PC makers are making a big bet on the fourth quarter and Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system, but it’s going to be a real crapshoot. Paul Otellini, chief executive of Intel, said in an analyst conference call today that the outlook for the fourth quarter is uncertain and depends on the reception of Microsoft’s new touch-oriented software launching Oct. 26.

PC makers are ordering fewer chips, and Intel is accordingly adjusting its production downward. Intel is cutting capital spending in the fourth quarter and will burn off inventory, resulting in under-utilization at its chip factories. Intel is the world’s largest chip maker and its financial results are a bellwether for the PC industry. The third quarter earnings were weak, but better than adjusted forecasts.

Otellini said 140 Intel Core-based Ultrabooks are coming in the next quarter, which are thin and light machines akin to Apple’s MacBook Air. Twelve convertible hybrid laptop-tablets will be coming with Windows 8. And 20 Intel Atom-based tablets are coming from six computer makers using Intel’s Clover Trail microprocessors. Those machines will deliver high performance, good security, touch-oriented user interfaces, and all-day battery life, Otellini said.

Otellini said he was excited about the next technology coming. He said that Motorola shipped its Razr I model, the only smartphone with a 2-gigahertz processor and superior battery life.

Referring to all of the new models of laptops and tablets, Otellini said he had never seen so much creativity among the computer makers and that he was confident Intel would navigate the transition from PCs to smartphones and tablets with alacrity.

“Intel has a history of navigating the industry’s transitions and emerging better and stronger,” he said. “The innovation here is unbounded. I haven’t seen this in a long time.”

Effecting demand in the fourth quarter are concerns about the economy, softness in mature markets, slowing enterprise sales, and a weaker data center business.

“China was strong and it turned weak on us,” he said. “As a manufacturing center, China is cautious. Our OEMs are running very lean now.”

As a result, Intel projects flat revenues of $13.6 billion in the fourth quarter and gross profit margins of 57 – 58 percent (compared to 64 percent in the third quarter).

Intel expects it will spend $11.3 billion in capital spending in 2012, but it does not yet know how much it will spend in 2013. Research and development is expected to be $4.5 billion in 2012.

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