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AMD: Intel still 'scaring customers'

Scars remain despite year-old settlement

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At AMD's 2010 Financial Analyst Day on Tuesday, a surprising amount of time was spent not just blowing AMD's product and planning horns, but instead in discussing — and outright dissing — its chief competitor: Intel.

At the senior-exec level, talk centered around the $1.25bn settlement of the AMD-Intel dustup announced one year ago Friday, in which Chipzilla agreed to "abide by a set of business practice provisions".

According to AMD president and CEO Dirk Meyer, that settlement didn't immediately usher in a sunny new era of free markets, bunnies, butterflies, and soaring profits.

"We opened the door to the potential of a more free and open competitive environment," he told a questioner who asked about the settlement's effect on AMD's bottom line.

"I think that's the right mindset, in that this is an industry that developed a set of expectations, a culture, given the way, frankly, Intel ruled the roost," he continued. "And that mindset and culture isn't going to disappear instantaneously."

In other words, potential AMD customers were, in Meyer's view, bullied by Intel, and they're still waiting to see if big, bad, nasty Chipzilla has really changed its stripes. Or its scales. Whatever.

"Frankly, we still talk to customers who are scared," Meyer reported, "and wonder whether the regulators are going to be diligent, and wonder whether Intel is going to follow the terms that they agreed to."

Meyer wants to alleviate their fears: "I think the answer to both is 'yes,' but that the culture is going to only change over time."

But he does see some customers coming out of their hidey-holes: "We have seen anecdotal examples of customers or retailers who are doing business with us now who weren't two short years ago, and I think there's clearly a correlation and even a causality there."

Senior vice president and chief sales officer Emilio Ghilardi also claimed that Intel damaged business relationships, saying that "critical players in this broader IT ecosystem have recently seen their markets, their products, being threatened by our competitor, either because they have entered into these markets, or because they have acquired companies that were in these markets."

Fortunately for AMD, however, Ghilardi claimed that "Many governments around the world have the capabilities as well as the interest in making sure that there is open and fair competition in the market."

Further down the corporate pecking order, AMD fellow Chuck Moore, during a question-and-answer session after his Fusion APU presentation, argued that the AMD/ATI ... well ... fusion has given his company a leg up on its megacompetitor

Speaking of the challenge of building GPU/CPU mashups such as AMD's just-shipped Fusion chips and Intel's soon-to-ship Sandy Bridge, and specifically how to keep the GPU chunk of shared silicon well-fed with data, Moore said: "We have 10 or 15 years of experience and knowledge in GPU design — there's a great deal of lessons learned and scar tissue associated with understanding how to establish that pipeline to memory in a way that fully services the needs of the GPU."

When one questioner asked about the effectiveness of on-die caches, Moore contended: "Caches can help — I don't want to minimize that too much — but just putting a cache in there is not nearly the complete solution. I think they have some lessons to learn along those lines." By "they", Moore meant Chipzilla's microprocessor architects.

The most amusing Intel-bashing came from Rick Bergman, senior vice president and general manager of AMD's products group, who took issue with what he claimed was Intel's identification of its graphics performance as "good enough".

"Our competitors are out there talking about 'good enough' graphics," he told the assembled analysts. Then, feigning an "aw-shucks" attitude, he went for the graphics jugular: "I'm just the product-developent guy. I'm just a humble engineer. I don't have these billions of dollars to spend on advertisements on the TV, on the SuperBowl or the World Series. But boy, I would think that I could come up with a more-inspiring mantra than 'good enough.'"

Bergman then gave a couple of examples of settling for "good enough" in real life, summing up by saying: "How about this as a wedding proposal? You meet your sweetheart and you're getting ready for the big moment: 'I was really looking for a soulmate, the perfect match for me. I didn't come across that, but honey, you're good enough.'"

Rimshot. ®

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