By David Kirkpatrick
It’s not a great day for Intel. With its much smaller but super-feisty rival AMD getting an infusion of $608 million from an investment arm of the government of Abu Dhabi, the ground shifts slightly toward the insurgent in microprocessors.
AMD has had a tough road from its inception, battling against a quasi-monopolist which just happens to be one of the world’s best technology innovators and a superb marketer to boot.
Even though AMD (AMD) about 5 years ago shifted direction and rethought PC microprocessors in the right way—one which has transformed Intel’s (INTC) technology as much as its own—
the little chipmaker has still not really won any wars.
AMD has remained subject to the whims and vagaries of Intel’s market power, even though it has transformed its market position and become a viable provider for chips across the board in x86 computing. Whereas until not long ago it mostly only sold chips for desktop PCs, now it sells top-quality processors for machines ranging from the tiniest laptops to the biggest servers and supercomputers. It has gained a lot of market share but not made very much profit—
and lately, none. In fact in the most recent quarter AMD lost a stunning $396 million.
Intel is so rich and has so much clout and commands so many resources that AMD throughout its history has repeatedly run up against a competitive wall that was hard to surmount.
Lately that’s been happening again, as Intel has mimicked many of AMD’s innovations in multi-core computing and applied the lever of pricing to force its rival into the red.
The investment today gives AMD just a little more breathing room and probably insures its viability for a while longer, and maybe more than that.
While AMD will never have Intel’s massive scale advantages, with this money and its continued technological smarts it is likely to be better positioned to offer the chips that will keep pushing performance.
That will even be good for Intel, however much it may annoy its executives to see this sovereign government investment fund infusing its enemy with new vitality. Those Intel executives grudgingly acknowledge today that their company has been made better by its need to match and better AMD’s innovations.
I have no idea if AMD can turn around its market position well enough to impress Wall Street again and get its stock out of the toilet. But Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa Al Mubarak is probably not completely dreaming when he said in today’s press release “We see significant opportunities for long-term growth and value creation.”
With its string of recent losses one cannot help wondering if AMD will be able to stay around and keep up its healthy annoyance of Intel, continue keeping its giant rival sharp, and keep pushing the boundaries of computing for all of our benefit. Now those doubts are erased, at least for a while.