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James Martin/CNET

The engineers are back in charge at Intel.

After just two years in the role, Intel Chief Executive and former Chief Financial Officer Bob Swan will step down effective Feb. 15, the company said in a press release on Wednesday. Pat Gelsinger, a chip engineer who spent 30 years at Intel but the last eight years at software company VMware, has been appointed the new CEO of Intel.

“The board is confident that Pat, together with the rest of the leadership team, will ensure strong execution of Intel’s strategy to build on its product leadership and take advantage of the significant opportunities ahead as it continues to transform from a CPU to a multi-architecture XPU company,” said Omar Ishrak, independent chairman of the Intel board, in the release.

Intel has been financially successful in recent quarters, but it’s had years of trouble with its core processor manufacturing work, ceding leadership to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. (TSMC). With Gelsinger as CEO, Intel will once again have a technologist back into the top job. He was the architect of Intel’s 80486 chip that powered millions of PCs in the 1990s and rose to the chief technology officer position.

Appointing Gelsinger CEO is a “big step in the right direction,” said BMO Capital Markets analyst Ambrish Srivastava in a note Wednesday. Gelsinger likely can’t fix Intel’s problems immediately, but “he certainly has the background and experience to address and tackle many of the challenges over the long term. We hold him in very high regard from his prior tenure at Intel.”

Gelsinger rose through Intel’s ranks during the era when x86 chips like his 80486 dominated Intel’s business and the consumer computing market. Back then, steady increases in chip clock speed and decreases in transistor circuitry size meant processors steadily advanced year after year, fueling Intel’s expansion from PC chips to those that power servers.

Nowadays, chip progress is harder. That’s led chipmakers to shift some of their focus from general-purpose processors like x86 CPUs into more special-purpose chips for chores like graphics and artificial intelligence. Intel has embraced the trend with its “XPU” initiative.

The news was reported earlier Wednesday by CNBC.

Swan was named CEO in January 2019 after serving as interim CEO following the surprise resignation of former CEO Brian Krzanich in June 2018.

“My goal over the past two years has been to position Intel for a new era of distributed intelligence, improving execution to strengthen our core CPU franchise and extending our reach to accelerate growth,” Swan said in the release. “With significant progress made across those priorities, we’re now at the right juncture to make this transition to the next leader of Intel.”


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