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Can Intel Show Value for Investments in Modern Memory Products?

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Mar. 17 2017, Updated 5:35 p.m. ET

Optane memory nearing release

Intel (INTC) is gearing up to release its much-hyped Optane memory, which the company’s executives have claimed every gamer will need to bolster the speeds at which games load.

Investors are eagerly waiting to see if Optane and Intel’s other modern memory products will help the company turn its billions of dollars in memory investments into profits. Intel pumped $1.5 billion into its memory business in 2016, with its spending including factory upgrades and research and development. The company intends to invest an additional $2.5 billion in its memory business in 2017.

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Memory revenue

Intel’s memory revenue was $2.6 billion in 2016. The company has said that it expects to grow the business 20% this year, implying that it wants to exit 2017 with memory revenue of at least $3.0 billion. It expects products such as Optane, which it hopes to make widely available at the beginning of 2Q17, to support the growth of its memory business in 2017 and beyond.

Looking at the figures, memory makes up only a tiny fraction of Intel’s overall business, which brought in nearly $60.0 billion in revenue in 2016, as we can see in the chart above.

However, Intel’s memory business has been a mixed bag. The operation swung into a $544 million loss in 2016, compared to a $239 million profit in the previous year. The loss in 2016 was related to increased spending on research and development and factory capacity, investments that investors now want to see producing results.

Optane memory is based on 3D XPoint technology, which Intel developed in collaboration with Micron (MU). The company expects 10% of its memory revenue in 2018 to come from the sale of 3D XPoint products.

Competitive pressure

Intel’s memory gains aren’t assured. It faces competition from Samsung (SSNLF), Western Digital (WDC), Rambus (RMBS), and a host of other rivals.

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