Intel’s a chip company. Always has been, always wi– Wait, what? An Intel sound morpher? Some sort of VR webcam thingie? A kid’s microscope?!
Every company seeks to expand beyond its core market, both to satisfy shareholders as well as grow its sales opportunities. Intel has spent a lot of time and money over the years trying to move beyond processors alone and test the waters as a consumer brand. You could see the evolution: the Intel chime (dumdumdumDUM!), the dancing bunny people, the expansion into various parts of the PC… and beyond.
Intel’s core business, though, has always had an underlying goal: sell more chips. What does a processor do? It processes data. What does a PC do? It processes data. If you want to sell more processors, then sell more PCs, and provide them more data. Understand those business desires, and you’ll understand why Intel chose to put its name on the following products, as weird as they are—and then killed them.
Meet the Intel hardware graveyard. (Are they weirder than the Microsoft hardware graveyard, though?)
Intel’s QX3/5 Microscope
“Intel Play products put the power of the PC in a child’s hands — empowering kids to play, learn and create in new and different ways.” On Feb. 3, 1999, Intel launched what it called the “Intel Play” line: a series of educational toys that would nudge children towards using a PC. Intel’s QX3 (and later QX5) were the first of those. It was a connected microscope that could broadcast what the image sensor saw to a connected PC via a USB cable.
To be fair, the QX3 could do two things that at an ordinary optical microscope couldn’t. Since it projected the image to a PC’s monitor, it could spare kids the need to peer through a lens, and could also show several kids at once what the microscope saw. But what the QX3 “saw” was only a 320×240 image, which would turn a delicate amoeba into a amorphous blob. The QX5 at least could display images at 640×480 — better, but not great.
Intel Play Me2Cam
The Intel Play Me2Cam was a little like Microsoft’s Kinect. Instead of transmitting your image across the Internet like Skype, the Me2Cam recorded video of the user, interpreted it, and used it as a way to interact with objects in a scene. “A whole new system of play where children see themselves on the computer screen and use their own bodies to navigate in a virtual world” is how Intel described it.
The Me2Cam (connected by the then-new USB standard) shipped with a suite of games ranging from “Bubble Mania” (pop the virtual bubbles as they surround you), “Pinball” (use your arms as flippers!) and “Snow Surfin’.” All of them ran on your PC, of course, provided it had a CD-ROM.
Intel Play Computer Sound Morpher
Why you can buy (or could buy) the Intel Computer Sound Morpher at Newegg is beyond us. Because basically, it stunk.
We’ve never used the Intel Play Creative Sound Morpher, but this YouTube review from a few years ago is not kind. Apparently the only thing that the Sound Morpher could do was to record your voice and play it back “like a bad dictaphone” over what appears to be a pair of flimsy USB headphones.
You may scratch your head at the other products in this list, but they do appear to be made with some care. Not this, apparently. It sounds like a waste of money.
Intel Wireless Series Gamepad
By 2000, Intel was full steam ahead in the PC peripherals business, and the company’s Wireless Series was designed to show off the “PC without wires” concept that was hot at the time. The Wireless Series consisted of a base station, which could connect to a separate Intel-branded mouse and keyboard via “digital spread spectrum radio.”
But the weirdest device of the bunch had to be the wireless gamepad, which looked either like some sort of therapy device for hemorrhoids or an after-hours plaything that we don’t want to speculate about too much. Weirdly, those who bought it at Amazon seemed to love it.
Intel Dot.Station and Intel “PCs”
In its exuberance, Intel even made its own PC! Well, not a PC, per se, but a “Web appliance” that certainly looked like a PC. It could connect to the Internet, access email, and even came with a built-in telephone and remote.
“The Intel Dot.Station is the result of extensive consumer research and close cooperation with our customers,” said Claude Leglise, vice president, Intel Architecture Group and general manager of the Home Products Group, at the time of the launch. “We believe we have designed a product that not only meets the needs of service providers, but also appeals to consumers who don’t own a PC and want access to the Internet.”
That probably was a telling comment, since Intel’s PC customers preferred that customers connect to the Internet via their PCs, instead. The Dot.Station didn’t last long.
Neither did Intel’s Classmate PC, more of a reference design than an actual product. The creatively-named Clamshell EF10MI2 was an adjunct to the One Laptop Per Child project, aimed at seeding PCs into rural regions and developing countries.
Intel also manufactured the Intel Web Tablet, a “portable browser” of a sort that never really went past the prototype stage. It did connect wirelessly, though it would only really be noteworthy if it didn’t.
Intel Personal Audio Player 3000
It’s unclear whether audiences embraced the Play line, or grokked that they were essentially PC peripherals branded as toys. Perhaps as a response, in October 2001 Intel launched three dedicated PC accessories: a webcam, an MP3 player and a digital camera.
The Personal Audio Player 3000 was launched on Oct. 2, 2001. Intel’s $149.99 player shipped with 128MB of onboard flash, tools to rip CDs into MP3 or WMA formats, a MultiMedia Card expansion slot, and a clear plastic faceplate that could be customized. None of it mattered. Before the month was out Apple had launched the iPod, a 5GB MP3 player for $399 that, of course, changed the world.
Intel Pocket Digital PC Camera
At one point, a 640×480 digital camera was state of the art. Intel’s $149.99 Pocket PC Camera recorded both 640×480 images and 480p video, at up to 30 frames per second, and recorded it on a then-roomy 8MB of flash memory. (Unfortunately, that translated into 128 photos or a ten-second video clip.)
Reviews of the device on Amazon reveal that apparently customers liked it after all. “This camera has amazing quality, no doubt,” one said. “I’ve had one for a long time and coming from someone who has owned a total of 8+ webcams in her life, trust me when I say this was the best one I’ve had.”
Other customers praised it as nearly indestructible, though with a tendency to shoot poor-quality video, even in good lighting.
Intel Play Digital Movie Creator
You could see where Intel was going with this. Shoot video using the $99 camera and edit it on the PC. A CD even provided stock footage from National Geographic that you could edit into your video of your little brother playing with his G.I. Joes. (Only up to four minutes, though.)
The Digital Movie Creator required a Pentium PC (aha!) and you could send your creations over the Internet. Again, this was a device that Intel used to sell PCs, though it’s a bit difficult to understand how a chip company could really make a dent in the market.
Intel Shooting Star drone
Under chief executive Brian Krzanich, Intel underwent a weird transition: CES keynotes full of BMX bikers, smart doors, perceptual computing, and more. Intel was devoted to the cult of edge networking and sensors…until it wasn’t when Krzanich unexpectedly stepped down. Intel’s love affair with sensors went with him.
Perhaps the weirdest success story of Krzanich’s legacy, though, was its successful drone business. Intel created the Shooting Star, a quadcopter specifically designed for large, synchronous light shows that supplemented and replaced fireworks shows. Lights on the drones could be used to create pictures in the sky, and Intel’s drones appeared at the Super Bowl, at the 2020 Olympics, and more.
In 2022, Intel finally sold off its drone business, part of Intel’s efforts to refocus itself about its core chipmaking expertise. The buyer? Nova Sky Stories — owned by Elon Musk’s brother, Kimbal.
Intel “Black Box” Set-top box
Intel was the subject of heated rumors in 2003 about a new set-top box that would “kill cable.” A reference design was unveiled, based upon a low-voltage Celeron processor at its Intel Developer Forum, but the box died quickly thereafter. Stefan Zwegers, who says that he was asked by Prodrive to design a chassis, has some of the concept images on his site.
Intel True View
Krzanich’s odd investment strategies also included Replay, which designed a system for recording, collating, and broadcasting 3D perspectives on major sporting events. If you ever watched a basketball or football game with a “replay” that would swivel around to show a Matrix-style 360-degree replay using computer-generated players, that was Replay. Intel called this True View, and installed systems at home of the Chicago Bulls and at Emirates Stadium, the home of the Arsenal FC soccer team. Voke, another startup Intel bought, would provide a similar perspective, but in VR.
In 2021, Intel sold off what it called Intel Sports, including True View, to Verizon, and shuttered the rest as part of CEO Pat Gelsinger’s refocus on Intel’s core technologies.
Intel RealSense cameras
It’s possible that you could include the Intel RealSense camera here, a biometric technology that became more notable for hobbyist robotics builds than actual consumer electronics. In 2015, we noted that the RealSense was a puzzle: a piece of hardware without any real apps to drive it. Of course, that was after Microsoft had launched Kinect and before the advent of Windows Hello — which, again, was more of Microsoft’s baby.
Intel even announced a RealSense Android smartphone as a development kit! Again, though, it didn’t go anywhere.
Mark Hachman / IDG
RealSense was completely separate from Intel Sports, but it represented another effort to launch machine vision that never really went anywhere. Intel found more success with Mobileye, an acquisition in the autonomous vehicle space which Intel “unlocked” via an IPO in 2022.
This, of course, covers just the weird hardware graveyard that Intel made, and killed. But, of course, Intel is a chip company. What chips would you rate as an Intel mistake? Let us know on our PCWorld Twitter and Facebook pages, and maybe we’ll include them in a follow-up article.