation of Iris.

GDC 2014
The 2014 Game Developer Conference [Image Source: GDC on Flickr]
Introduced with the launch of the fourth-generation Core-Series processors in 2013 -- chips which pack 22 nm Haswell cores -- Iris is by far Intel's most serious graphics effort to date, as Intel's decision to give it special branding (a first) indicates.
Ms. Graff comments:
The desktop business is a large and important segment for Intel, and we are investing in it – reinventing form factors, experiences and products for our customers.  Enthusiasts are the heart and soul of the desktop and they asked us to give them more. We are delivering – more cores, better overclocking, faster speeds.
On the enthusiast front Intel's first upcoming release will be "Devil's Canyon", the mid-generation refresh of Haswell, which will bring high-end chips with unlocked multipliers.  Intel says to expect an "improved thermal interface and CPU packaging materials that are expected to enable significant enhancements to performance and overclocking capabilities."

Devil's Canyon
Devil's Canyon (Haswell cores, unlocked multiplier)
Next up is an octacore "Extreme Edition" version of Haswell, due out in H2 2014 (likely Q3 2014).  The beastly processor will feature 16 threads and support for the new DDR4 memory standard.
Intel also said to expect a Pentium "Anniversary Edition" processor (Intel recently celebrated the twentieth birthday of the Pentium brand).  Similar to the Devil's Canyon chips, this will feature an unlocked multiplier with independent memory and CPU frequencies.  Intel did not indicate any special thermal features, though, so there's reason to believe this may be a sooner release -- possibly out in Q2 2014.
II. Broadwell Nears
Intel also said to expect unlocked chips for enthusiasts sporting Broadwell cores -- the 14 nm die shrink of Haswell.  While no timetable was given, it's safe to say that should happen sometime in very late 2014 or sometime in 2015.
The chipmaker didn't state much about the status of Broadwell otherwise, but there's no reason to believe that it's broken from its plan to launch the chip to consumers in Q4 2014.  According to Intel's Q4 2013 earnings call, that chip is expected to enter mass production by the end of this month (the end of Q1 2014).

Broadwell (right) will shrink the die of Haswell (left). [Image Source: Intel]
Finally, Intel announced that it would be rolling out a firmware technology called Ready Mode Technology, which is designed to improve power consumption when tablets or laptops with cellular modems are not in use.  The mode allows content to continue to be pushed through, but at a slow rate, with the processor being kept near hibernation.  Many ARM chipmakers already offer similar modes in their tablet-geared offerings.
The new mode could help Intel's process lead shine brighter, in terms of power efficiency.  Thus far Intel's latest Bay Trail tablets have looked good, but not great in battery life.  As a disclaimer, though, a key factor holding them back has been Windows -- which traditionally has been less power efficient than its Linux and Unix-like brethren.
III. Intel's "Black Book" Will Highlight AIO Push
Intel plugged the emerging small form factor PCs.  Eager to decouple itself from the struggling Microsoft, Intel gave Valve Corp.'s Steam OS (a Linux-based operating system) a thumbs up.  Intel is hoping to push its product in Google Inc. (GOOG) Chromebooks on the laptop/hybrid-laptop front and in Chromeboxes/"Steam Boxes" on the desktop/hybrid-desktop front.  By embracing other platforms, Intel can shift towards relying more on the overall health of the PC market rather than heavily on the health of Microsoft's PC offerings.
ChromeboxSteam Box
A ChromeBox (left) and SteamBox (right) [Image Source: ASUS (left) Polygon (right)]

Intel spent much of its presentation focusing on desktop all-in-one (AIO) computers -- desktops that have their motherboard, processor, DRAM, GPU (if applicable) housed in their screen chassis, which also has a battery.  The idea is to have touchscreen computers that can act as normal desktops some of the time, while acting as a tablet when the need arises.

Intel has recently taken to deploying exotic form factors directly to consumers in the form of first party products, in hopes of inspiring OEMs to follow in suit.  For example, Intel currently offers a small form factor PC called NUC (with a Intel Core i3 3217U Haswell inside), which retails for around $179 USD.  Intel says it will release an AIO desktop called the "Black Book" which will include "3-D camera, a quad microphone array, premium audio and a full HD display."
That device will launch later this year.

One necessary ingredient for the form factor to succeed is software. Intel announced modest gains on that front, saying that it has 170 applications onboard its multi-user, multi-touch (MU/MT) program for AIO form factor PCs.  Much of these apps are focused on children (e.g. a Sesame Street app).  Intel will have to work hard with its developer partners to try to create more adult-geared touch apps.

Source: Intel [press release]

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