Major U.S. processor companies were all active at and around CES this week, but each had their own view of the world. Typically, competitors are all on the same page, and we focus on each company’s offering, but these firms were all over the map this year, which is indicative of a massive coming change. Let us do a quick summary of each and then conclude with the view of the future that benefits each firm.
The following list is alphabetical and not intended to be a ranking.
AMD stands out as the most focused of these four vendors. Staying solidly connected to the desktop and mostly focused on PCs, AMD showcased its latest CPU and GPU solutions. Much of the company’s breadth (game consoles, autonomous cars) is created by custom work, which is marketed by its customers, but this approach makes AMD look far narrower than its peers. Yet, this custom work which covers a variety of industries, would, had they spoken of it, have showcased an alternative strategy of deep partnering that is only truly matched by Qualcomm.
AMD announced USB 4.0 (an alternative to Intel’s Thunderbolt), two hundred premium designs (including the Alienware M17 RS which may have been the strongest gaming notebook at the event), a new AM5 socket (AMD rarely changes sockets), and what may have been the best deal in a graphics card, AMD’s $200 6nm RX6500XT card with an undiscounted retail price of under $200. They also teased a coming wave of 8K monitors that their aggressively priced (free) FreeSync technology will enable for a better experience.
AMD proved once again that its AMD CPUs and GPUs are better together as they continue to execute on a strategy of creating strong synergy across product types. While the company touched on the Lenovo ThinkPad Z, it mostly focused on consumer products and used the significant performance increases in its latest lines to create interest.
Intel also spent a lot of time talking about gaming PCs and had a female pro gamer on stage advocating for its solution (advocates, if done well, can be far more credible than company execs). Intel also argued that its current lines are far more powerful than older products, but also called out AMD by name which is unusual for a market leader to do because it uplifts the competitor’s brand as threat. Intel had the coolest product code name of the event with Raptor Lake, and highlighted Dell’s Evo Workstation ground-up redesign as market-leading. Typically, Lenovo has dominated as a brand at these CES events, but this year Dell has stepped up and had more presence.
Intel’s top processor focus was its 12th generation P Series which replaces the old U series with higher performance while holding battery life. This is a push-back against Qualcomm’s incursions into the PC market.
Intel’s breakout PC offering was a far higher potential level of interoperation with smartphones. This desktop Unified Communication concept goes back to the 1980s and execution to date has been disappointing. But Intel promised to work with Dell, Microsoft, and others to create a truly seamless integration across the two platforms and even showcased how you could turn an Android tablet into a second screen (something I still think would be handy.)
Intel spent a lot of time on its Drive platform, pointing out its first Level 3 production system in operation in Japan with Honda, and had both Ford and VW on stage praising that solution. Intel promised to be Level 5 capable for autonomous driving by 2025 which is five years before I expect Level 5 capability to be broadly available. But that forecast is based on the liability issues surrounding Level 5 which have yet to be fully addressed.
Intel ended its presentations by announcing that its next IntelON event (Intel Vision) will be on May 10th and 11th (IntelON is what replaced IDF, and it was IDF that helped make it the dominant vendor in the PC space in the past).
NVIDIA remains the only vendor in this group that uses its own technology heavily during the presentation. It significantly exceeded everyone else’s presentations with compelling videos and video demonstrations. I am a big believer in using your technology while talking about it because the event itself then becomes a stronger showcase for your offerings. Unlike the other processor companies, NVIDIA still lacks a CPU (its attempt to buy ARM is currently on hold waiting for regulatory approvals which have been problematic).
To address this, NVIDIA presented tuning technology for third-party CPUs and claims it is working with the CPU vendors. I am not aware that NVIDIA works closely with Qualcomm, and its relationship with Intel has, at best, been strained, but the company has successfully partnered with AMD in the past.
NVIDIA ran lots of head-to-head graphics comparisons. It not only talked about a next generation of gaming monitors (at 1440P) but about TVs from both Samsung and LG that would connect directly to its cloud gaming service, GeForce Now. Its potential best value offering was the RTX 3070 laptop solution priced around $1,500 that provided what, on paper, looked to be the best balance between cost and performance. Another interesting class of product is its Studio Laptop effort that it represented would outperform Apple’s best by seven times, which would be huge for creators using Macs.
One of the products I am personally looking forward to using is NVIDIA’s Canvas AI which uses a variety of technologies to turn people like me who cannot draw to save our lives into photorealistic artists. The firm promised a four times improvement in resolution with its latest offering. Another unique product is NVIDIA’s Omniverse Machinima which provides for the use of game objects for creating metaverse experiences.
As for NVIDIA’s autonomous driving solution, it remains the most complete provider with significant resources focused on using the emerging metaverse for simulation, synthetic data development and use, and focused efforts to address autonomous driving in bad weather. They expect to have Level 3 solutions in the market this year, but it is the Drive Concierge that I find to be the most compelling. This is an advanced digital assistant that becomes your interface to your autonomous car. I am hoping you will get your choice of 3D avatar as I would prefer something more like Cortana to the alien baby in an egg that was demonstrated.
NVIDIA again stood out with the most interesting presentation in the class because it gets that remote viewers need a lot of visual content to keep them engaged.
Qualcomm is the leader in mobile technology, so it is not surprising it led with that. With the move to the cloud, the need for enabling end-point processing to keep network loading down has never been more critical. It was here that Qualcomm had its greatest near-term growth opportunity. Sadly, CES is not a show where many launch new smartphones, so there was little in the way of interesting products showcased at that presentation.
While its use of advocates was light when compared to Intel for autonomous cars, GM uses NVIDIA, and GM currently has the highest-rated production self-driving system. GM spoke to what may be the foundation for obsolescing smartphones as they currently exist by highlighting an emerging category of lightweight, attractive AR glasses. Moving the display from the phone to the face, once the result is adequate, will dramatically change the design of future smartphones, and Qualcomm clearly plans to ride that wave rather than be drowned by it. Microsoft Mesh is an up-and-coming metaverse platform, and Qualcomm announced it is working closely with Microsoft to design the ideal user interface hardware for it.
Qualcomm positioned hard against the Apple model of vertical integration which tends to result in higher prices and fewer choices. You could almost hear the cry “freedom” during their talk as they argued why their horizontal model of enabling common standards and lots of phone companies results in far higher customer choice. Finally, Qualcomm hinted at the next generation of Snapdragon-based PCs, and given my current favorite PC is the HP Elite Folio based on Snapdragon, I can hardly wait.
Looking across these vendors, AMD came across as both the most focused and most understated, Intel had the best use of advocates which tend to be the most effective at driving interest to new offerings, NVIDIA had the most interesting content and by far the strongest metaverse and autonomous driving content, and Qualcomm was the most focused on mobile and was potentially the most disruptive both on PCs and smartphones.
With logistics problems defining the market, product availability will define market share gains from any of these vendors in the short term. I do think that there was one recurring discordant note which was that the Autonomous Drive segments all spoke to the most advanced but least popular use of this technology, self-driving. Most drivers do not want to give up control, but another aspect of this, called Guardian Angel by Toyota at an NVIDIA event, is to provide comprehensive driver oversite to prevent accidents but still allow drivers to drive their cars. All these systems potentially enable this assisted driving, but no one seems to want to talk about it.
Overall, CES is again a showcase of not only what will come later in the year but later in the decade, and I must admit I am looking forward to playing in the future metaverse and eventually getting a set of awesome AR glasses.