The battle for the desktop is back on. But this time, the aim isn't to win consumers, and the combatants aren't Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) and Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) . Instead, it's a duel between Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) and Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD ) for the hearts and minds of big-budget corporate buyers.
Intel raised the stakes Monday. Its new chipset, called vPro, is cut from the mold of Centrino, a package of chips and software for mobile computing that, as of last year, had grown into a $5 billion franchise. But packaging is where the similarities between vPro and Centrino end. This new platform is designed to help partners such as Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) produce desktop PCs that are more energy-efficient, easier to manage, and more secure, according to Intel's announcement.
Frankly, it's impossible to judge whether these claims are supportable, because no vPro PCs will be available before the third quarter, according to a story in Tuesday's San Jose Mercury News. The newspaper story said that the strategy poses risks to Intel, since corporate buyers may choose to purchase AMD rather than wait for vPro.
Maybe, but I don't think so. Why, you ask? Vista. The next version of the Windows operating system has been delayed till at least November, which means the upgrade cycle for PCs was already stalled. That's taken a toll: Trade publication IT Week in the U.K. reports that Korea's Samsung expects to lose as much as 6% of second-half operating profit because of the delay. So if IT managers are already waiting, why not wait for vPro?
What's more, vPro is Intel at its best: a whole-platform products that box makers can gobble up and ship in their PCs. Accordingly, there's every reason to believe that when Vista finally arrives, vPro's volume will be unleashed. And that could come shortly after Apple debuts Leopard, its next-generation OS, with sleek new hardware and heaps of Intel-compatible software. Next year at this time, we could be writing about Intel's smashing success on the desktop.
But don't let that be a reason for you to go buying this stock. Intel may yet prove to be a compelling value, but it remains weak in the area where demand is highest: servers. Here, AMD's Opteron has been on a tear, and there's no sign of that ending soon. It's also unclear whether the new Woodcrest chipset will do much damage. (It has received high technical marks from industry analysts I've spoken with.)
The investing thesis for Intel isn't simple. I like vPro; it's a smart move, but it isn't a panacea. Instead, it's a welcome relief for a company that was desperately in need of a meaningful innovation to impress the IT community. Now, finally, it has one.
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Fool contributor Tim Beyers wonders when Apple and Intel will team up for business PCs. Not soon, apparently. Tim didn't own stock in any of the companies listed in this story at the time of publication. You can find out which stocks he owns by checking Tim's Fool profile. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.