Intel U.S. channel chief Jason Kimrey said now marks "one of the greatest PC refresh opportunities we've seen in years" for channel partners.
In an exclusive interview with CRN, Kimrey, Intel's general manager of U.S. channel scale and partners, said a confluence of factors have led to this opening: the availability of Windows 10, the end of Microsoft's support for Windows 7, as well as better form factors, battery life and performance.
Kimrey also said there are "tens of millions of PCs in the marketplace that are over five years old and just aren't getting the job done."
"You've just got kind of this aging PC fleet when people need to get work done faster, create content, more now than ever before. We see it playing out in our client numbers," he said.
In the past few years, Intel has been selling itself as a company that has been transforming from a PC-centric business to one that is focused around data, but the personal computer remains a priority, as the company outlined at Computex 2018 in early June. Despite the continuous decline of the overall PC market for the past several years, Intel's PC business actually grew 3 percent year-over-year to $8.2 billion in the first quarter, allowing it to remain Intel's No. 1 moneymaker.
"If you look at the large OEM vendors — HP, Lenovo — everyone's PC numbers are up. And then the partners, anyone that's in that business is showing growth right now, especially strong growth in corporate," Kimrey said.
Kent Tibbils, vice president of marketing of Fremont, Calif.-based ASI Corp., one of Intel's largest distributors for the channel, said he was "blown away" when he heard about how many old PCs are still out there earlier this year at the annual Intel Partner Connect. However, he isn't sure if the PC refresh opportunity will be as big as when Microsoft ended support for Windows XP.
"I don't think we'll see it happen where in a four-to-five month period sales just explode," he said. "I think it will be more of a gradual refresh process."
But Tibbils said he has been seeing a promising trend in the PC market: higher average selling prices, thanks to an increased demand for high-performance computers.
"It's a higher end ASP product they're refreshing to," Tibbils said of end customers.
One of the ways Intel has been pushing sales for high-performance computer sales is through Optane, the performance-boosting memory module that is also available as a high-end solid-state drive. At the beginning of April, the company announced a new "Core i Plus" brand to promote the bundling of Optane memory with Intel's eighth-generation Core i5, i7 and i9 processors.
Todd Garrigues, Intel's director of partner sales programs, told CRN that Optane is one of the areas in which Intel is creating more incentives for partners, which includes first-time buying bonuses. He said the company's promotion of Optane for partners extends to both seventh-generation and eighth-generation CPUs, which means the new "Core i Plus" brand isn't a current priority for the channel.
"Over time, you'll see us, I think, get more centric on 'Core i Plus' for promotions, but right now, it's across the board [for] Optane," Garrigues said. "We're on full Optane mode."
The increased demand for high-performance PC is also being felt on the consumer side of Intel's PC business, according to Kimrey, thanks to virtual reality, augmented reality and PC gaming.
"What's happening in gaming is un-freaking-believable right now," he said. "I believe that more and more are looking at the PC platform as the target gaming device that they want to run their games on."
System builders that focus on the enthusiast market, like Maingear, a Kenilworth, N.J.-based Intel partner, have found a bright spot in gaming. Wallace Santos, CEO of Maingear, has previously told CRN that the rise of eSports and live-streaming sites like Twitch have contributed to increased sales of high-performance PCs, which has led Maingear to project a doubling of annual revenue this year.
But Santos recently told CRN that in the wake of Intel CEO Brian Krzanich resigning, he hopes the company's next leader will focus more on the enthusiast PC market.
"They can learn a lot from what AMD had been doing with the enthusiast market," Santos said, pointing to how AMD has specifically marketed its Ryzen CPUs for gamers.