Smartphones shift chipmaking balance of power
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Nobody used to care about the silicon inside of cell phones. That changed in 2009, with the rise of the high-end smartphone and Intel's mad dash to be a player in this market.
The purchase by Qualcomm--a cell phone chip giant--of Advanced Micro Devices' handheld technology in January made for a telling start to the year, pointing to both AMD's delicate state, after a near-collapse in 2008, and the rising prominence of smartphone chipmakers. And it was a prelude to Intel's first baby steps in the smartphone market.
LG's announcement that it would use a future Intel Atom processor in a high-end smartphone provided proof that Intel had serious plans for getting its chips into small devices.
All of this was happening against the economic fallout of 2008. Intel canceled its chip forum in Taiwan, while graphics kingpin Nvidia said demand for its chips had all but dried up, and Micron Technology slashed 2,000 more jobs.
Amid the financial turmoil, Intel plowed ahead with investments and brought its new "Nehalem" chip architecture to servers. And in line with a growing consumer fascination with small devices, Netbook shipments continued to grow, and Intel marked the first anniversary of the Atom processor--which powers virtually all Netbooks--with a new series of chips.
Hewlett-Packard began to reposition the Netbook as a device with built-in 3G capability--like a large smartphone--and HP Netbooks started to appear in Verizon and AT&T outlets right next to the iPhones, BlackBerrys, and Droids.
Intel and AMD were instrumental in launching a new category of inexpensive small laptops positioned just above Netbooks called ultrathins--which were essentially slightly larger, more profitable versions of the Netbook. (The profit margins on Netbooks were too small for Intel's liking.)
Qualcomm emerged as a potent new competitor for Intel, as Qualcomm honed its strategy for getting its chips into Netbook-like devices, which it called "smartbooks"--essentially a large smartphone.
The popularity of the Apple iPhone 3GS, a virtual handheld personal computer, spurred interest in what makes the iPhone tick, and a rash of teardowns ensued.
From May onward, the legal landscape for Intel became extremely treacherous, as accusations of alleged antitrust behavior mounted. First, the EU levied a fine of $1.45 billion on the chipmaker. This was followed in November by the New York attorney general filing a complaint against Intel and rumblings that the Federal Trade Commission would take action.
Intel decided that it would try to forestall further legal wrangling, and it settled with AMD--the source of most of the allegations--for $1.25 billion. Whether this would placate the FTC was not at all certain.
Nvidia began to make waves amid its transformation from a dedicated graphics chip supplier to a designer of chips for supercomputers and handheld devices. Nvidia stated categorically that building chips for media players and smartphones would account for half of its business in the future. Microsoft revealed that it was using Nvidia's tiny Tegra chip in the Zune HD media player.
AMD wasn't Intel's only large legal opponent. Intel sued Nvidia, forcing Nvidia to terminate development of chipsets for Intel's newest generation of Core i processors. This, in turn, drew scrutiny from the FTC.
Although the year ended with an Intel retreat from the standalone graphics chip business, the big chip headlines (besides legal skirmishes) at the end of the year weren't about PCs but rather about smartphones. The Motorola Droid made a splash, with its Android 2.0 operating system and high-performance Texas Instruments processor. ARM--the United Kingdom-based company that supplies the basic design for processors that power the iPhone, Research In Motion BlackBerry, Palm Pre, Motorola Droid, and most of the world's smartphones--fired a salvo at Intel, saying it had a dual-core design that would hit 2GHz, an obvious assault on Intel's performance bastion.
The year ahead promises to bring more small devices. Apple may introduce a tablet and/or media pad. And even if Apple doesn't, scores of Asia-based device makers certainly will. Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Samsung, and, eventually, Intel will follow with chips that value power efficiency over raw speed.
Communications chipmaker buys handheld assets from Advanced Micro Devices, including graphics chip technology. AMD will get $65 million in cash.
World's largest chipmaker calls off developer conference in Taiwan this year and plans to scale back the one in Beijing. Company says both will resume in 2010.
Graphics chip supplier also reports quarterly loss of $147.7 million. CEO says environment "clearly difficult and uncertain."
The successor to Intel's current Atom processor will be part of a collaboration based on Intel's silicon and the Linux Moblin v2.0 software platform.
Largest U.S. maker of memory chips cites decreased demand for its DRAM products. The cuts come on top of a 15 percent reduction in the workforce announced in October.
Market researchers IDC and Gartner join the parade of forecasts for depressed chip sales in 2009. There is some light at the end of the tunnel, however.
Intel's Nehalem-architecture chips will now try to make their mark in servers after debuting in desktops in November.
Chipmaker celebrates the one-year anniversary of the Atom processor by introducing two new models, while confirming the arrival of Nehalem-based mobile chips later this year.
Intel Chief Executive Paul Otellini said low-cost, ultrathin laptops with future Intel processors will be a big trend, a development that could upset the Netbook cart.
Handset heavyweight Qualcomm is set to butt heads with Intel as it readies its high-performance Snapdragon chip.
Should Apple be more open about the silicon inside the iPhone?
Regulators say that the chipmaker "harmed millions of European consumers" by using anticompetitive measures intended to squeeze out rival AMD's processors.
Hours after European regulators impose a $1.45 billion fine, Paul Otellini rebuts the charges behind the antitrust action.
AMD is flying the EU flag on its home page. And if the image doesn't convey the message, the caption certainly does.
Advanced Micro Devices claims that Intel and Apple cut a deal to use Intel processors only. Intel denies the claim and says Apple's decision to go with Intel chips was based on the merits.
The top lawyer at AMD talks to CNET about critical moments when the rivalry with Intel got particularly nasty.
Where Netbooks use an Intel Atom processor and, typically, Windows XP, the forthcoming smartbooks will feature ARM chip designs and Linux.
At company's analyst day, Jen-Hsun Huang says future will make the graphics processor the equal of processors made by Intel, citing Apple as an early indicator.
The two companies create a wide-ranging deal covering chips and software for mobile devices.
Intel lost $398 million because of an EU fine, but the chipmaker is optimistic about the second half of the year.
Company says it has made a $500 million prepayment to Toshiba for flash memory chips and indicates that the market is stabilizing.
AMD is introducing a bevy of laptop processors, as it attempts to assert its graphics chip advantage over Intel.
It only hit retail Tuesday, but iFixit has already done a tear-down of the device and found a Nvidia Tegra processor based on the power-frugal ARM chip design.
Paul Otellini shows off 22-nanometer silicon to the IDF crowd and talks of moving Intel's Atom technology beyond Netbooks to places like car dashboards.
Hector Ruiz, the former CEO and chairman of Advanced Micro Devices, has been linked to the insider-trading case, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
The Motorola Droid and Apple iPhone may be different on the outside, but inside there are some distinct similarities.
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's federal antitrust case filed Wednesday alleges a longstanding symbiotic relationship between Intel and Dell.
Intel has delayed the release of its Larrabee graphics processor, saying it will initially appear as a software development platform only.