As AMD fetes chip milestone, analysts fret about future

Updated at 11:10 a.m. PDT: adding Walmart dv2 laptop information.

Concerns about Advanced Micro Devices' future are being aired as the company celebrates a chip milestone.

The chipmaker said Wednesday that it has shipped 500 million x86 (Intel-compatible) processors since the company's founding in 1969. And to celebrate, AMD is giving away four Hewlett-Packard dv2 ultra-thin notebooks based on its low-power Athlon Neo X2 chip. But the laptop giveaway, ironically, underscores one of AMD's challenges.

Doug Freedman, analyst at Broadpoint AmTech, said in a research note earlier this week that the dv2 laptop has "failed … Read more

VMware CEO: Intel chip design too complex

In a recent and so-far relatively obscure video, VMware CEO Paul Maritz offers, at times, a sharp critique of the Intel chip architecture and the challenges of getting it into cell phones.

At the TiEcon 2009 conference in mid-May, Maritz gave a brief oral history of the Intel x86 chip architecture. He noted its shortcomings and the challenges presented by ARM, the chip design that powers most of the world's cell phones and will power Netbooks running on Google's just-announced Chrome operating system.

The video has been made available by TechPulse360.

"Consumer devices came along and there … Read more

Four years later: Why did Apple drop PowerPC?

Updated on Monday, June 15 at 2:20 p.m. PDT: adding multi-core discussion to earlier Windows update.

It's been four years this month since Apple announced it would drop the PowerPC architecture and switch to Intel's x86 design. One person involved in the back-and-forth between Apple and IBM at the time provides some insight into why it happened.

When Apple made the watershed announcement in June 2005 ending its longstanding relationship with IBM and Motorola, Apple CEO Steve Jobs attributed the switch to a superior Intel roadmap.

"Looking ahead Intel has the strongest processor roadmap by far," Jobs said in a statement at the time. "It's been ten years since our transition to the PowerPC, and we think Intel's technology will help us create the best personal computers for the next ten years."

One oft-cited reason was that Apple didn't believe it could get the requisite performance per watt from processors being supplied by IBM and Freescale--formerly Motorola's chipmaking arm. Translation: Apple was worried about IBM's and Motorola's ability to deliver competitive processors for laptops. (Update: Another reason often put forward is that Apple simply wanted to be able to run Windows.)

A former IBM executive, who worked at IBM at the time and was involved in discussions with Apple, offered his perspective in a conversation we had during dinner at a recent technology conference. Let me emphasize that this is one person's opinion, not necessarily the gospel truth. I will not publish his name or title.

While he acknowledged the public reasons put forward by Apple, there was more to it--not surprisingly--than that. The upshot: Apple wanted better pricing, according to this person.

Apple was paying a premium for IBM silicon, he said, creating a Catch-22. IBM had to charge more because it didn't have the economies of scale of Intel, but Apple didn't want to pay more, even though it supposedly derived more from an inherently superior RISC design as manifested in the PowerPC architecture.

Here's what Jobs said in 2003: "The PowerPC G5 changes all the rules. This 64-bit race car is the heart of our new Power Mac G5, now the world's fastest desktop computer," Jobs said in a statement. "IBM offers the most advanced processor design and manufacturing expertise on earth, and this is just the beginning of a long and productive relationship." (Sounds suspiciously similar to what Jobs said about Intel after Apple made the switch.)

Despite the praise heaped on IBM's technology in 2003, Apple believed, by 2005, that it couldn't compete on cost, according to this person. … Read more

AMD says Intel-only deal struck at Apple in 2005

An Advanced Micro Devices executive claims that Intel and Apple cut a deal in 2005 that made Intel an exclusive supplier of processors to Apple, preventing AMD from gaining Apple business.

The claim, made in a phone interview with Tom McCoy, AMD's senior vice president of legal affairs, earlier this week, holds that Intel has had a longstanding deal to be Apple's sole supplier of microprocessors. To date, Apple has not used an AMD central processing unit (CPU) in any of its products. Currently, only Intel CPUs populate Apple's laptop, desktop, and server lineups.

This assertion by AMD comes in the wake of the EU decision last week to fine Intel $1.45 billion for violating antitrust legislation. Last week's EU decision centered on whether Intel used illegal tactics to deny processor business to AMD at PC makers.

McCoy said that a deal was struck when Apple moved from the PowerPC (IBM-Motorola) chip architecture to the x86 (Intel-AMD) architecture. The transition was announced by Steve Jobs at the Worldwide Developers Conference in 2005.

"They made a deal when they were porting over from PowerPC to x86 as to how much Intel was willing to pay for that port. My guess is that Intel asked for and won exclusivity in return for the help that they gave Apple to port," McCoy said.

McCoy continued: "That deal will not be exclusive forever and when that exclusivity is over, I'm sure they (Apple) will choose on the merits. We'll have a chance to compete for Apple's business when Apple is ready," he said. Intel denies this allegation.

Though McCoy did not make any direct charge of illegal activity regarding such a deal, the assertion is not that far removed from charges made in the July 2005 AMD complaint against Intel. AMD, in that filing, cited Dell, among other examples of exclusive Intel deals with PC makers. "In its history, Dell has not purchased a single AMD x86 microprocessor despite acknowledging Intel shortcomings and customer clamor for AMD solutions, principally in the server sector...Dell has been and remains Intel-exclusive. According to industry reports, Intel has bought Dell's exclusivity with outright payments and favorable discriminatory pricing and service." (Note: Dell, in 2005, offered no AMD-based products, though it does today.)

Whether the deal is exclusive doesn't in itself constitute a legal argument, according to Joshua D. Wright of the George Mason University School of Law, who has written about the EU decision in a blog, "Truth on the Market." "Under Section 2 of the Sherman Act, a plaintiff must show that the exclusive dealing arrangement harmed competition in the form of higher prices, lower output, or reduced innovation," Wright said, responding to an e-mail query. … Read more

Sun shares settle back, after premarket pop

Update at 7:25 a.m. PDT: Updated stock information added and headline updated.

Sun Microsystems shares soared more than 10 percent in premarket trading on Thursday, following a Bloomberg report that the struggling hardware maker was interested in resuming merger talks with IBM.

Sun climbed nearly 10.8 percent to $6.79 a share in premarket trading. But as the markets opened for regular trading, Sun's shares settled back to a more modest uptick of 2.77 percent to $6.30 a share. The broader markets were mixed.

Either way, its stock remains a ways off from the $… Read more

Sun Microsystems shares fall in afternoon trading

Sun Microsystems shares fell as low as about 13 percent Monday afternoon, steeper than the declines experienced by the broader markets. Investors, who are awaiting word on whether speculation of an IBM merger will become a reality, apparently were spooked, sending shares as low as $6.82 a share in afternoon trading.

Shares of Sun lost 59 cents to close at $7.24, down about 7.5 percent, Monday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, meanwhile, fell as low as about 4 percent to 7,437.59 during intra-day trading and the Nasdaq dipped about 4 percent to 1,484.98. … Read more

A 'post-x86 world'? Preposterous!

I honestly don't know whether Om Malik's blog site, GigaOM, is intended to be informative or merely entertaining. I pointed out a previous example of the overwrought rhetoric that permeates that site last September (in the context of Comcast's then-new usage cap policy), but generally, I try to ignore the nonsense there for the same reasons that I ignore talk radio.

But like it or not, GigaOM is widely read, and sometimes when a post there bears directly on a market that's important to me, I can't bear to let it go. This is one … Read more

Buzz Out Loud 924: Live smart die dumb

Riding an electric motorcycle can make you smarter, but as Molly points out, it can also kill you. So six to one, half a dozen to the other. We also can break you off a piece of that Ice Pod bar. As soon as someone sends us one. And Sweden is trying to send us some bandwidth. Thanks, Sweden!

Listen now: Download today's podcast EPISODE 924

Obama names IT change-agent Vivek Kundra as federal CIO http://blogs.techrepublic.cbsi.com/hiner/?p=1175

Sprint and Palm hosting Palm Pre Webcast on March 12 http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-10188601-1.htmlRead more

Venture firm picks up Transmeta chip patents

Updated at 10:45 p.m. PST with additional information about Intellectual Ventures

Intellectual Ventures has acquired the patent portfolio of Transmeta, an erstwhile supplier of low-power Intel-compatible x86 processors.

Intellectual Venture Funding, an affiliate of Intellectual Ventures, has picked up 140 U.S. patents and additional pending patent applications owned by Transmeta, which was acquired by privately held Novafora in November of last year.

The Transmeta technology will be used "through two distinct routes," according to an Intellectual Ventures' statement. Novafora will improve its own proprietary designs by using some of the technologies invented by Transmeta. And … Read more

Report: Via readying dual-core Atom rival

Updated on January 6 at 11:20 a.m. PST with correction about Nano 3000.

Dual-core Intel Atom rivals are in the works.

Via Technologies is planning a very low-power, dual-core Nano 3000 processor, according to Chinese-language Web site HKEPC.

Via's C7-M processor is used in Hewlett-Packard's 2133 Mini-Note, which preceded the crop of Netbooks based on the Atom CPU. Via processors, however, were subsequently eclipsed by Intel's Atom.

Advanced Micro Devices will target its low-power dual-core "Conesus" at the laptop market segment above Atom's Netbook-centric space.

Meanwhile, Freescale Semiconductor has indicated that it will bring out a very-low-power ARM chipRead more