Power problems plague PCs, servers
Electricity is a computer's lifeblood, but after 2006, many in the industry probably wish they had steam-powered machines.
Several PC makers reckoned with the public-relations nightmare of smoking, flaming and sometimes exploding laptop computer batteries. For server makers, it was the year companies tried to boost performance without crippling air conditioning units in the data center.
The battery issue began in earnest in August, when Dell announced a recall of more than 4 million batteries made by Sony. Apple Computer followed with a recall of another 1.8 million, and the problem also hit Lenovo, Sharp and Panasonic. Sony itself launched a recall for batteries used by several other computer makers, too. Adding insult to injury, a resulting shortage of working batteries curtailed some fourth-quarter sales already hit by Microsoft's Windows Vista delay in March.
On the server side, the industry took more serious measures to curtail heat problems. Sun plugged its UltraSparc T1 "Niagara"-based servers, which consume less power than typical x86 machines, and showed some success: in the second quarter of the year, Sun sold more than $100 million of the systems. That, plus $125 million in sales of x86 servers, were nice feathers in the cap of Jonathan Schwartz, named Sun's new chief executive in April as Scott McNealy stepped down.
Server makers using dual-core chips had new heat issues when Intel began shipping the first quad-core processors in November. Meanwhile, IBM touted the energy efficiency of its mainframes and Intel boasted that its new Itanium 2 9000 "Montecito" Itanium chip, which arrived in July, sucked down less juice.
At the beginning of the year, the greater energy efficiency of Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron chip helped the company make inroads against Intel's rival Xeon. Opteron rose to 26 percent of the x86 server market in the second quarter.
Intel fought back with its Xeon 5300 "Woodcrest" chip, the first Xeon to employ the Core architecture. It quickly spread to servers from Dell, IBM and Hewlett-Packard, and helped Intel regain server share against AMD in the third quarter.
Intel also congratulated itself for leading Apple through a faster-than-expected move to x86 chips from PowerPC. Apple, which turned 30 this year, completed its Intel-based PC transition with the unveiling of the Mac Pro in August.
Intel's restored competitiveness wasn't enough to keep Dell's complete loyalty, though. In May, Dell announced that it would sell Opteron servers, models that it delivered in October. Dell also began selling AMD-based desktops and notebooks.
Dell said it was changing its ways to meet customer demand. But in the meantime, Dell lost the PC market lead to longtime rival Hewlett-Packard in the third quarter. Both companies started taking the game market more seriously, with Dell acquiring Alienware and HP acquiring Voodoo PC.
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