Intel Considers a New Strategy

If Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) fails to reserve a seat in the onrushing era of mobile computing, the chip titan isn't above using its technical expertise to ride the coattails of others.

The rumor mill has been awash with whispers that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) might take its chip manufacturing business to Intel. The company runs some of the finest processor production lines in the world, after all, and often uses technologies that were developed in-house and are far ahead of anyone else.

Apple already uses straight-up Intel chips in its desktops and laptops, but its smartphones and tablets run on a competing architecture by ARM Holdings (Nasdaq: ARMH  ) . Convincing Steve Jobs that Intel's Atom processors would be a better fit for those product lines is a tall order, particularly since Apple already invested $278 million in ARM-chip specialist PA Semi and another chunk of change in its own license to design ARM processors. Cupertino isn't known for abandoning investments like that.

But Intel might be willing to bend over backward for its high-profile customer.

Speaking at an investor event in London, Intel CFO Stacy Smith said that more manufacturing deals might be in the cards. Intel architectures would be his first choice, of course, but nothing is impossible.

Apple or even Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) could come knocking with plans to make Intel-based custom chips at any time, and "that would be a fantastic business for us," said Smith. Move into other architectures where Intel would capture a smaller paycheck per chip, and it's still not a flat-out impossibility: "That would be a much more in-depth discussion and analysis."

This doesn't mean that United Microelectronics (NYSE: UMC  ) and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (NYSE: TSM  ) should re-up their corporate life insurance policies. Intel already dabbles in some contract manufacturing on the side by making reprogrammable chips for privately held designer Achronix. On the other hand, the company also directs some of its Atom manufacturing to those powerhouses of third-party chip making.

What Intel is trying to say here is, we'd be happy to fill some unused manufacturing capacity with other people's designs -- as long as the margins are right. We'll know that some big-name customer has talked the company into bending over backward if we ever see the company signing a license to manufacture ARM or MIPS Technologies (Nasdaq: MIPS  ) processors. Until then, it's all gravy made possible by Intel's fantastic technology research.

The IT industry is going through a revolution as we speak. Intel wants to feel fine after the end of computing as we know it, by hook or by crook. We've made a video to explain what's going on. Click here to watch it now -- it's absolutely free, and you can't afford not to know this stuff.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. The Fool owns shares of and has bought calls on Intel. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares and creating a diagonal call position in Intel. They have also recommended buying shares and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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  • Report this Comment On May 27, 2011, at 12:23 AM, SimchaStein wrote:

    Wow. Interesting; Radical. I'm really curious. Just looked INTC's income statement - well over 60% GM. So how this work - INTC as a CM? Can INTC scale this without scaring investors as GM declines?

    But it may be the right thing. The alternative would be irrelevance in a "Post PC era". These issues will play out over a long period

  • Report this Comment On May 27, 2011, at 1:04 PM, techy46 wrote:

    Intel should NOT fab chips for Apple or ARMH. They sold StrongARM in to Marvell serveral years ago knowing that CICS can beat RISC when the gate size shrinks to 22nm. That decision was correct and adding 3D technology will allow ATOM 3D Soc to surpass ARM chips. Intel shouldn't open up Padora's box of antitrust issues if they "select" some competitors to fab and not others. Why give the competition an advantage when time is on Intel's side.

  • Report this Comment On May 27, 2011, at 6:01 PM, David369 wrote:

    Techy46,

    Good points.

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