An Intel desktop chip. Image source: Intel.
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Last year, former Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) Client Computing Group chief Kirk Skaugen admitted to something of an epic blunder. In a bid to save a little bit on research and development expenses (yes, really), the company straight up didn't bother building a new generation of desktop processors to support the business (which Skaugen said was worth around $10 billion at the time) between mid-2014 and mid-2015.
This mistake, Skaugen indicated at the time, had a negative impact on the company's financial performance (without new products, it was likely more difficult for personal computer makers to convince potential customers to buy new systems).
Unsurprisingly, Skaugen said that Intel is now committed to refreshing its desktop product line annually.
Although there's every indication that Intel is trying to put out new desktop processors each year, the reality appears to be that execution problems are keeping Intel from hitting a strict annual release cadence.
Past, present, and future
Here are Intel's desktop processor architectures along with their respective launch dates:
Data sources: Various.
The typical generation-on-generation cadence appears to be on the order of one year and three months. There is an exception when we look at the Haswell to Skylake transition, but this can be thought of as a two-generation jump (since Intel didn't release chips based on its Broadwell architecture for this segment).
Interestingly enough, Intel hasn't been able to actually achieve a strict annual product release cadence, at least in desktops, over the last five years. And, based on what we know about Intel's future processor releases, it's not going to be able to hit such a cadence over the next couple of generations.
Delays are hurting Intel's progress
Early leaks suggested that Intel was initially targeting a fourth-quarter 2016 launch for the desktop variants of Kaby Lake. However, that schedule slipped to a January 2017 launch. Additionally, Digitimesreported that Intel had originally planned to release Coffee Lake for desktops during the second half of 2017, though other leaks now point to a launch of these products in the second quarter of 2018.
A single product delay isn't enough to throw a company off track. The problem that Intel faces is that with each generation, the schedule seems to slip by about three months (remember: Intel should ideally aim to launch new products every 12 months).
Those three-month slips add up -- indeed, by the time Intel launches Coffee Lake, those slips will have added up to at least 18 months, or nearly two product cycles.
Can Intel fix it?
18 months is a long time, but I believe that Intel can cut significantly into that deficit over the next several years with excellent execution and a willingness to shorten some product cycles. For example, if Intel is willing to replace Coffee Lake with its successor, known as Ice Lake, in the fourth quarter of 2018, then that could shave off roughly six months.
Then, if Intel were able to release Tiger Lake (the successor to Ice Lake) in the third quarter of 2019, that would be good for another three months out of that deficit.
At that point, the previously 18-month deficit would be cut down to just a nine-month one. From that point forward, Intel probably wouldn't need to work to further reduce it -- just keep it from growing any further.
The one little problem
Although I do think that Intel could, in theory, accelerate its product development and launches to recover lost time, we have to keep in mind that the same teams that allowed Intel to fall behind in the first place (both Intel's manufacturing and product development groups deserve some blame) are the ones running the show now.
Intel appears to have taken some actions to try to improve its execution by bringing on accomplished executives such as Murthy Renduchintala to try to fix the company's "competitiveness gaps."
Perhaps things will get better out in time, but at least over the next couple of product cycles, things don't seem to be on track to get much better.
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Ashraf Eassa owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool recommends Intel. 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. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.