3rd > April > 1999 Archive

Intel Celeron under threat from NatSemi-Cyrix front

A year agoFrom The Register No. 72, posted 6 April 1998 The future of Intel's Celeron chip looked even shakier today as National Semiconductor, which bought Cyrix last Autumn, announced a processor which could make PCs cost as little as $450. Celeron, a cut down version of the Pentium II without on-cartridge cache, is due for roll out in just over a week, but NatSemi-Cyrix will, later today, introduce a highly integrated processor expected to be in production by this time next year. Brian Halla, CEO of National Semiconductor, will announce further details of the processor at a conference in Arizona today. It is expected to include integrated graphics functions, be available in a small form factor, be a low power device, include soft modem firmware, Ethernet and other functions, using as many as a 100 million transistors. As reported here after last year's Comdex/Fall in Las Vegas, NatSemi-Cyrix has its eyes on the low-end market. It is already producing a range of cut-price machines in a US supermarket chain, sold at give-away prices and intended to pull customers into the shop to buy other goods. While Intel still maintains there is a large market for high-end processors, most industry observers see the introduction of the Celeron as a way to address a high volume, lucrative, entry-level market. Last week, The Register reported that NatSemi-Cyrix was concentrating on fighting at that end of the market, and one AMD executive said that between them, the clone-makers could capture as much as 75 per cent of retail business from Intel. ®
Mike Magee, 03 Apr 1999

IDT chip info crawls above parapet

We've tried over the last six months to get a dialogue going with US semi company IDT but to no avail, despite the fact that all of the other x.86 firms, including Great Stan itself, are more than happy to talk to us. For that reason, we've relied on distributors and dealers which IDT does talk to, plus hardware sites, including JC's Pages and Jonathan Hou at Fullon3d. Once again, those two sites have some information for us. The former provides a translation of a Japanese article from Nikkei Net which we can briefly summarise. According to this, IDT has decided to stay with Socket Seven. Earlier this week, we had very reliable information that the company was going the Socket 370 route and we still stand by that story. However, unlike both Rise and Cyrix, which have also said they will adopt Socket 370, it is conceivable that IDT does not want to fall foul of Intel lawyers (who does?). Rise's partner is almost certainly STMicroelectronics while Cyrix has cross-licensing arrangements with Intel, too. WinChip 3, according to the Nikkei Net piece will ramp in time for Christmas, with a 76 square millimetre die size and 128L level one cache. WinChip 4 will sample in Q3 of this year, and have 11.6 million trannies. Jonathan Hou's site, FullOn3D, meanwhile, has posted a review of the WinChip2/300 and has also obtained some benchmarks for the WinChip 3... We think IDT has to ramp up its production and its profile a little faster than this if it has to an earthly against rival Cyrix, and even for that matter, Rise... Once again, we will find out at the Computex Trade Fair in Taipei, in June. The Register will be attending and when we take a walk around the stands, we're going to see up and coming motherboards that will reveal all... ® Related Stories Now IDT takes S370 route Rise CEO confirms S370 chip on way Cyrix goes 370 pin Intel FlexATX motherboard to use 810 chipset
Mike Magee, 03 Apr 1999

Intel searches for more Merced babes in wood

Our mole over at the Intel Job Centre has provided us with a fresh wish list for Merced engineers. Readers will recall that "The Sixth Vulture" provided us with a stream of vacancies for Merced engineers only a week or two back. Now, he says, a spate of further vacancies is up for grabs. The latest job ads are for 28 in the last few days with some subtle changes from the last batch of vacancies. Some are re-posted vacancies but one, available at Redmond, has now moved to Satan Clara, Chipzilla Central. Although the word "Merced" does not appear as often as it did a week ago, there is a little McKinley teaser. We quote from one ad: "Exciting developments are being made on the Merced microprocessor to be released in mid-1999. And as we look into the future, McKinley, the second-generation 64-bit architecture, will run at a minimum of 1GHz and will feature the largest on-chip Level 2 cache of any Intel chip. More importantly, the McKinley architecture will support a memory large enough to fit almost all databases, resulting in high-speed queries and other executions." A job for a Logic Engineer at Satan Clara is also interesting: "In this position, you will be responsible for developing functional tests for IA64 CPU manufacturing. You will work closely with the IA64 CPU team for developing strategies and setting up tools for functional pattern generation through design simulator. "Pattern generation methodology must cover all platforms which can source tests for developing manufacturing screens to achieve targeted DPM goals. You will also work closely with Product Engineers responsible for converting the design simulation outputs to test vectors, who will demand a very detailed knowledge of the RTL model of the Front Side BUS and its external protocols. You will also have responsibility for defining methodology and writing necessary codes for generating self contained test patterns and for initial debug of functional pattern failures on the production tester." And this one is intriguing because it mentions the "latest" Merced processor. "I/O TIMING DESIGN ENGINEER In this position, you will be responsible for validating next generation latest Merced(tm) CPU and future IA-64(tm) bit-architecture microprocessor, and front side bus on various systems topologies. You will be responsible for various aspects including bus timing generation; simulating bus performance under various motherboard and package topologies; validating and improving the I/O design, and generating SPICE models to be used by OEMs." When we asked an Intel representative about what the phrase "latest Merced" meant, he told us that the advertising agency had made a mistake. ® Related Stories Merced project in utter disarray Intel steps up Merced recruitment drive Intel goes hell for leather to hire Merced staff Compaq Merced designers flee coop
Mike Magee, 03 Apr 1999

SEC filing shows depth of AMD CPU concerns

US corporations have to file form 10Ks with the Security and Equity Commission (SEC) and in the last three days a bunch of them has done just that. But AMD's filing is of particular interest for several reasons. In the next few days, AMD will release its latest financial results and they will not be good, as it warned earlier. In the SEC filing, AMD sets out its different business lines. Its CPG division, which includes microprocessors and core logic products, accounted for 50 per cent of its net sales in 1998. We have italicised those parts which we think are of most interest and later on today will post our analysis of the seven year AMD-Motorola deal, much of which is also contained in the same filing. Says the filing: "In 1998, our most significant microprocessor product was the AMD-K6(R)-2 processor with 3DNow!(TM) technology, a sixth-generation microprocessor product and a member of the K86(TM) microprocessor family. The K86 microprocessors are based on Superscalar RISC architecture and are designed to be compatible with operating system software such as MS-DOS, Windows 3.X,Windows 95(R), Windows 98(R), Windows NT(R) and UNIX. We began volume shipments of the AMD-K6 microprocessor in the second quarter of 1997. "The AMD-K6 microprocessor was designed to be competitive in performance to Intel's sixth-generation microprocessor, the Pentium(R) II, which was designed by Intel specifically for desktop PCs. In the first quarter of 1999, we introduced and began volume shipments of the AMD-K6-III processor with 3DNow! technology, our highest performance, sixth-generation K86 microprocessor for desktop PCs. Our introduction of theAMD-K6-III processor with 3DNow! technology also marked the debut of our new TriLevel Cache, an advanced cache memory architecture which improves overall PC performance in Windows compatible desktop PCs. "The AMD-K6-III microprocessor was designed to be competitive in performance to the Pentium III, successor to the Intel Pentium II microprocessor. Our microprocessor business has in the past significantly impacted, and will continue in 1999 and 2000 to significantly impact, our revenues and profit margins and operating results. "We plan to continue to make significant capital expenditures to support our microprocessor products both in the near and long term. Our ability to increase microprocessor product revenues, and benefit fully from the substantial financial investments andcommitments that we have made and continue to make related to microprocessors,depends upon the success of the AMD-K6 and AMD-K6-III microprocessors with3DNow! technology, the AMD-K7(TM) microprocessor, which is our seventh-generation, Microsoft Windows compatible microprocessor planned for introduction by the end of the first half of 1999, and future generations of K86 microprocessors. "The microprocessor market is characterized by short product life cycles and migration to ever higher performance microprocessors.To compete successfully against Intel in this market, we must transition to new process technologies at a faster pace than before and offer higher performance microprocessors in significantly greater volumes. "Intel has dominated the market for microprocessors used in PCs for a long time. Because of its dominant market position, Intel can set and control x86 microprocessor standards and, thus, dictate the type of product the market requires of Intel's competitors. In addition, Intel may vary prices on its microprocessors and other products at will and thereby affect the margins and profitability of its competitors due to its financial strength and dominant position. Given Intel's industry dominance and brand strength, Intel's decisions on processor prices can impact and have impacted the average selling prices of the AMD-K6 microprocessors, and consequently can impact and has impacted our margins. "As an extension of its dominant microprocessor marketshare, Intel also now dominates the PC platform. As a result, it is difficult for PC manufacturers to innovate and differentiate their product offerings. We do not have the financial resources to compete with Intel on such a large scale. As Intel has expanded its dominance over the entirety of the PC system platform, many PC original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have reduced their system development expenditures and have purchased microprocessors in conjunction with core logic chipsets or in assembled motherboards. "PC OEMs are becoming increasingly dependent on Intel, less innovative on their own and more of a distribution channel for Intel technology. In marketing our microprocessors to these OEMs and dealers, we depend upon companies other than Intel for the design and manufacture of chipsets, motherboards, basic input/output system (BIOS) software and other components. In recent years,these third-party designers and manufacturers have lost significant marketshare to Intel. "In addition, these companies produce chipsets, motherboards,BIOS software and other components to support each new generation of Intel's microprocessors only if Intel makes information about its products available to them in time to address market opportunities. Delay in the availability of such information makes, and will continue to make, it increasingly difficult for these third parties to retain or regain market share. "To compete with Intel in this market in the future, we intend to continue to form closer relationships with third-party designers and manufacturers of chipsets, motherboards, BIOS software and other components. Similarly, we intend to expand our chipset and system design capabilities, and to offer OEMs licensed system designs incorporating our processors and companion products. We cannot be certain, however, that our efforts will be successful. "We completed construction of the plant and administration building for Dresden Fab 30 at the end of 1997. In 1998, we installed equipment in the building and began testing. The planned Dresden Fab 30 costs are denominated in deutsche marks and are, therefore, subject to change based on applicable conversion rates. "We entered into foreign currency hedging transactions for Dresden Fab 30 in 1997 and 1998 and anticipate entering into additional such foreign currency hedging transactions in the first quarter of 1999 and in the future." ®
Mike Magee, 03 Apr 1999

Microsoft to invest in Portugal Telecom

Microsoft will invest $38.6 million to get 2.5% of TV Cabo, Portugal Telecom's cable and satellite TV services company, as part of a plan to introduce broadband Internet services later this year. Michael Lacombe, president of Microsoft Europe, grandly announced that this is part of Microsoft's "commitment to the development and delivery of broadband and wireless technologies and services to customers around theEuropean region". So what does it all mean then? Microsoft has an obscene amount of cash, so it is always hungry for investments, for a start. At first, it is surprising that such a small stake should have been taken, but perhaps it was enough to ensure that in a secret part of the deal, Microsoft will be able to insist that Windows is used everywhere. Of course the citizens of the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, who are big net contributors to the European budget, are significantly subsidising the likes of Portugal, so if there is any decent budgetary reform, Portugal may find some of its grand infrastructure projects a bit short of funds. The French-dominated Microsoft European HQ is of course keen to see other people's cash splashed around smaller European countries — a kind of largesse for which French taxpayers do not have to pay. That way, new "customers" for Microsoft software are generated. This deal increases the likelihood that Microsoft will try to acquire Westminster Cable, BT's remaining cable investment that it has been told to divest by the bossy (and corrupt, we now know) European Commission. Citizens in the area covered are unable to get the benefit of better prices from their cable company at present, because BT can only discount for all subscribers. ®
Graham Lea, 03 Apr 1999

Microsoft fixes IE 5, IE 4, Win98 software

UpdatedOver on our Message Boards, a reader has pointed us to a Microsoft site that gives a fix for the problem in IE 5 we recently wrote about. And another reader has since reported: "If you're like me and haven't been to Windows Update for a long time, it's time to pay a visit. Several patches for Windows 98 have been released and there are several additional updates available. Most notable are the fixes for the 49.7 day bug and the highly controversial hardware ID number given to your system during online registration. "Microsoft has also updated both Internet Explorer 4.0 and 5.0. The updated release of IE 5.0 went relatively unnoticed, although it most likely fixes the bugs that accompanied the initial March 18 version. The update is only available through a complete IE 5.0 download. The new version is IE 5.00.2314.1003 compared with the original 5.00.2014.0216. Internet Explorer 4.0 was also updated with the release of Service Pack 2." The first reader to notice the changes said: "Did you know there appears to be IE5 service release already? The main fix is to the MS Data Access components (MDAC). "Check out this place "This site suggests there is an IE5a release that includes the fixed MDAC 2.1. (It also suggests Office 2000 has actually been shipped as it says the update is included in that too!) "Unfortunately, so far I have been unable to find an actual IE5a download anywhere, or any other references to it from Microsoft, including in the MSDN member download area." ® Related Story IE 5 security hole lets snoopers scoop your clipboard
Mike Magee, 03 Apr 1999

AMD-Motorola deal takes form

When AMD struck an alliance with Motorola at the end of 1998, we knew that part of that deal was the copper and interconnect technology the latter developed. But the alliance, which lasts seven years, is much more wide ranging than at first appeared. The long appendix to AMD's filing on the 29th of March is full of gaps, marked *****, which concern secrets that it and Motorola don't want competitors to know. But as with any document, lacunae are often pretty easy to decipher. A summary of the agreement appears in the main body of the 10K form AMD filed and reads as follows: "In 1998, we entered into an alliance with Motorola for the development of Flash memory and logic technology. The alliance includes a seven-year technology development and license agreement and a patent cross-license agreement. The agreements provide that we will co-develop with Motorola future generation logic process and embedded Flash technologies. The licenses to each generation of technology vary in scope relative to the contributions to technology development made by both companies. "Subject to certain conditions, the companies will share: ownership to jointly developed technology and any intellectual property rights relating to such technology; development costs for mutually agreed upon facilities, tasks and technologies; and foundry support. In addition, we will gain access to Motorola's semiconductor logic process technology, including copper interconnect technology. "In exchange, we will develop and license to Motorola a Flash module design to be used in Motorola's future embedded Flash products. The licenses to logic process technologies granted to AMD may be subject to variable royalty rates, which are dependent on the technology transferred and subject to certain other conditions. Motorola will have additional rights, subject to certain conditions, to make stand-alone Flash devices, and to make and sell certain data networking devices. The rights to data networking devices may be subject to variable royalty payment provisions." We have noticed that AMD has now pointed to the complete filing from its own site to the address: AMD filing so suggest you look at the 40 plus pages of the full agreement there. There's also interesting information about its current fab arrangements in this document. ®
Mike Magee, 03 Apr 1999