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Happy Y2K Intel!

         What a pleasant surprise to restart this weekly column and realized that all the good things I was expecting for AMD happened! As we all know AMD shipped their Athlon ( aka K7 ) on time putting away the x86 performance crown from Intel. The end of last year was a real revolution for the x86 CPU industry. It was indeed the first time Intel had to catch-up with another x86 CPU manufacturer performances and it went pretty bad. Off course it wasn't totally catastrophic for them due to the inertia of this market. But repeated failures to deliver indicated that Intel was under stress such as the bug in the i820 chipset( aka Camino ), the bugs in the early PIII-600Mhz, the quasi unavailability of the Coppermine PIII-733Mhz, the failure to impose Rambus DRAMs. Most of these failures were due to Intel compressing schedules to roll out products way earlier than expected. For the first time in a while Intel faced a problem AMD suffered : the inability to produce enough high-end chips to meet its customer demand. Many Intel believers such as Gateway ran into troubles and were forced to bring back AMD CPUs to their PC line.
         Unfortunately for Intel this is not their only problem… Another player is coming to the game : VIA technologies. They have designed a chipset ( VIA KX133 ) that not only takes advantage of technologies Intel haven’t deployed yet ( SDRAM 133 support ), but also is optimized for a non-Intel CPU ( AMD Athlon ). This chip is predicted to sell very well due to the indisputable technical superiority one would have building an Athlon platform around it. Intel will now have to catch-up on VIA as well. Especially to design a chipset that support PC133 SDRAMs since they turn out to be a much cheaper alternative than Rambus DRAMs for about the same performance gain…
         At this point Intel have lost its technical supremacy on two key domains : CPUs and chipset. It is not a surprise though since Intel bet on several things like Itanium ( aka Merced ) or a better acceptance of Rambus DRAMs. This has reduced the efforts Intel put on the development of its x86 line and killed any chipset development using other memory types than Rambus. How is the giant going to survive year 2000? Well time will tell us. But we should keep in mind that giants are giant mainly because of their ability to come back whenever they start losing ground. In any case some of the elements key to Intel future success will be the acceptance of Itanium CPUs and Rambus DRAMs by the market this year.

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