EU antitrust finding against Intel

The EU's antitrust ruling against Intel is making lots of waves in the blogosphere at the moment.

Nigel Dessau from AMD has made a series of thoughtful posts on the issue.

The Opteron permanently dispelled any notion of AMD as an "Intel clone" manufacturer. Innovative in any number of ways and with a vastly superior architecture, in the end Intel was forced to clone AMD's approach with the Nehalem processor.

But I find it instructive that a large part of why AMD exists and has thrived is due to that old 600lb gorilla of the ICT world, IBM. Here's the chain of events:

  • IBM, still smarting from antitrust lawsuits of the 1980s, adopts a two-supplier rule for all its components. Intel licenses AMD to perform this second-supplier role in 1982 and AMD duly produces the D8088.
  • Intel gets antsy at AMD successfully gaining some market share with the Am286 and withdraws co-operation for the licensing agreement in 1986, denying AMD access to technical details about the i386 chip. (After protracted arbitration and legal battles, AMD eventually wins in 1994.)
  • In the absence of technical information from Intel, AMD is forced to reverse-engineer Intel's technology, producing the Am386, Am486 and Am5x86. Intel starts using brand names such as "Pentium" to prevent AMD from using the same numbering for its chips.
  • As the pace of technical change for chips accelerates, AMD is forced to develop in-house chips rather than reverse engineering Intel. The resulting K5, K6, K7 (Athlon) and K8 (Opteron) processors steadily incorporate more innovation and give AMD real credibility.

So without IBM first requiring AMD have access to Intel's designs to get a foothold in the marketplace, AMD might not have survived. And that would have been a serious tragedy for innovation and progress in the CPU world.