Monday, July 16, 2007

Intel 100lbs Chipzilla

I had previously blogged (here, here and here) about an interesting socio-technology experiment being done on an international scale. Now, Intel had decided that it wants in on it and it's using all it's 100 lbs might to pressure the group into letting it in. Way to go, ChipZilla!

Now for some background. The objective of the project is to design, build and manufacture a line of sub US$100 notebooks for the developing world. These notebooks will then be seeded into the various developing nations that have signed up. The idea is that this will possibly bridge the digital divide and give kids better social mobility in the future.

This project is called the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project.

Originally, the laptop does not use any Intel chips. For it's processor, it uses an AMD Geode processor, which is the low-power and low performance x86 processor that AMD bought from National Semiconductor, several years ago. The use of low power components was important as these laptops were to be used in countries that may not have accessible power supply. So, the laptop was designed to accommodate a hand-crank that could be used to power up the computer.

ChipZilla has never had a viable low-end x86 microprocessor as it has always focused on the desktop/server market. It's only embedded processor was it's ARM line of processors, called the StrongARM and then XScale. This all ended a couple of years ago when Intel was forced to sell off various non-core businesses in a company wide refocus, as ChipZilla was losing it's lead. In recent months, ChipZilla has decided that it was time for them to re-enter and capture the embedded market with their Pentium-M derived low power processors. This development had forced many embedded companies, chief of which is ARM, to re-evaluate ChipZilla as a potential major competitor.

With the OLPC project just getting off it's ground, ChipZilla wanted in. This project is widely regarded as a world changing project. They intend to seed tens, if not hundreds, of millions of laptops around the world. With such a lucrative project, it is perfectly understandable for any company to want in. This was implied by ChipZilla's Director of Corporate Affairs who said, "We're going to go compete for the XO business, because we think we build first-class silicon".

The thing that I'm miffed about is how ChipZilla went about with it's strong arm (pun intended) tactic to bludgeon it's way into the project. Several months ago, ChipZilla announced it's own initiative with the same objectives as the OLPC called the Classmate. This severely undermined the project and we now know why. It was ChipZilla's way of blackmailing the project into letting it in. If you cannot beat them with technology/price/marketing, beat them into submission.

PS: The rumour mill is churning and tells me that Samsung is eyeing AMD for an acquisition!

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