Intel CEO on Competition: The Best Chip Will Win

In an interview with All Things Digital, Intel CEO Paul Otellini commented on the potential threat for Intel's business from ARM. The usual marketing pitches set aside, we have recently seen Intel rather modest and careful with its claims targeting ARM, in which the company typically states that it has the upper hand in manufacturing and performance, while the company concedes that ARM has some knowledge how to design very low power processors. However, in this specific interview, Otellini sounded different.

In a response to a question about Intel's rivals, including previous rivals such as Transmeta and Via, Otellini said:

"I happen to be around long enough to remember those guys," he said. "People come and go, and we’ve never had an exclusive, if you will. And, overall, the best chip has won."

Granted, All Things Digital did not reveal how the question was asked, but some people may have a different view on that. Back when Transmeta was a hot topic, the startup chipmaker put a spotlight on processors that consumed power more efficiently. While Transmeta had its own issues and never attained the credibility it needed to succeed, Intel's marketing machine contributed to Transmeta's decline.

While Intel surely did not have the most power-efficient processors at the time, I especially remember a podium discussion at the 2001 Microprocessor Forum in San Jose, which included Intel's principal engineer Bob Jackson, AMD's CTO Fred Weber, Transmeta's CEO David Ditzel and Via-Centaur president Glenn Henry, in which Henry cynically commented on Jackson's explanations of Intel's power efficient processors that he would not have to talk about Via's technology since Intel will always claim to have the best processor. Of course, he referred to Intel's arrogance about its technology and the frustration of other chip makers that could not hold against Intel's marketing power.

Other than Otellini's remark that "people come and go", this time Intel is not directly competing with one company, ARM, but with an array of vendors that include heavy weights such as Samsung, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Marvell, and Nvidia. It's unlikely that we speak of those guys as "come and go". There is much more marketing power Intel will have to match - and there will be new markets that will be  fought over as Intel is moving down market and ARM makers are moving upmarket.

In this scenario we expect potshots to be fired now and then, but Otellini's blank statement was surprising nevertheless. We all want the best technology to succeed, but we also know that a good dose of competition will promote the creation of ever better technologies.


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  • amdwilliam1985
    Sounds good to me, looking forward to Intel making more splashes in the mobile market.
    I heard the Motorola Rzar Mi is pretty good over all, might lack a little bit in terms of battery. But considering it's the first generation and built on 32nm, we can expect Intel to bring on much better competition next year with better performance and battery with 22nm.
  • joz
  • CaedenV
    slow news day?
    Seriously, how can you make news out of such a statement? I mean, every company thinks they have the best thing on the market, or at least a feature that makes their product in some way better than the others. When it comes down to it, x86 is where the bulk of software lives for the moment, so nobody is going to be rushing to replace their x86 systems with ARM any time soon. The much larger issue is that the software focus on smaller power efficient systems has put a virtual end to any need to upgrade existing x86 systems. Because of that saturation in the desktop market Intel is now focusing their efforts into expanding into cell phone and tablet markets, and if the benchmarks we have seen on Haswell and Atom CPUs are to be believed then ARM is in for some stiff competition very quickly, and with the next die shrink in 2014 we will start to see Intel shipping chips that can do more than ARM at the same or lower power usage.

    I think Intel's bigger blind spot is in their graphics department. HD4000 is finally 'fast enough' for entry level use... but is not available on entry level chips. The Atom cell phone CPUs are freaking sweet... but the graphics bundled with them are 1/2 the speed (or less) than the competition, which is frankly unacceptable for most users. If they want to be price competitive on mobile platforms then they need to get a solid in-house graphics unit for their CPUs. They cannot continue shipping stellar mobile chips with crap GPUs, or rely on 3rd party GPUs that are too expensive for the performance they deliver. I know they are getting better... but not better enough fast enough to compete with the iGPUs that are bundled with their ARM and AMD counterparts.