The Federal Trade Commission's complaint against Intel for alleged anticompetitive practices has a new twist: graphics chips.
To date, the antitrust actions of regulators worldwide toward Intel have focused on sale practices for central processing units, or CPUs, a market over which the company has fought heavily with Advanced Micro Devices. On Wednesday, however, the FTC spelled out a litany of allegations about Intel's alleged anticompetitive behavior in the market for graphics-processing units, or GPUs, in which Nvidia is a major player.
Nvidia is the world's leading supplier of "discrete," or standalone, graphics chips but takes a distant second place in overall market share to Intel, which supplies "integrated" graphics built into the chipsets that accompany all of its processors. Mercury Research estimates the total market for graphics chips, including integrated graphics, at almost $10 billion in 2009.
Why graphics, and why now? "It would be really hard to sell the public on expending resources to take Intel through administrative proceedings when it had already paid over a billion dollars to AMD," said Joshua D. Wright, a professor at George Mason University School of Law and a scholar in residence at the Federal Trade Commission until 2008.
"[The FTC] needed to be seen as doing something new," Wright said.
"[Nvidia] becomes the remaining star witness, now that AMD has left the field," said Roger Kay, principal at Endpoint Technologies. "And the FTC's focus, which begins to look toward the future, has to take into account how graphics will fit in as computer technology develops," Kay said.
Intel General Counsel Doug Melamed asserted in a statement that the FTC complaint "is based largely on claims that the FTC added at the last minute and has not investigated," referring to the GPU allegations. And Melamed added in a conference call that some of these GPU allegations were made as recently as December 8.
One of the areas the FTC case zeroes in on is the burgeoning competition for chipsets in Netbooks--small, inexpensive laptops that are typically priced around $350. Netbooks are powered by Intel's Atom processor--and integrated graphics silicon built into the chipset. In this market, Nvidia also sells its Ion chipset, which competes with Intel's integrated graphics product. … Read more