Financial analysts are expecting Intel to post a monster $3 billion loss when the company announces its numbers for the first quarter of this year later this week.
If that turns out to be about right, it will be the biggest loss in the chipmaker's history. Overall, Intel's sales are expected to be down by around 20% for the whole year compared to 2022. Ouch.
However, industry observers think this is rock bottom for Intel. From here, the only way is up. Marketwatch quotes multiple analysts predicting that the first quarter of this year will mark the low point for Intel, with the company returning to growth thereafter.
That chimes with broader analysis for the PC as a whole, with various research outfits predicting recovery in the second half of this year for the PC as a whole and for individual component classes.
Part of the problem, as we've noted before, is that people bought PCs and other digital devices in really silly numbers during the pandemic. Quarterly PC shipments jumped from 60 to 70 million units before the pandemic to around 80 to 90 million every quarter for the better part of two years.
So, there's bound to be a bit of a lull following that kind of buying frenzy. There's a metric ton of very new PCs out there that don't need replacing right away. Add in a broader economic downturn and it's not hard to see why sales have slipped.
Intel's losses at this point, therefore, probably don't say all that much about how well the company has performed of late. A downturn was inevitable whatever Intel did. What will be more critical in the near term is how well it can execute on its roadmap moving forward.
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The biggie, of course, is Intel 4, the semiconductor manufacturing process formerly known as 7nm. After painful delays bringing 10nm tech to market (now rebranded Intel 7), Intel desperately needs to get Intel 4 up and running as soon as possible, and most especially deliver on its promises.
Back in 2019, Intel was predicting that its 7nm tech, as it was then known, would come on stream in 2021, with 5nm tech in 2023. In 2021, it updated expectations, indicating that 7nm would go into volume production in mid 2022, with a refined version of that process coming online in the second half of 2023.
While there is always a lag between production ramping and retail products, it's hard to see how Intel has hit those targets. Likewise, around this time last year, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger (pictured above) said its upcoming Meteor Lake CPU based on Intel 4 had been up and running since the previous quarter, had booted into Windows, Linux and Chrome OS, and was ready for commercial production.
But here we are over a year later and Meteor Lake hasn't been released and there are few indications that a launch is imminent. Intel, then, has plenty to prove.
All that said, as we pointed out previously, while all the indications are that the PC as a whole has been having a hard time, the second half of this year will see sales improving.
In other words, the only way is up, both for Intel and the PC industry itself.