Thursday, February 22, 2024

What Drives PC Gamers in India, and What Will Your Next Upgrade Be? Interview With Intel’s Akshay Kamath

Intel has kicked off its 13th Gen Core CPU portfolio with high-end unlocked K-series models for desktop PCs aimed at gamers, overclockers and enthusiasts. While models for laptops and more mainstream PCs will follow, it’s interesting that the spotlight is for now on those who want the absolute best performance. As the effects of the pandemic and global supply chain shortages wear off, gamers now find themselves with an array of options, but do they have the appetite for an upgrade? Gadgets 360 caught up with Akshay Kamath, Director – PC Client Sales (India) at Intel on the sidelines of the 13th Gen launch in India, to talk about the current state of PC gaming, the hardware ecosystem, and what the company is doing to motivate you to upgrade.

Gadgets 360: How are things going post-pandemic? We saw a period of unanticipated demand, then prices were out of whack and supply chains were in chaos. What is the projection for the immediate future?

Akshay Kamath: Overall for Intel as a company, we have this IDM 2.0 strategy for Intel Foundry Services. We are investing in building our fab capacity for future semiconductors, and you’ve heard statements from our CEO which clearly lay out the vision of where we want to be in the next 3-4 years. We are geared up to grow in that direction. As for the trends we are seeing in India, obviously in the last 2-3 years of the pandemic there was a huge surge in learning and working from home, and I think it’s rationalising this year as schools and offices have opened. That was to be expected; however we still see huge potential for continued PC momentum in India. The reason I would say that is there are a few trends we are seeing the long-term potential of. One of them is gaming, and you are aware that for the last 5-6 years or more than that, the growth trajectory for gaming has been great. We are seeing new gamers come into the funnel. Over the last two years, we have seen mobile gamers starting to get into PC gaming. A good healthy growth in gaming products led to good growth in desktops as well this year.

Another factor is, I think, an increased awareness about the relevance of a PC in India. So there has been this perception of India being more of a low-end market. I think we can say that that is no longer the case. In a pandemic as prices went up because of all the ecosystem constraints we did see people opting to buy up the stack and willing not to compromise when it came to buying machines simply because they realise that for their kids’ education or for their own personal work, having a good powerful PC is important.

So we’ve seen a more balanced mix of premium systems, and thin-and-light systems. More notebooks sold today are thin-and-light than ever before. One other thing we are seeing is the way people interact with PCs. They are more invested, more engaged in the way they interact with their PC, and they’re doing a lot more tasks and activities on it. This means that they find more relevance in it.

Also, I think we’ve seen the refresh cycles in India are shortening. A whole bunch of the laptops and PCs bought for the last three years will be due for refresh in the next couple of years. Newer systems, better technology and better form factors have the potential to keep PC momentum going.

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13th Gen Intel e cores diagram

Gadgets 360: Have things shifted in terms of segment demand, whether it’s people buying at home, or it’s offices buying in bulk? What has changed and what is emerging?

Akshay Kamath: In the last 2-3 years of the pandemic, obviously notebooks were the winners. A lot of people were buying notebooks because they had to work from home, but now this year we are seeing a resurgence in desktops. I would say notebooks are now increasingly thin-and-light, so that is here to stay. A trend towards premiumisation is also noticed in India. People are becoming aware of what kind of performance they get at what price point when they buy a laptop or a desktop. There is, I think, increasing awareness about trade-offs or compromises. And obviously, I would say that gaming continues to be one of the growing segments in India and will fuel the growth of gaming notebooks.

Gadgets 360: What is the current breakup of demand between, say, unlocked K-series CPUs, regular desktop and laptop models, and even the erstwhile Celerons and Pentiums?

Akshay Kamath: We don’t have an answer in terms of breaking down how PC demand In India looks across segments, but I can say that we are seeing good demand in gaming. For example, we saw probably the fastest ramp of K SKUs globally when we launched the 12th Gen, and at the end of 2021 we had shipped one million K SKUs. I think with the 13th Gen we are on track to exceed that. So we do see K CPUs on a healthy trajectory. We obviously have a lot of partners who are bringing out motherboards based on the 700-series chipsets. We do expect that the demand momentum will be pretty good on our 13th Gen K CPUs in India also.

Gadgets 360: How is Intel reaching out to the enthusiast, gaming, and overclocking communities in India? Compared to other countries, they are still tiny niches here, with only a few boutique gaming PC vendors and small groups online. Even those who want a gaming desktop might not be confident in building one or buying the parts. Is there a gap in getting to them and is Intel doing anything to grow this market in India?

Akshay Kamath: Awareness about PC gaming in general is definitely increasing in India. I think the reason you’ve seen that taking much longer versus the rest of the world is that we are a huge smartphone gaming market. The vast majority of gamers in India today are still mobile gamers; that’s where they start from. But as these guys mature and start moving to better experiences, they are definitely considering PCs, whether that’s an entry-level gaming notebook or building their own desktop. We are doing our bit to promote this. And obviously we also have extensive industry relationships, so a lot of games like Call of Duty, etc benefit from performance enhancements we have made with the 13th Gen.

Take for example social media. There are a lot more content creators and YouTubers out there who are putting content out right? And there’s growth in esports. A lot of people in India today follow esports and that’s where growth in PC gaming is coming from. I would say that it is getting there. It is definitely going in the right direction, but it will take some time to mature.

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I think we have a healthy DIY community in India; it’s just that it’s fragmented. Unlike some other markets, we don’t have big boutique names in India but the DIY community and the channel community that we see are pretty healthy and robust. We work with distributors and sub-distributors in terms of selling our CPUs so we do a lot of engagement with them and we will continue with the 13th Gen as well.

We do a lot of marketing and have been participating in events across the country. We have done AMAs. We are engaged in talking about and showcasing our products. You can expect us to do more along those lines as well. We want to keep the community involved in all that we are doing and bringing in terms of the 13th Gen and the future. I think awareness is building, and obviously it takes time, but India is on the right trajectory in terms of growing awareness of PC gaming.

13th Gen Intel overclocking

Gadgets 360: Are there any plans to emphasise a combination of Intel Arc GPUs with Core CPUs? Will DIY retail buyers be able to take advantage of a combination of parts?

Akshay Kamath: The [Intel Arc] products that we have launched work on desktop and mobile. There are certain benefits that we have showcased, and the fact that Intel CPUs and all GPUs really work well together. Some technologies like Intel Adaptix [tuning tools for OEMs] and smart power sharing between CPU and GPU, we have brought to the table to make sure that our Arc GPUs work well with Intel platforms. But, that’s what we have disclosed up till now. About future plans, nothing further.

Gadgets 360: What do you see as the factors that are actually pushing people right now to upgrade, and what is reducing the upgrade cycle and making people buy new PCs sooner than they might have before?

We have great new features; new technologies which have started coming out. With the 12th Gen last year we had the Performance Hybrid Architecture that brought about a revolutionary leap in performance. So if you were a gamer at that point in time and you saw the 12th Gen really helping me up my game and giving me an improvement in frames per second, which is critical in esports competitions, there was a compelling reason. And it’s the same for things we introduced such as DDR5, PCIe Gen 5, and so on. We’ve improved overclocking tools significantly. We’ve been improving the Extreme Tuning Utility for a long time; it’s free. Anybody can download it and use it in their system. That becomes even better with the 13th Gen with the per-core tuning interface and one-click speed optimizer. So if you are a novice and you want to overclock but are scared, guess what? You buy a 12th Gen or 13th Gen PC and you can do it easily. So these technology features are also helping make that decision of upgrading the PC .

On the other side, notebooks are becoming more powerful – not just for gaming, but even your thin-and-light notebooks. So we introduced our P-series platform last year with the 12th Gen. We introduced our Evo platform, where it’s not just about the CPU performance, but we work with all these ecosystem partners, whether it’s a display vendor, the OEM, or ISV and so on, to give a holistic experience to the end user. Evo has been, I would say, revolutionary. You’ve seen a lot of stylish designs and that really matters to a lot of mobile go-getters; these young professionals who want the system to look cool. It’s light, plus it’s fast. It’s up when you open the lid. It’s instantaneous; they don’t want to wait for anything.

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In general, I would say the ecosystem also has really caught up. Most of the laptops you see are thinner, lighter, and sleeker than, say, five years ago. And engagement with the PCs and laptops has increased dramatically in the last few years. A lot of people are now also into content creation, so a lot of solo or hobbyist content creators are editing their own videos. Now, if you if you want to do that, you need performance.

Use cases are evolving, engagement has gone up, and on top of all that, the technology available from the ecosystem is also now offering reasons for them to buy and upgrade.

Gadgets 360: AI and machine learning were envisioned as the next big buzzwords and drivers of growth, but now people use features without necessarily knowing they’re built around AI, such as image upscaling or background noise cancellation. Is there any traction for such features, and has Intel’s approach to pushing AI changed, considering the removal of AVX512 from the 12th Gen onwards?

Akshay Kamath: AI is now built into a lot of technology; the platform and the applications. So much so that it’s almost invisible to the end user. With Evo, we use AI for dynamic noise cancellation, and that started as a feature of the third edition spec. That’s a feature for end users. They probably are not going to be looking for [specifically AI-powered features]. That target audience is looking for a simple solution to a use case. How do I take a conference call in a noisy cafe without sacrificing battery life, and so that the caller at the other end has a good video conference? And they find that [a particular laptop] gives them dynamic noise cancellation, so they’re finding a use case that matters.

That’s using AI that’s built into the Evo spec, into the processor. We’ve been offering AI instructions since the 10th Gen (Ice Lake). With the 12th and 13th Gen, we took the decision to focus that more on the data centre side. The E cores in the 12th Gen and 13th Gen don’t support AVX512 but if you look at client workloads, AVX2 and VNNI are more than sufficient. For really high-end use cases AVX512 is required and we still offer that in our data centre products.

So I would say that AI is now everywhere. It’s part of the use cases that we service and also part of the improvements with the 13th Gen. We use ML techniques for cache and Thread Director improvements, we implemented a new dynamic prefetching algorithm for the L2 cache using ML techniques with real-time telemetry during normal operations. End users will care about the use case. We are delivering that with the AI that we built into the system.

Some responses have been condensed and slightly edited for clarity.

Disclosure: Intel sponsored the correspondent’s flights for the event in New Delhi.




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