Shares of Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) shot up to a 52-week high after the company easily crushed estimates with a terrific third-quarter report in late October. Though Chipzilla's challenges in its client computing group continued thanks to a stagnating PC market, it pulled enough strings in other fast-growing areas to satisfy investors' expectations.
The company's latest results are proof that it is making good progress to thrive in a post-PC era. Intel's combined revenue from its Internet of Things (IoT) and non-volatile memory solutions divisions jumped 30% year-over-year to $1.74 billion. These businesses now supply almost 11% of Intel's total revenue, up from 8.4% in the prior-year period.
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Looking ahead, these two segments are set to play a greater role in driving Intel's overall business thanks to the availability of multibillion-dollar opportunities. But is Intel doing enough to keep the competition at bay and establish its dominance in these areas?
Non-volatile memory has gained impressive traction
The non-volatile memory (NVM) solutions group was the biggest gainer of these two emerging segments last quarter, delivering year-over-year growth of 37% and supplying $891 million in revenue. The massive growth delivered by the NVM business isn't surprising as sales of solid-state drives (SSDs) based on 3D XPoint memory technology, which Intel jointly developed with Micron Technology (NASDAQ: MU), took off remarkably.
Chipzilla's recently launched premium SSDs seem to be a hit among customers as they were quickly sold out. This is despite the fact that Intel's SSDs are at least twice as expensive as the most powerful consumer-grade SSD available on the market on a cost-per-GB basis. Given that 3D XPoint is 10 times faster than NAND flash memory and has higher levels of endurance, it isn't hard to see why performance-focused consumers find it so appealing.
More importantly, the gains delivered by this technology make it ideal for use in data centers and cloud computing, allowing operators to significantly accelerate performance and lower the cost per gigabyte. In fact, IBM has already deployed the Intel Optane SSD on its cloud platform to accelerate the response times and tackle any workload.
Therefore, Intel's 3D XPoint technology can help it carve a bigger slice of the fast-growing SSD market that's expected to hit $60 billion in revenue by 2023. However, the chipmaker is going to run into competition from memory specialist and technology partner Micron.
Micron is expected to launch its 3D XPoint-based QuantX SSD by the end of the year. The company believes that sales of QuantX will start gaining momentum in 2018 and then witness a break-out in 2019. More importantly, Micron is reportedly going to target the lucrative data center market straightaway with its iteration of 3D XPoint-based SSDs, so Intel won't have a free run in this space.
But Intel has an early mover advantage, and it is deeply embedded with data center and cloud computing customers already given its monopoly like position in the server chip market. Therefore, Intel can use its existing relationships to boost sales of Optane and gain an upper hand over Micron.
Automotive will drive IoT growth
Intel's IoT revenue shot up 23% year over year to $849 million during the third quarter, driven by an increase in demand for its chips across various verticals such as industrial, retail, and vehicle infotainment. Mobileye has been one of the biggest catalysts for this segment, helping Intel score 14 design wins in the advanced driver assistance (ADAS) space across 14 automakers so far this year.
By comparison, Mobileye had scored a total of 12 such design wins in all of 2016, so its integration with Intel has started delivering results already. More importantly, Intel's design wins in the automotive space will have lasting implications as the company is helping automakers develop cars with higher autonomy levels.
But the biggest endorsement for Intel's automotive ambitions came from Alphabet's revelation that Chipzilla has been supplying chips for its self-driving-car subsidiary, Waymo. Intel has provided Waymo cars with chips to processor sensor data, enable connectivity and computing operations, and help the cars make decisions in real time.
Waymo cars have logged over 3 million miles of real-world driving on public roads. Last year, they had the lowest disengagement rate (when the human driver had to intervene) relative to miles driven, which indicates the efficiency of Intel's self-driving platform. Therefore, it is not hard to see why more automakers are signing up with Intel.
But rival chipmaker NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA) is trying to wrest the momentum away from Intel with its latest self-driving car chip. Intel's formidable automotive alliance had put NVIDIA in a spot of bother, but the latter is trying to seize the initiative once again with the newly launched DRIVE PX Pegasus platform.
NVIDIA claims that the new chip is 10 times more powerful than its predecessor, and is capable of powering Level 5 autonomy in cars. NVIDIA has built a strong ecosystem of 225 partners who are already using the previous generation DRIVE PX2 chip to develop autonomous car functions. Not surprisingly, Pegasus has started gaining good traction already as 25 of its partners are using the chip.
Intel needs to keep racking up new automotive customers to keep pace with NVIDIA and become a dominant player in the automotive space. The good part is that Chipzilla's recent design wins indicate that it is on the right track to make a big dent in this emerging market going forward, which it believes could be worth $100 billion.
Therefore, Intel is pulling the right strings in two potentially huge markets, and both of them are contributing toward rapid revenue growth already. The company is trying to stay on top of its game to keep rivals at bay, and it will need to stay ahead of the curve otherwise NVIDIA and Micron could dent its prospects.
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Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Harsh Chauhan has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), and Nvidia. The Motley Fool recommends Intel. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.