Intel exec critiques PC graphics, phone market

Executive Vice President David Perlmutter downplays the importance of laptop graphics performance and speaks about ARM chip rivals at an investor conference.

Intel Executive Vice President David "Dadi" Perlmutter said at an investor conference this week that laptop graphics performance is not that important, while offering a backhanded compliment to rival Advanced Micro Devices' technology. He also addressed the competition from ARM chip suppliers in the phone market.

Intel executive vice president Dadi Perlmutter
Intel Executive Vice President Dadi Perlmutter Intel

Perlmutter, one of the highest ranking Intel executives, was speaking at the 2010 Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference. His comments were streamed on Intel's Web site.

Responding to a question about whether graphics technology is becoming more important, Perlmutter said, "When people think about graphics, they think about 3D war games and more realism. I'm not going to dismiss this, but (this market) attracts a relatively small amount of people." Making comments a few minutes later, he said: "I think what a significant portion of consumers really want is media." He added that more time is spent watching and editing video on laptops and that gaming was less of a factor.

Perlmutter continued, "I don't think who has better graphics makes a huge difference...the functionality beyond graphics is what's important," he said, adding that integrating more functions into the main processor and battery life is more important.

While discounting the paramount importance of graphics, he paid a compliment to Advanced Micro Devices' integrated graphics technology. "And to be fair, in the past few years, other than this year, AMD with ATI had a better integrated graphics solution than Intel," he said. Integrated graphics is a low-end graphics function that's typically built into the chipset, which accompanies the CPU. Integrated graphics is used widely in laptops because it offers good-enough performance and, more importantly, is very cheap.

ARM and the tablet
Responding to another question, he also addressed the tablet market, best represented by Apple's iPad, and competing ARM processor suppliers, represented by companies such as Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Nvidia. "This is a very tough answer to give. (Everyone) is anxious to see if (tablet suppliers) develop a new usage model around the tablet," he said, adding that tablets have been around for 20 years and the devices never became popular in the past. "Is this the time that a fundamental change is happening? I really don't know. It's hard to tell," he said.

But Perlmutter was quick to add that Intel's "product lines are ready to service the tablet (market)." The needs of the tablet market are similar to the needs of a low-power Netbook, and Intel is ready with products for this market, he said.

And he addressed the ARM chip competition. Chips based on the ARM design are used in virtually every smartphone in the world and power popular phones such as the iPhone, Motorola Droid, and Google Nexus One. "It's definitely something we take seriously. It's not something we ignore. Definitely in some of the markets they are the incumbents, like the phone," he said. He added that Intel is putting a lot of effort into building software such as MeeGo and that software for phones is a "big deal." He continued, saying, "I bet there's going to be a lot of people around the world building phones (who) will be able to make use of this; most of the software work has been done for them by Intel."

Speaking about the phone itself, he said, "Our design capabilities and design technology will get us a device that will be comparable or better in performance and power-performance because this market is all about power efficiency...In the next year or so, you'll see what we are bringing out."

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