28th > June > 1999 Archive

The Register breaking news

Taipei launches CPU project

Four years ago From The Register, No. 19, June 1995 The quote of the week comes from Wu Chung-yu, technology director of the Taiwanese National Science Council. Commenting on Taipei's plans to develop the world's most powerful CPU by 2001, he said the project wouldn't necessarily be in direct competition with Intel, and that he'd even look forward to the opportunity to cooperate with the company. Intel's reaction to this kind offer should be interesting, to say the least. At the moment Wu has four companies, Macronix Acer, United Microelectronics and First International Computer, interested in the project, but if it flies it's likely that it'll turn into a multi-company Great Leap Forward of the sort the RoC government specialises in. Presumably by 2001 we won't be talking about an x86 clone, and the smoke surrounding Intel's VLIW project should have cleared sufficiently for it to be possible to make out who's winning the CPU wars. There's certainly a possibility that the market will be sufficiently fragmented by then for the Taiwanese to get a toehold, although the intention to build the world's fastest is ambitious - what Taiwan has so far done in CPU technology has been low-end stuff of the sort that plays in the developing world, but doesn't command high prices elsewhere. The RoC shouldn't be under-rated, however. It's currently fixing its historical weakness in semiconductor technology, and ought to have a fair say in the development of mainland China, where blood ties will go a good distance to cancel out any technological advantages development projects from the likes of Samsung and Motorola have. ®
John Lettice, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Merced… kinda dead? Or kinder dead?

Some intriguing reports are trickling our way about the progress of the Intel Merced project and so we thought it worth our while to revisit the subject, once more. It's hard for us to firm up the story that nine months ago, Intel CEO Craig Barrett carpeted Dr Albert Yu and got very irritated at the progress of the processor. We weren't there, and neither was our fly on the wall, but those rumours are doing the round. More intriguingly, we hear that Intel has made some attempts to get samples of the Big Cartridge out of the door to OEMs, but that performance figures on those liken its performance to a PII/233 rather than the 800MHz behemoth world+dog was expecting. Further, you will remember that some months ago we reported that even within Intel, the Merced project was considered something of an albatross, largely caused by infighting and politics. The reports we have published during the year of the babes-in-the-wood Intel has hired holding up progress on Merced also seem to have legs. According to the latest rumours, senior architectural engineers who formerly were allowed to hire very experienced designers, are having newbies foisted on them. According to this set of rumours, the Merced thingie has gone through as many as 25 somersaults and may yet have to go back to the drawing board for yet more nuts+bolt work. Thus, we have a simulator that works fine and dandy, and initial silicon samples that don't boot to order. And with Craig Barrett, Intel's CEO, telling The Register last week that Real Merced could be as long as 18 months away, it all adds up to a long and sorry tale. That is, if any of these rumours above are true. More and more, it seems as though the Big Cartridge looks like that Frankenstein-created monster, with great bigs nuts and bolts sticking out of its neck. ®
Mike Magee, 28 Jun 1999

Intel Twister set to wreak PC havoc

The news that Intel has decided to take action against Via over its PC-133 chipset strategy will have serious repercussions for the entire PC industry. (Story: Intel busts Via over PC-133, this time it's personal) The twister has touched ground and will devastate vast tracts of engineering effort amongst third party players.
Mike Magee, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Intel could nip dual-Celeron move in bud

Our friends at JC's are reporting that Intel has plans to squash the development of dual Celeron systems by disabling the processor. At Computex, earlier this month, one or two Taiwanese mobo manufacturers, in particular Abit, were demonstrating systems that took advantage of SMP processing on the ultra-cheap Celeron platform. But now JC is claining that Intel is already disabling the AN15 pin that permits such SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) systems to be built. Intel does not want people buying ultra-cheap SMP systems using dual 370 socket processors, the report suggests. ®
Mike Magee, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Intel nobbles AMD in consumer market

The massive loss that AMD predicted for its Q2 financials last week overshadowed another setback for the chip company in its travails. Figures from market research company Mercury Research, which reported that AMD managed to secure 16.1 per cent market share in the last quarter of 1998, show that Intel has clawed its way back in the entry level market. The latest set of figures from Mercury now show that AMD's share fell to 13.6 in the first quarter of this year, while Intel's share rose from 75.9 per cent to 80.3 per cent. The Mercury figures show that AMD has lost share to Intel's Celeron. During the course of this year, Intel has remorselessly cut the cost of its entry level processors, which are practically identical to Pentium IIs. AMD has spare stocks of processors, the company admitted last week. ®
Mike Magee, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Client server is dead, says Oracle chief

It's official -- client-server is dead and the future is in the Net. Says who? Why Larry Ellison, that's who. "Client Servers were a tremendous mistake. And we are sorry that we sold it to you," the Oracle CEO said to a captive London audience last week. Instead of applications running on the desktop and data sitting on the server, everything will be Internet based. The only things running on the desktop will be a browser and a word processor. What people want, he said, is simple, inexpensive hardware that functions as a window on to the Net. The PC was ludicrously complex with stacks of manuals, helplines and IT support needed to make it function. Client server was supposed to alleviate this problem, but it was a step in the wrong direction. "We are paying through the nose to be ignorant," commented Ellison. He said that it is stupidly inefficient to have data so scattered that it takes days to answer a question as simple as 'How many people do I have working for me?' Using the Internet to run everything on provides the best of both world from the PC and the mainframe. Unlike old mainframes, it is easy to program for the Internet, access is fast and the user interface is excellent, Ellison said. Not surprisingly then, Ellison foresees a dark time ahead for Microsoft. The Internet will make the choice operating system unimportant, he said. The so-called browser war is also bogus: "Anyone can write a browser, and people will. That's not going to matter." ®
Lucy Sherriff, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Anger as BT bins ADSL plans

BT's decision to can the introduction of a nationwide ADSL network unless it retains a monopoly has been described as an attempt "to blackmail the country" by a senior industry figure. Bob Jones, chairman of Equiinet, said BT's behaviour was "disgusting" and that it was time for government to intervene and take control of the situation. Only last week BT's financial director Robert Brace said that the telco was on the verge of introducing ADSL. Yesterday, the Sunday Times reported that BT had decided to postpone plans to invest £3 billion in the "Home Highway" service. BT claimed it could not justify proceeding with the service "unless the authorities reject demands from BT's rivals for immediate and full access to the new system". It was this comment that drew Jones' ire. "BT is attempting to blackmail the country," he said. "Company officials are on record as saying that the telecomms operator would be ready to roll out high-speed data access countrywide over existing telephone lines by August 1999," he continued. "Now it's saying that unless it gets a virtual monopoly over the network it won't invest in the service." Jones made the point that the majority of the network that would be used to host such a service, had in fact been built during the days when BT was a state-owned concern. This, he argued, made it incumbent upon BT to honour its promise to provide an ADSL service. "BT is acting against the public interest in holding back a service which is a national resource and is vital in keeping British industry competitive," he said. A spokesman for OFTEL told The Register that BT had not issued any kind of ultimatum and that discussions concerning the roll-out of ADSL were continuing. No one from BT was available for comment. ®
Tim Richardson, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Retail bonanza with Freeserve float

Dixons is taking a leaf out of the privatisation stocks by opening its Freeserve flotation to the British public. As previously announced, Freeserve is offering its customers the chance to get onto the Internet gravy train. In the almost inevitable event of oversubscription, preference will be given to Freeserve subscribers and Dixons Store Group employees. This should drive up Freeserve subscriptions nicely. It would be daft for punters not to improve their chances by joining a free ISP. Retail investors have to register their interest on the Freeserve site by 3pm on 9 July. The minimum punt is £250. Why will the Freeserve IP0 be oversubscribed? Well, for one thing, there hasn't been a fat and juicy privatisation stock for British retail investors to sink their teeth into for ages. And this is the first chance for British punters to participate in big and exciting Internet IPO. For another: Freeserve is marketing the IPO worldwide to institutional investors, many of which will be very keen to participate in Europe's biggest Internet IPO to date. Dixons is only offering 18.5 per cent of Freeserve's enlarged share capital in the float. And that means post-IPO scrabbling for shares. Freeserve is not saying what the allocation between retail and institutional investment will be. But the split should ensure huge press excitement and a healthy market for first day rampers, as retail owners of Freeserve stock flog their shares to underweight institutional investors. In this context, Freeserve's headline financials are almost irrelevant. For its first seven months in trading (22 September 1998 to 1 May 1999), the company made a net loss of £1.04 million on sales of £2.73 million. ® See also: So how many readers has Freeserve got? Dixons signs arms length treaty with Freeserve Energis Freeserve reward less than expected Freeserve rolls out Internet telephony Cash conscious surfers back Freeserve model Freeserve blitzkriegs UK with charm offensive
Drew Cullen, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

So how many readers has Freeserve got?

The headline user stats for Freeserve make for interesting reading. From a standing start on 22 September 1998, Freeserve had had 1,246,157 active registered accounts, as of 29 May. The company states that for the four weeks ended 29 May 1999, Freeserve had approximately 64 million page views, of which only 28 million related to content provided on its own site. On this basis, Freeserve is bigger than Yahoo UK but smaller than AOL-Compuserve UK and the BBC. However, Freeserve reader stats are possibly over-stated. For there can be a big difference -- 30-40 per cent -- between page impressions counted for advertising and marketing purposes and pages actually served. Freeserve will need an ABC electronic certificate before we can glean the true figures. Caveats aside, we guess there will be a huge upward curve in Freeserve usage -- as existing punters become more net literate. And as more subscribers come onboard. ®
Drew Cullen, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Web will spawn genuine global economy

The Internet is going to force us into real globalisation, according to Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle. He says that the benefits of doing business on the Internet are so breathtaking that all big corporates will be forced to switch from corporate intranets in order to remain competitive. "We've been paying lip service to globalisation for so long," said Ellison. "But each country has its own take on it. There is the German version of globalisation, the French version, the US version. The Internet will change that. It insists on real globalisation." Buying things as an individual on the net is interesting, but not the point, he said. It is the way an e-business buys things is what will force the re-evaluation of the status quo. "How does an e-business buy? It doesn't go straight to on supplier and place an order, it will hold an auction and chose the best deal from every competitor around the globe." For those selling services it will be an end to the endless hours of wrangling over prices with every customer. There will be one price for everyone with the only discount being for volume. "You won't be able to charge different people different amounts in e-business because all the information will be where everyone can see it." Countries will also have to compete. In a truly global economy, companies will choose to have employees in the countries that have the most advantageous labour laws, along with the right skills. A genuinely global network with cheap and easy access to communications will create a more homogeneous world as prices and practices are brought into line around the globe. To compete on this scale, you must have a global picture, says Ellison. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Iomega hives off SyQuest inventory

Iomega today signed US-based Peripheral Computer Support (PCS) to handle what remains of SyQuest's customer base and product inventory on the storage specialist's behalf. Iomega bought SyQuest, its former arch-rival, at the beginning of the year after an 18-month attempt by SyQuest to become a viable business once more. SyQuest's troubles followed years of resting on its laurels while Iomega ate into its marketshare with innovative products like the Zip drive. Ironically, Iomega has been having problems of its own, largely for similar reasons. The PCS deal allows the company to sell Iomega's stock of SyQuest products and to manufacture media to sell to existing customers. But as PCS doesn't have the right to build new drives, the opportunities to find new SyQuest buyers seems decidedly limited -- doubly so since even Iomega is finding it hard selling its own drives. PCS already provides customer warranty support for SyQuest products on Iomega's behalf. Iomega bought SyQuest for its intellectual property, but ended up with all its inventory and fixed assets too. The company is currently attempting to sell off the latter, and the PCS deal neatly allows it to ditch the inventory side of the acquisition. ® See also Iomega predicts huge Q2 loss
Tony Smith, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Dixons signs arms length treaty with Freeserve

Dixons has signed a deal with Freeserve to ensure its super soaraway subsidiary is able "to operate and make decisions independently". All commercial arrangements between Freeserve and Dixons will be on a "normal commercial basis and on arm's length terms". We shall see. Maybe Kingfisher, Dixon's arch-rival in the electrical retailing market, could sow a little mischief here: why not bid for an e-commerce anchor slot on Freeserve? Dixons says it may set up a new group holding company, to give it "a capital structure more appropriate to its needs" following the Freeserve float. This will make it easier to sell Freeserve shares as well as ringfencing the free ISP from the rest of the group. Dixon says it won't sell any more Freeserve shares for 12 months after the IPO or -- if earlier -- the publication of Freeserve's preliminary statement of final results for the 52-week period ending 29 April 2000. And it won't sell more than 40 per cent of the issued share capital (roughly half of its Freeserve stake) in the following year. Dixons retains the right to appoint the chairman of Freeserve's board while it has more than 50 per cent of the company. ®
Drew Cullen, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Acer sells more assets to boost liquidity

Asian wires are reporting that giant Taiwanese company Acer will sell large amounts of shares to raise an estimated NT$3 billion. It will sell 27 million shares in Acer Peripherals, 36 million shares in mobile phone firm Pacific Cellular, and three millions shares in Aopen, which makes PC cases and the like. Earlier in June, Acer sold over a large chunk of its semiconductor manufacturing interests to TSMC, as reported here. Over the last week, rumours have risen that Acer is interested in NatSemi's Cyrix business, because of its investment in information appliances. Acer and National Semiconductor have had long standing partnerships. ®
Mike Magee, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Consumer protection body sends out virus email

A worldwide federation looking after the interests of consumers sent out an email virus last week and couldn't be bothered to tell anyone about it. Scores of journalists around the world received the Word 97 attachment on Friday from Consumers International (CI) -- a global body made up of 200 of consumers groups. News of the macro virus was only discovered when someone at the Boston Women's Health Book Collective -- with its slogan "Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century" -- issued an alert. Instead of taking any action, CI abdicated all responsibility for its infectious actions. No one at its London offices seemed bothered that it was responsible for transmitting a virus. Nor did they have the common courtesy to return any phone calls. "Unfortunately, this sort of thing is pretty common," said David Emm, anti-virus product manager at Network Associates. When it happens, the originator of the virus should inform others, he said. Although he urged people to shoulder some of the responsibility themselves by installing anti-virus software on their machines. But as he makes his living selling anti-virus software, he would, wouldn't he? Chris Gethin, development manager for CI said that he was sorry and that an email would be sent out today about the virus. Let's hope that's not riddled with some other infectious disease. ®
Tim Richardson, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Windows to block violent, adult games

The next release of Windows will automatically censor games containing adult content or explicit violence, the company said on Friday. Microsoft's plan centres on a software equivalent of the ill-fated 'V chip', much beloved by the US' Clinton administration as a method of combating the availability of violent and adult content to kids. The Windows version of the V chip will be called Game Manager, and will allow parents to prevent their offspring from playing games that have been rated as unsuitable for minors. For the scheme to work, games developers need to code in the rating their titles receive from the US gaming communities' self-appointed watchdog, the Recreational Software Advisory Board, and its opposite number in Europe, the European Leisure Software Publishers Association. Alternatively, said Microsoft, ratings could be maintained in an online database, which Game Manager could query before deciding whether a given game will be allowed to run. No games company has yet to explicitly support Microsoft's scheme, but a number of key players, including Interplay, Mindscape, GT Interactive and Acclaim, did say they the concept merits a closer look. ®
Tony Smith, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Energis Freeserve reward less than expected

Dixons has struck a hard bargain with Energis, the telco that supplies Freeserve with all its Internet infrastructure needs. Through its Planet Online subsidiary, Energis gets 1.75 per cent of the enlarged share capital of Freeserve -- in contrast with earlier reports which said it would have as much as three per cent of the equity. Even these shares come with a price attached. Admittedly this price is highly subsidised -- as Energis must stump up for the nominal value for Freeserve shares. This won't be that much, but we can't tell you yet how much Energis is paying, as Dixons has not yet revealed what the nominal value of Freeserve shares will be. Energis can also subscribe for up to two per cent of Freeserve's share capital, in equal tranches over the next four years. In effect, this is a massive share option, with the price the same as that payable by investors in the IPO. That's the carrot. The stick is that Energis has to meet "certain conditions", including performance criteria. ®
Drew Cullen, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

CodeWarrior IDE to support SuSE Linux

Programming environment developer Metrowerks today said it will offer its CodeWarrior Integrated Development Environment for SuSE's Linux distribution. The move follows criticism Metrowerks recently took for branding the Red Hat Linux version of CodeWarrior as 'CodeWarrior for Linux'. That, said many Linux advocates, suggested Red Hat's Linux was the official version of the open source OS. It isn't, of course, though many open sourcers claim that's how Red Hat is positioning its product as it becomes a fully commercial entity. Still, it's good news for SuSE developers, providing them with a robust, easy-to-use commercial-quality IDE. The port will include CodeWarrior's full set of tools, including editors, browsers, project management facilities, compilers, debuggers and other development tools within a powerful and easy-to-use graphical development environment. The product will ship in two versions, just like the Red Hat release. A cut-down GNU edition hooks the CodeWarrior IDE into the GNU compilers and debuggers. The Professional version adds Metrowerks' own C, C++ and Java integrated compilers and debuggers. The GNU version will ship next month, the Professional version before the end of the year, putting both versions a couple of months behind the Red Hat releases. ®
Tony Smith, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

PCI-X addendum released

The PCI special interest group (SIG) today released its PCI-X addendum to its 50 members for them to assess. Members will have 30 days to add their thoughts before the SIG formally ratifies the specification, which is set to deliver faster bus speeds for graphics and other throughput including storage and Internet at up to 133MHz. According to the PCI SIG, its initial applications are likely to be in workstation and server products. Although Intel at first opposed the PCI-X extensions, it reluctantly agreed to the proposals earlier this year. ®
Mike Magee, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Micron DRAM sub packs bags in move to Scotland

A Micron Europe DRAM subsidiary is shutting up shop in Basingstoke and moving to Scotland. Crucial Technology is promoting its emigration with a 7.5 per cent discount customers buying from its web site for the month of July. Crucial styles itself as the "only factory-direct memory supplier" -- which means it's cheap. The wholly-owned Micron sub has taken a 37,000 sq ft space on seven acres in East Kilbride, near Glasgow. Presumably there will be a few redundancies. Few, because DRAM traders don't employ many people; redundancies, because warehouses are easier to move than people. Especially when it is in the direction of Basingstoke to East Kilbride (Even though Glasgow environs wins hands down everytime as a place to live). ®
Drew Cullen, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Avnet snaps up rival

Chip and components distributor Avnet is to buy one of its rivals, Marshall Industries, in a deal worth some $830 million. The purchase will be a combined cash, stock and assumed debt deal, with the resulting company dominating the North American components channel. Each Marshall share will be worth $39 or can be swapped for 0.81569 of an Avnet share. This is a premium of 94 per cent on Marshall's closing price last Friday. According to US newswires, the resultant company will have an annual turnover of around $8 billion. ®
Team Register, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Sold! Dell refurbs to the highest bidder

Dell will flog secondhand machines on its Web site. And it will auction them to the highest bidder. Is this wise? By doing this, Dell retains more margin from refurb sales -- it doesn't have to share margin with specialist brokers. And as an A-brand, Dell secondhand PCs hold their value better than most. But by selling old kit from the shop window, as opposed to the back door, Dell risks cannibalising new PC sales. In case you hadn't noticed, Dell makes most of its money from selling new machines -- not refurbs. So, punters may be tempted to bid secondhand, rather than buy new -- especially consumer and small business buyers. This is why Intel hates the electronics recycling movement. More refurbs means fewer sales of new kit. Dell has plenty of secondhand kit to get rid off -- because it is big, and because it is big with corporates. Under leasing deals, it has to take old kit back. Some of this gets broken down for spare parts, but most gets sold or donated to the usual impecunious refurb channels -- students, charities, third-world countries and the like. The secondhand ball will start rolling on the Dell US web site, in the next couple of months, according to Bloomberg.®
Drew Cullen, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

ISPA gives UK gov't thumbs down

The Internet Services Providers Association (ISPA) has given a cautious welcome to government proposals to crack down on cyber crime. Last week the Home Office published a consultation paper on the interception of communications. Among the proposals it said that all UK ISPs should ensure their networks are capable of being intercepted and that this cost should be borne by the ISPs. Speaking at the launch of the paper the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said: "We recognise that, by its nature, interception of communications is a highly intrusive activity, affecting the privacy of the individual. "That is why the government is committed to ensuring that the interception of communications is strictly regulated and complies fully with the Human Rights Act 1998." While safeguarding personal privacy is an issue, ISPA -- the trade association that represents UK Net companies -- is more concerned about the financial yoke if the proposals are introduced. "If the government requires all communications carriers to install a box costing £100,000 on their premises this will be regarded as a flea bite by the large telcos -- but put almost all small ISPs out of business," said Jim Dixon, ISPA council member and MD of VBCnet. ISPA wants said it wants to set up a meeting as soon as possible with the Home Office to obtain further clarification of their proposals. ®
Tim Richardson, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Trigem, CHS team up on Euro PCs

Korean company Trigem and worldwide distributor CHS said that they have formed a JV to supply cheap PCs in Europe. The joint venture is called The PC Way, or should it be The PC Giveaway? The scheme is aimed at Euro-dealers wanting entry-level machines on a pan-European basis. The companies said they would be able to offer 400MHz boxes for around $550. The boxes will be built in an assembly plant within CHS' gigantic distribution facility in Helmond, Holland, and will appear in July, with production capacity of up to 1.2 million units a year. PC Way will seek OEM contracts with name-brand vendors. The first shipments leave the factory in July, kicking off with CHS' very-own Yakumo private-label kit. The Trigem deal will come as welcome news for CHS, which has been a bit short on welcome news lately. Especially where finances are concerned. With Trigem it gets some to share costs for PC assembly in Europe. It provides the space and SAP-supported logistics, while Trigem fits out the assembly line and takes care of production. Trigem produces low cost PCs in the US, called Emachines. ® PC Way will have an annual production capability of 1.2 million units --
Mike Magee, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Kids, cancer and mobile phones…

Concerns have been raised over the safety of mobile phone masts as education minister David Blunkett orders an "urgent" inquiry into the siting of the masts in schools. Mobile phone companies pay up to £10,000 to schools which allow the masts to be set up on their premises. More than 500 schools in the UK have taken advantage of the cash injection, so far. But this is not the familiar "mobile phones fries your brains and gives you cancer" bandwagon. Dr Hyland, a physicist at Warwick University, who raised the alarm is not concerned with the heating effect of the microwaves, but the possibility of resonance between the external radiation from the masts, and the brain's own frequencies. "Living organisms are all a bit like radio receivers, and you can get resonance between external radiation and living things if the radiation matches natural frequencies," he said. "The microwaves from base stations are transmitted in pulses and it is the frequency of these slower pulses that is in the range of alpha brain waves. These brain waves are not stabilised in children and there could be an unexpected adverse effect." Dr Hyland stressed that there was no evidence to support his concerns. But he also pointed to the lack of any risk assessment of the effect of microwave pulses on children. Without such quantification "(masts should not be sited anywhere near schools," he said. The National Radiological Protection Board, which is responsible for reviewing all scientific literature on radiation, said the mast sites do not represent a threat to health. In official statements the board only addressed the heating effect of microwaves, and no one could be reached for further comment on the issues raised by Dr Hyland. "The radio waves produced by the transmitters are sufficiently weak that the exposure would only exceed recommended levels if a person were to approach to within a few meters directly in front of the antennae." The board also pointed out that radio waves do not have enough energy to damage cell DNA, so we really don't need to worry about developing brain tumours. The board does say that there is still a need for further research into other concerns over the safety of microwave radiation. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 28 Jun 1999
The Register breaking news

Intel to sell own brand PCs within six months?

The Register has suggested to Intel Insiders on several occasions that Chipzilla is but a few short steps away from building and selling its own PCs. On each occasion the reaction has been subtly different. A year back they laughed; six months ago they said it would never happen; today they stare at their shoes and mumble something non-committal. While a move into Intel-badged PCs would piss off the big OEMs big time, let’s look at where Chipzilla is today. It makes 80 per cent plus of the CPUs on the planet. It makes motherboards for them. It makes graphics chipsets (well, it tries) and graphics cards, it makes networking gizmos, cameras and complete videoconferencing systems which already carry the Intel logo on the box. The only thing Intel doesn’t make is the cases to put the stuff in, the disks and RAM. In other words, the chip behemoth builds a whole hell of lot more of what goes into a computer than any PC company on the planet. At the high end, Intel builds almost ready-to-run systems based on the Xeon in what it bills ‘time to market’ offerings enabling smaller OEMs to put together complex server and workstation configurations in the shortest possible time – ever wondered why all mid range Xeon servers look the same? – they’re all built by Intel. Now that Chipzilla is keen to see PCs looking a lot snazzier – check out the concept PC designs it has shown at the last two Developer Forii – what better time for it to bite the bullet and make the things itself? Oh yes, the OEM reaction. Intel’s customers would not be too keen to find that their principal supplier was now a rival – but realistically speaking, what the hell could they do about it? Who else could they turn to to supply high end Xeon equivalents, mainstream Pentium IIIs and cheapo Celerons? No one with half a brain wants to move to Alpha (Compaq might, but like we said no one with half a brain would) At the low end Celeron is now merrily chomping its way back into the sub $1,000 market that, due to an erratumnotbug in its marketing department, Chipzilla temporarily loaned to AMD last year. One thing you could never accuse Intel of is a lack of confidence – it believes down to the last quark of its corporate soul that it has the best products on the planet (and, rather irritatingly, this is almost true). If you were Dell or Gateway, would you bet the farm on AMD’s ability to deliver? Thought not. So if Intel were to decide to sell its own systems, the vast majority of OEMs would have to grin and bear it. Up until six months ago, Intel had an entire plant in the US dedicated to building vanilla systems for internal demo use. At the time, rumour had it that it was closed partly as a result of pressure from OEMs. Intel has a well established support network in place - both web and phone based - that could provide all the support PC users might need. Buying Gateway (or Compaq?) would be one option for Intel’s PC ambitions, but suppose Chipzilla were to offer each of its leading OEMs the chance to build a different concept PC and put an Intel badge on it while continuing with their mainstream designs for the more staid customers. That might just work. ®
Pete Sherriff, 28 Jun 1999