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2011 Pivotal for PC Industry

Next year is shaping up to be a pivotal one for the PC business – and there are a number of reasons.

First: a graphics shift.

Woman using a computer
Woman using a computer

Intel and AMD are both coming out with PC chips that pack two digital brains onto one die, pairing a traditional microprocessor with a graphics core. Intel’s offering is code-named Sandy Bridge. AMD talked up its chip, code-named Fusion, at a financial analyst conference Tuesday.

Second, tablets.

Are they killing the low-end PC market or not? We’ll find out in 2011, and the stakes are huge. If tablets are indeed taking significant share from low-end PCs, that’s bad for Intel and AMD. It’s good for folks like Qualcomm and Texas Instruments .

Here’s the difference consumers will see as a result of these chips: slimmer, more affordable laptops with better battery life for less than $1,000 – stuff to compete with the new MacBook Airs. That’s because specialized graphics chips have traditionally thrown off a lot of heat, and by making graphics more efficient, the chipmakers eliminate the need for space-hogging cooling systems.

But what does this mean for investors?

2011 is likely to be a year where the old rules don’t apply. PC, graphics and wireless chipmakers will all be competing for bits of each other’s core business. The winners stand to make a pretty penny, even if the overall PC market doesn’t grow much in a slow economy.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.comAnd you can follow Jon Fortt on Twitter @jonfortt

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