Intel's $8.5 Billion Gamble: Can It Rival Nvidia?

Intel Corporation (INTC), a leading player in the semiconductor industry, is making headlines with its ambitious plans to transform its operations, spurred by a substantial $8.5 billion boost from the CHIPS and Science Act. The roughly $280 billion legislative package, signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2022, aims to bolster U.S. semiconductor manufacturing and research and development (R&D) capabilities.

CHIPS Act funding will help advance Intel’s commercial semiconductor projects at key sites in Arizona, New Mexico, Ohio, and Oregon. Also, the company expects to benefit from a U.S. Treasury Department Investment Tax Credit (ITC) of up to 25% on over $100 billion in qualified investments and eligibility for federal loans up to $11 billion.

Previously, CHIPS Act funding and INTC announced plans to invest more than $1100 billion in the U.S. over five years to expand chipmaking capacity critical to national security and the advancement of cutting-edge technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI).

Notably, Intel is the sole American company that both designs and manufactures leading-edge logic chips. Its strategy focuses on three pillars: achieving process technology leadership, constructing a more resilient and sustainable global semiconductor supply chain, and developing a world-class foundry business. These goals align with the CHIPS Act’s objectives to restore manufacturing and technological leadership to the U.S.

The federal funding represents a pivotal opportunity for INTC to reclaim its position as a chip manufacturing powerhouse, potentially rivaling giants like NVIDIA Corporation (NVDA) and Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD).

Intel’s Strategic Initiatives to Capitalize on AI Boom

At Computex 2024, INTC introduced cutting-edge technologies and architectures that are well-poised to significantly accelerate the AI ecosystem, from the data center, cloud, and network to the edge and PC.

The company launched Intel® Xeon® 6 processors with E-core (Efficient-core) and P-core (Performance-core) SKUs, delivering enhanced performance and power efficiency for high-density, scale-out workloads in the data center. The first of the Xeon 6 processors debuted is the Intel Xeon 6 E-core (code-named Sierra Forest), available beginning June 4. Further, Xeon 6 P-cores (code-named Granite Rapids) are expected to launch next quarter.

Beyond the data center, Intel is expanding its AI footprint in edge computing and PCs. With over 90,000 edge deployments and 200 million CPUs distributed across the ecosystem, the company has consistently enabled enterprise choice for many years. INTC revealed the architectural details of Lunar Lake, the flagship processor for the next generation of AI PCs.

Lunar Lake is set to make a significant leap in graphics and AI processing capabilities, emphasizing power-efficient compute performance tailored for the thin-and-light segment. It promises up to a 40% reduction in System-on-Chip (SoC) power3 and over three times the AI compute8. It is scheduled for release in the third quarter of 2024, in time for the holiday shopping season.

Also, Intel unveiled pricing for Intel® Gaudi® 2 and Intel® Gaudi® 3 AI accelerator kits, providing high performance at up to one-third lower cost compared to competitive platforms. A standard AI kit, including Intel Gaudi 2 accelerators with a UBB, is offered to system providers at $65,000. Integrating Xeon processors with Gaudi AI accelerators in a system presents a robust solution to make AI faster, cheaper, and more accessible.

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger said, “Intel is one of the only companies in the world innovating across the full spectrum of the AI market opportunity – from semiconductor manufacturing to PC, network, edge and data center systems. Our latest Xeon, Gaudi and Core Ultra platforms, combined with the power of our hardware and software ecosystem, are delivering the flexible, secure, sustainable and cost-effective solutions our customers need to maximize the immense opportunities ahead.”

On May 1, INTC achieved a significant milestone of surpassing 500 AI models running optimized on new Intel® Core™ Ultra processors due to the company’s investment in client AI, the AI PC transformation, framework optimizations, and AI tools like OpenVINO™ toolkit. These processors are the industry’s leading AI PC processors, offering enhanced AI experiences, immersive graphics, and optimized battery life.

Solid First-Quarter Performance and Second-Quarter Guidance

During the first quarter that ended March 30, 2024, INTC’s net revenue increased 8.6% year-over-year to $12.72 billion, primarily driven by growth in its personal computing, data center, and AI business. Revenue from the Client Computing Group (CCG), through which Intel continues to advance its mission to bring AI everywhere, rose 31% year-over-year to $7.50 billion.

Furthermore, the company’s non-GAAP operating income was $723 million, compared to an operating loss of $294 million in the previous year’s quarter. Its non-GAAP net income and non-GAAP earnings per share came in at $759 million and $0.18, compared to a net loss and loss per share of $169 million and $0.04, respectively, in the same quarter of 2023.

For the second quarter of fiscal 2024, Intel expects its revenue to come between $12.5 billion and $13.5 billion, and its non-GAAP earnings per share is expected to be $0.10.

Despite its outstanding financial performance and ambitious plans, INTC’s stock has plunged more than 38% over the past six months and nearly 40% year-to-date.

Competing with Nvidia: A Daunting Task

Despite INTC’s solid financial health and strategic moves, the competition with NVDA is fierce. Nvidia’s market performance has been stellar lately, driven by its global leadership in graphics processing units (GPUs) and its foray into AI and machine learning markets. The chip giant has built strong brand loyalty among developers and enterprise customers, which could be challenging for Intel to overcome.

Over the past year, NVIDIA has experienced a significant surge in sales due to high demand from tech giants such as c, Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL), Microsoft Corporation (MSFT), Meta Platforms, Inc. (META), and OpenAI, who invested billions of dollars in its advanced GPUs essential for developing and deploying AI applications.

Shares of the prominent chipmaker surged approximately 150% over the past six months and more than 196% over the past year. Moreover, NVDA’s stock is up around 2,938% over the past five years. Notably, after Amazon and Google, Nvidia recently became the third U.S. company with a market value surpassing $3 trillion.

As a result, NVDA commands a dominant market share of about 92% in the data center GPU market. Nvidia’s success stems from its cutting-edge semiconductor performance and software prowess. The CUDA development platform, launched in 2006, has emerged as a pivotal tool for AI development, with a user base exceeding 4 million developers.

Bottom Line

Proposed funding of $8.5 billion, along with an investment tax credit and eligibility for CHIPS Act loans, are pivotal in Intel’s bid to regain semiconductor leadership in the face of intense competition, particularly from Nvidia. This substantial federal funding will enhance Intel’s manufacturing and R&D capabilities across its key sites in Arizona, New Mexico, Ohio, and Oregon.

While INTC possesses the resources, technological expertise, and strategic vision to challenge NVDA, the path forward is fraught with challenges. Despite Intel’s recent strides in the AI ecosystem, from the data center to edge and PC with products like Xeon 6 processors and Gaudi AI accelerators, Nvidia’s dominance in data center GPUs remains pronounced, commanding a significant market share.

Future success will depend on Intel’s ability to leverage its strengths in manufacturing, introducing innovative product lines, and cultivating a compelling ecosystem of software and developer support. As Intel advances its ambitious plans, industry experts and stakeholders will keenly watch how these developments unfold, redefining the competitive landscape in the AI and data center markets.