FTC whacks Intel with anticompetition complaint
Claims Intel coerced vendors, rigged compilers
Updated The US Federal Trade Commission ruined Intel's Christmas by hitting the firm with wide ranging charges of anticompetitive business practices.
The Feds also charge that Intel rigged its compilers to put AMD at a disadvantage and that it is trying to smother its rivals in the graphics chip business.
Intel has rejected the charges as "misguided", "last minute" and not based on investigation by the FTC.
In its statement announcing its complaint, the FTC claims Intel "has illegally used its dominant market position for a decade to stifle competition and strengthen its monopoly."
Intel is accused of locking AMD out of key vendors by using "threats and rewards... to coerce them not to buy rival computer CPU chips."
It adds, "Intel also used this practice, known as exclusive or restrictive dealing, to prevent computer makers from marketing any machines with non-Intel computer chips."
These charges have already been played out in the EU's long-running investigation into Intel, which saw the chip firm stuck with a $1bn fine.
But the FTC stirs things up by alleging that "Intel secretly redesigned key software, known as a compiler, in a way that deliberately stunted the performance of competitors’ CPU chips"
"Intel told its customers and the public that software performed better on Intel CPUs than on competitors’ CPUs," the FTC continues, "but the company deceived them by failing to disclose that these differences were due largely or entirely to Intel’s compiler design."
And to bring its case right up to date, the Feds charge that after using the above practices to lock AMD out of the market until it could catch up, Intel now finds itself falling behind in the graphics market.
"These products have lessened the need for CPUs, and therefore pose a threat to Intel’s monopoly power," the Feds say.
"Intel has responded to this competitive challenge by embarking on a similar anticompetitive strategy, which aims to preserve its CPU monopoly by smothering potential competition from GPU chips such as those made by Nvidia," the FTC complaint charges.
The FTC's charges come hard on the heels of New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's November law suit accusing Intel of "an illegal campaign to deprive AMD of distribution channels."
Intel described the FTC's case as "misguided" and "based largely on claims that the FTC added at the last minute and has not investigated."
The chip makers said the complaint was "explicitly not based on existing law but is instead intended to make new rules for regulating business conduct."
According to Intel, "These new rules would harm consumers by reducing innovation and raising prices."
Intel and the FTC had been in settlement talks, the firm added, but these "stalled when the FTC insisted on unprecedented remedies - including the restrictions on lawful price competition and enforcement of intellectual property rights set forth in the complaint - that would make it impossible for Intel to conduct business."
At least Intel will only be fighting on one front this time. It struck a settlement with AMD to bring the EU's rather similar probe into its business practices to an end last month. However, it remains to be seen whether the FTC's compiler and GPU charges spark new probes on the other side of Atlantic. ®
This story was updated after its original posting to include information from Intel's comments on the FTC's allegations
Until Intel is forced to pay a $500 BILLION fine, nothing will change
Anti-trust lawsuits are just the cost of reaping profits from violation of law for the WinTel cartel. As long as they derive huge profits from crime they will continue their crime. When they generate tens of billions of dollars in profits per year from crime and get fined a few hundred million, it's all good at the house of crime.
Again with missing the point.
This isn't about supporting the CPUs of their competitors, but purposefully crippling their software if it isn't run on their own hardware. This is most certainly underhanded, and if you are a monopoly, 100% illegal.
Anti-trust law is all about the use of your monopoly position in one area to edge out competition in other areas. In this case, Intel has several monopolies. At the time, (and even to a large extent today,) Intel’s complier is one. They use their near-absolute monopoly on CPUs to make their compiler the ubiquitous preferred choice, and they use their near-absolute monopoly on the compiler to cripple software working on their competition’s processor.
The issue gets even more stick when you descend into the intellectual property rights regarding who is allowed to write compilers for certain features. The holy grail of compilers would be one tool that would compile your application to work on all devices. Even restricting this to the x86 market, as a programmer, you want to push one button, and receive a binary that is capable of detecting which features a CPU has available, and using all of them.
You state that Intel has some innate “right” to set up their compiler to cripple the function of binaries it compiles when run on non-Intel CPUs. (Your argument is that AMD could just as easily write their own compiler.) The problem here is that AMD would not be legally allowed to write a compiler that took advantage of all the various Intel CPU features, so AMD’s compiler would not be able to produce a binary that would run full speed on CPUs from both companies. (The reverse, BTW, is not true, Intel has IP access to all features in AMD’s CPUs.)
Thus as a programmer you are faced with two options: compile a single binary using Intel’s compiler, which you are fully aware will run the same code slower on an equally-capable AMD processor, or produce two binaries, one for AMD, and one for Intel. Using different binaries per architecture adds huge layers of complexity, even more so now that everything is virtualised, and VMs can, and are, moved across architectures.
So the programmer uses Intel’s compiler, knowing that Intel has a larger chunk of the market, and their program then runs slower on an equally-capable AMD product because of the anti-competitive nature of Intel’s business practices.
If the market is under heavy competition, this is (sadly) a legal practice. This is, however completely illegal under anti-trust law, as it is abuse of a monopoly to a) extend your monopoly into other areas, and b) maintain that monopoly by restricting competition.
You may not like it, but this is the law in several countries around the world, including the US. Intel got spanked for this, and similar practices in several countries and it is now up to the lawyers to prove everything I just said above actually happened. The entire industry knows that it has, but without evidence Intel can’t be spanked for it. If the proof still exists, and the documents weren’t destroyed, then Intel is in some very deep poo.
You miss the point...
The issue here is not what you think. There are features supported in both processors. I.E. Intel did the legwork to include those abilities in order to compiler for its processors.
They then "tweaked" their compiler in such a way as those features do NOT get used if the chip is not made by Intel.
It's not a case of not building in feature support for AMD, but rather one of denying features already in the software from working on AMD processors, thus ensuring the same code running on processors supporting the same features runs slower on AMD, and faster on Intel.