Tell Us What You Really Think About Intel, Henri

Richard didn't disappoint during last week's Technology Analyst Day at AMD's Sunnyvale, Calif. campus. The chipmaker's chief sales and marketing officer let fly a number of Intel-targeted salvoes at the company's official press conference, and later, in his Ferrari-festooned office during a one-on-one interview with ChannelWeb.

With a decision on a European anti-trust complaint against Intel looming, Richard seemed even more emboldened than usual. The fireworks came early and often, much to the delight of the gaggle in AMD's media briefing room.

"In any other industry, if what was happening in this industry was happening, it would be on the front page of every magazine in the world. Hopefully some day, our legal action and the government action will change all of this forever," he said.

Less than 24 hours after Richard made that statement, the European Commission (EC) issued a formal anti-trust complaint against Intel, perhaps hastening that hopeful day for AMD.

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Intel has 10 weeks to reply to the EC's preliminary complaint, which charges the world's leading chipmaker with fixing rebates and making direct payments to OEMs to discourage the building of AMD-based products, as well as offering below-market prices on server chips.

Intel denied any wrongdoing in a statement released Friday, emphasizing that the EC complaint had come about due to filings by its rival AMD rather than consumers or other objective interests.

"We are confident that the microprocessor market segment is functioning normally and that Intel's conduct has been lawful, pro-competitive, and beneficial to consumers," Bruce Sewell, Intel's senior vice president and general counsel, said in the statement. "While we would certainly have preferred to avoid the cost and inconvenience of establishing that our competitive conduct in Europe has been lawful, the Commission's decision to issue a Statement of Objections means that at last Intel will have the opportunity to hear and respond to the allegations made by our primary competitor."

In its recent second-quarter earnings call, Intel reported better-than-expected second-quarter sales of its low-end microprocessors in markets outside of North America, while admitting to being perplexed by a lack of commensurate gains in its U.S. distribution channel. If the EC finds the anti-trust complaint to have merit, Intel could face fines of up to 10 percent of its annual revenue of $35.4 billion.

Richard claims that a large portion of AMD's difficulties can be placed at the feet of Intel, and not as a result of fair competition.

"Since our OEMs are smart people, when the first Opteron came to the market and they could benchmark it, they could tell it was better. So why did it take so long for them to migrate over? I don't mind a good competitor. What I don't like is an unfair competitor," he said.

"On Lenovo, how come [other chipmakers except Intel] can't get into Thinkpad? It's another elephant in the room. I think everybody pretty much understands why."

Richard joined AMD in 2002 with two decades of experience in global technology marketing, including stints at Bell Microproducts, IBM and as a value-added reseller in his native France. He brought more than a little bit of Europe with him to AMD -- his office at the Sunnyvale campus doubles as a shrine to Ferrari's Formula One racing team, which AMD supplies with in-race diagnostic technology and a team of engineers to run it. Richard himself owns several Ferraris.

Fans of the team that won six straight F1 championships from 1999 to 2004 love Ferrari's aggressiveness. Detractors have a different word for the Italian carmaker's attitude -- arrogance.

Richard seems to straddle that dichotomy of perception as well. The marketing chief's energy is infectious. But his habit of slipping into the first person when discussing AMD -- "Right now, there's parts of the market where I can't compete," he said last Thursday, describing AMD's lack of a quad-core product until Barcelona starts shipping -- can be jarring to ears accustomed to the pitch-perfect "no-I-in-team" language of Corporate America. When he addresses a crowd, is it a bemused expression on his face, or a look of Gallic hauteur?

However one perceives him, there's no denying that Richard is most effective when he's on the attack. He has an uncanny ability for convincing people that what they may think of as a setback is actually a strength. Thus, in Richard's narrative, it's market-dominating Intel that faces the highest hurdles in the months to come, while AMD's experience as the underdog has made it resilient in the face of changing market conditions.

"The world isn't changing for us, it's changing for them. It's never been a free lunch for AMD. People always expected us to give a good value proposition," he said.

"Meanwhile, Intel has had a set of coercive programs and behaviors, and that's starting to erode. Despite all the hoopla, they're feeling the pressure. The old practice where you needed rebates from Intel to keep going is starting to break down. The relative importance of processors to overall hardware is decreasing. A great processor with bad video isn't going to sell. ... The challenge is on Intel more than us."

AMD will go after market share by investing in its commercial clients, Richard said, instead of competing on price cuts.

"We're not going to cut ourselves out of this situation. We're going to do it by adding to the top line. Commercial clients require building commercial channels," he said.

"You can expect a very aggressive program relative to driving attach rates of AMD solutions, but not in a coercive way, not like our competitor. What's really changed for us in the past few years is that we already had a solid components channel ... but in the systems channel business we never had a significant presence, until maybe three years ago. And even then the HPs and the IBMs of the world, the large VARs, didn't have to deal with AMD. That's changed."