AMD, Intel Intensify Battle For Market Dominance

The battle between the two took center stage at the XChange Tech Builder conference two weeks ago in Las Vegas, where executives from each company took turns trying to wow the gathering of about 200 system builders.

"Our technology was the backbone for 'Revenge of the Sith,' " Patrick Moorhead, vice president of global marketing for AMD's microprocessor business unit, told XChange attendees. "There were 10 to 15 guys who coded the entire movie," he said of the graphics-intensive George Lucas production. "It was pretty fascinating. It gave me an absolute understanding and knowledge of what is next and what is possible."

In its market battle with Intel, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD has rolled out celebrity endorsements such as six-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, the Ferrari Formula One racing team and now "Star Wars" producers to help promote its Opteron and Athlon64 processing platforms.

During AMD's XChange presentation, Gary Bixler, director of the company's North American system builder channel, led a demonstration of upgrading a single-core, dual-processor Opteron system to a dual-core system. The process, which included a BIOS upgrade, took about 15 minutes, and the demo ended with a 64-bit-enabled Microsoft Windows operating system recognizing four CPUs from the two dual-core processors in a single workstation.

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While AMD focused on the processor technology itself, Intel pressed its message of "platformization" and the need for standardized building blocks. In an effort to continue channel momentum in the mobility space, Intel is working with third parties to provide a number of new, standardized "building blocks" for whitebooks to coincide with next year's launch of its planned Napa platform, the chip maker's executives said at the XChange Tech Builder conference.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company has found the building blocks and platformization of its mobile platform, under the Centrino brand, has been largely responsible for the 22 percent growth of the technology in the North American channel.

"This isn't about unit volume growth," said Wes Sieker, Intel's North American channel marketing manager of mobile products. "It's about the entire industry having new opportunities to earn service revenue and revenue from security solutions, wireless networking and hot spot deployment."

Sieker said that prior to and after the Centrino launch in 2003, Intel worked with third-party component makers to provide more standardized building blocks for unbranded notebooks, or whitebooks. In addition, the Centrino platform itself combines a processor, a chipset and a Wi Fi card in one box, or platform.

Upon the early 2006 launch of the Napa platform, which will include a processor built with Intel's 65nm manufacturing process, "you might have LCD screens developed to common specifications that will work across multiple notebook platforms," Sieker told system builders at the conference. "You guys have been asking for standardization. This is the start of a multi-year process."

"The advent of 64-bit [Windows] operating systems finally being released, and adoption of 64-bit computing, is going to speed up AMD's trajectory," said Tim Ulmen, product manager for CDI, a Wichita, Kan.-based system builder.

Ulmen, whose company builds half its systems with AMD chips and half with Intel's, said supply issues with some of Intel's most popular chipsets—including its 865 chipset for desktops—have begun to emerge with potential to hamper some of Intel's sales.

Intel executives themselves have acknowledged some temporary component shortages, although they have not been specific about which components have been squeezed.