2) AMD is not getting itself out in front of system builders
While we follow customer demand in general, there are also times where system builders use their expertise to sell what is best for the consumer, even when that bucks the general trend. My views on RAID are a good example. If AMD had a CPU that was compelling enough, you bet that we'd be pushing it in front of our customers. But I have to admit that I know very little about AMD's current processor performance.
Back in the day, this was very different. I could tell you all about the K6 line and its performance attributes. But after reading independant reviews of the Phenom and Phenom II platforms, and after years of near-zero demand from our customers, I have simply fallen out of touch. Our AMD rep does send us the occasional sample product, and we appreciate that. But while Intel is visiting us in person once a quarter, AMD has yet to send anyone out to us, ever. This face time is very important, as it captures the attention of the system builder and allows the introduction of numerous products and ideas. System builders are a massive sales force for any manufacturer. They work directly with end users, and as such, play a large role in shaping brand perceptions. AMD really needs to connect with system builders in a way it has not yet managed to do.
3) AMD CPUs are harder for us to ship and support
This is a big deal, and my most important point. System builders are apprehensive about shipping systems with AMD CPUs. In our case, we focus on the high-performance market, and we're known in the industry for our quiet computers. This means we use large heatsinks, and large heatsinks are murder when shipping a computer with an AMD CPU.
The bottom line is that AMD CPUs are far more likely to be unseated during shipping. When the package in transit hits a large bump, the mounts of the heatsink can flex, and the heatsink pulls away from the motherboard. The thermal paste acts to provide suction, so the heatink pulls the processor with it. What's worse, if the bump is large enough, the CPU can pull completely out of socket. When the heatsink retention pulls everything back together, it mashes the CPU pins, effectively destroying the CPU in most cases. The solution is to use a smaller, more sturdy heatsink, which limits the product we can offer.
With the innovation of the LGA socket, Intel revolutionized CPU retention. How many Intel LGA CPUs have we seen come unseated during shipping? Zero. I can tell you that we have made more than one product line decision based on this. There is nothing that kills customer confidence faster than a DOA computer, and it is even worse when we have to foot the bill (AMD does not grant RMAs for physical damage).
Where Do We Go From Here?
Notice that at no point in this column did I talk about performance of AMD versus Intel. Debate over performance and value belongs to another topic. What I'm driving toward are some of the ways that Intel is able to outsell AMD, one of which is providing system builders with the tools they need to confidently sell product. I very much value a free market and open competition, but I don't expect the EU fines alone to change anything with either computer enthusiasts piecing their own machines together or system builders handling the integration process.
What the EU ruling could do is get AMD in front of more distribution outlets, increasing their channel exposure. This exposure is only worthwhile if AMD has an effective strategy for leveraging it. Ultimately it is the connection with partners that AMD needs to improve. AMD has a good message, but they're not utilizing their partners very effectively to get this message to consumers. This relationship problem is also hindering the flow of valuable feedback to AMD, which slows improvement in some areas (such as CPU and heatsink retention).
If the EU ruling does bring AMD additional outlets, I hope the opportunity will be used to connect with those partners, learn more about their consumers, and strengthen themselves in these areas I discussed. The better AMD competes, the more everyone wins.