back to article How Intel's faith in x86 cost it the mobile market

You can’t fault departing Intel CEO Paul Otellini by claiming he didn't spot the way personal computing was becoming more mobile. He certainly did. But you can argue that his strategy for adapting the chip maker to the trend really wasn’t the right one. But as a 40-year Intel veteran it was never very likely he would reject one …

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Huh?

"and Linux, since the open source OS runs primarily on Wintel machines stripped of their shipping OS - laptop processors. "

Sorry, but Linux runs primarily on ARM. Or maybe you haven't heard of Android?

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Re: Huh?

"Linux runs primarily on ARM"

Further a lot of distros are starting to ship ARM versions - in any case Linux is available for almost everything - I'm suprised that there isn't a version for Babbage's machine

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Stop

Re: Huh?

That's fluke as far as this goes. Very few Android users are using the OS because it has an open source core, or there's Linux in there somewhere. Heck, most users won't even know Linux is in there. To say otherwise really is putting cart before horse. Android is not a big consumer vote for FOSS or Linux.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Huh?

No one was saying it was any of those things, merely that there is a large install base whether the consumer knows it or not.......jeez the anti-linux crowd really jumps on things

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Re: Huh?

Very few Android users are using the OS because it has an open source core, or there's Linux in there somewhere.

True-ish, but it is the existence of Linux that enabled Android to get going in the first place. So they are using it as a result of it having an open source core - just not a conscious choice (except for me -for whom it was a significant factor)..

And few people choose to run Window. It's just what comes with a PC, and it's what they feel they need to have in order to read the MS Word documents written by other people who didn't really "choose" Windows either, but rather just fell into it.

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Linux

Re: Huh?

Me and all my friends plus the friends of the friends disagree.

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Thumb Down

Re: Gordon 11's Huh?

You REALLY believe that few people choose to run windows?

funny my x86 computers came with nothing for over 18 years, and the one that I did buy with an OS on it only had Dr. D.O.S. and oddly I have windows on mine, and Word not installed. Its the same with everyone I know. I have had Linux on a few PC's over the years, but trashed the partitions seeing honestly mos times it just don't work. Currently I got VM's of every major distro trying to find one that is as easily useable as the Linux community claims, and yet to find one. Lets face it till linux distros get their act together, and standardize things like packages, and a UI its going to stay where it is.

For the record I run Windows 7 for hardware, and game support(I'd prefer win 2k pro though, but my hardware has 0 support in it, and even XP), as the games I play are not available under Linux, and honestly I don't even want to try and use wine again, as the last time I tried I deleted a partition out of sheer frustration (even following word for word the documentation)...

Just because it comes on the PC doesn't mean people don't want it. Look at all the original netbooks that sold with Linux on them that were returned cause it didn't have Windows on them which was what the people wanted.

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Linux isn't for you

"Lets face it till linux distros get their act together, and standardize things like packages, and a UI its going to stay where it is."

What you're asking for there is for Linux to become Windows. You should just stick with Windows (as indeed, you are doing).

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Boffin

No fluke - it's down to who has access to the source code

Mobile phone users generally are likely buy the phone and not the OS. It's the developers who choose the OS. Windows users will have to stick with X86 or migrate painfully because they usually don't have the source code for their applications, and so can't recompile these to run on a more advantageous hardware architecture. Apple corp and Linux users are able to change hardware platforms, due to having access to the source code needed. The Windows ecosystem requires so many third-party binary drivers and other binary blobs, e.g. Adobe's media viewers, that they can only migrate to a different instruction set by paying a massive emulation cost or losing most applications, which is what Microsoft are belatedly trying with their ARM surface.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Gordon 11's Huh?

When was the last time you tried?

It was like that about 5 years ago; wifi was a complete pain in the arse. These days I've found that 90% of the time a live cd will just work with pretty much everything you throw at it. Getting the windows drivers for the last dell I had to rebuild was an absolute arseache, with things having to be installed in *exactly* the right order, and various superfluous installers.

The puppy linux disc I used to get all the documents out of the machine worked out the box.

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Re: Gordon 11's Huh?

extraordinary.

I dumped windows 5 years ago and have never looked back.

If I need it I have a VM for it.

Linux mostly Just Works.

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Re: Gordon 11's Huh?

@Anonymous Coward

last week...

not saying the hardware setup hasn't gotten way better(will say that end has gotten easy as I remember the FUN it was 10 years ago) just trying to install something not in the repository is a royal PITA like for my VM I had a piece of software to install to get it to function properly in ubuntu the process I will say was very easy, but mandriva I went clicked on the icon it had an install option hit it, and was given a nice lengthy list of commands to type in, and after all was said and done it still didn't work even after all the commands executed... Debian was a few months ago similar experience spent over 40 mins of typing commands to get a program not under the default repository to run, and honestly said screw it half way as I deemed that it wasn't worth the time.

As for windows 7's hardware I'd put it on the same level as I didn't need any additional drivers for my particular hardware (now XP or similar for dells I would say that is a royal PITA)

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Pint

Linux runs on...

Whatever you've got, presuming it's a Von Neumann architecture - and we haven't seen any others gain traction in the last 40 years. You can install Linux on a dead badger. Google it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Linux runs on...

Modern computers use the Modified Harvard architecture not Von Neumann, due to having separate data and instruction caches.

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Anonymous Coward

Sigh

I always thought the 68xxx range had an edge over the x86 ....

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Anonymous Coward

I for one would have liked to see the Z8000 improved and expanded for a couple generations. Or the 88k perhaps.

These days it's getting steadily easier to try and roll your own, stick in an fpga and build a dev board around it, perhaps even open source it, share and enjoy.

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Re: I always thought the 68xxx range had an edge over the x86

So did the IBM engineers who created the PC, but their management over-ruled them due to already having an 8086 license from their electric typewriter division.

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Coat

Re: I always thought the 68xxx range had an edge over the x86

As far as I remember the problem was that 68xxx did not have the capacity to deliver the quantity IBM demanded and thus they had to do with Intel. Sad perhaps, but then again, a rather pointless thing to think about to day.

Within IBM the PC was not a sort of an GRAND NEW IDEA, but a reluctant reaction to what was happening in the not so important world outside IBM. The IBM PC was downgraded from within IBM from the start as some did not want a competitor to the existing range of mini computers. Then Gates had his chance and took it in front of people from IBM who still did not get it. Sad perhaps but then again, a rather pointless thing to think about to day.

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Anonymous Coward

Ever tried to imagine an itanic mobile, anyone?

To me, it's way past time we got rid of that monoculture. x86 has hogged the limelight for far too long. Not that I'm saying it ought to die (it ought to due to excessive staleness, but that's not important for this particular argument), but more that the computing field would be far healthier with at least a few different instruction sets running about. Especially now that we can no longer mindlessly crank the megahertzen and squeeze the processes and claim that's enough innovation for the day. It's not nearly enough, moreso every new day.

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Ru

Re: Ever tried to imagine an itanic mobile, anyone?

Healthier? That's an interesting notion; I'd be more in favour of a small number of widely licensed instruction sets than a larger number of proprietary ones, and it looks like the market feels the same way. Similar arguments can be applies to programming languages and operating systems (or at least their kernels).

As for intel and their mobile strategy... I'm probably in a minority here, but I felt that the Atom line was actually quite a reasonable one that was more or less killed before its time thanks to intel's tendency towards kleptoparasitism. They didn't want atom products to eat into their higher-margin, low-end laptop'n'server lines, and so crippled the ability of vendors to build interesting atom-based systems. Sure, they relaxed their grip eventually but too late for their new products to actually make a significant impact.

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Intel, embrace ARM.

Please please please Intel, embrace ARM. It is too late with x86.

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Facepalm

Re: Intel, embrace ARM.

Sorry, but that horse has long since bolted, as stated in the article. Actually, the XScale (or StrongARM II as it was called during its development) wasn't a bad processor - ask anyone that has ever seen an Iyonix.

It would take much for them to re-adopt ARM, especially as their involvement was mostly as a result of their buying of DEC Semi.

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Paris Hilton

Re: Intel, embrace ARM.

(daydreaming) wonder what an ARM processor fabbed on Intel's current fab technology be like? (\daydreaming)

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Facepalm

Re: Intel, embrace ARM.

The XScale was a damn good processor. But the real issue was that Intel screwed over embedded developers in the mid-1990's then they announced they were no longer in Embedded. To emphasize that, Intel jacked up the price of all their embedded processors. For example, Kelsey-Hayes was using the i986 in an antilock braking system and Intel doubled, then tripled the price. KH couldn't replace the part without going through hundreds of thousands of dollars of automotive qualification costs. Lots of other companies had similar hardship stories.

Fast-forward to the XScale and Intel's new message to Embedded was "Hello! We're Back! We promise not to screw you over this time!". No dice, and despite Intel putting $30M into marketing and tools, hardware engineers with bad memories refused to use XScale.

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Anonymous Coward

Its all about profits

The larger problem for Intel is building profitable CPU or SoC product lines. Consider the iPad 4 and most other tablets where the SoC represents less than 10% of the BOM. Compare with Ultrabooks where Intel sees maybe 40% of the BOM.

With that in mind, its difficult to see how fabbing ARM products or moving to a new architecture during the Otellini era could have helped Intel. x86 compatibility is still significant, certainly not as important to personal computing as 10 years ago but the continuing Intel focus on x86 is at least avoiding making matters worse for the company.

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Anonymous Coward

"the continuing Intel focus on x86 "

There isn't a continuing Intel focus on x86.

They've had lots of attempts at getting out of that box.

They've all failed to make any significant impact.

It's not looking good for Intel in the post-x86 era.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "the continuing Intel focus on x86 "

Yes, Intel attempted for decades to launch a new flagship architecture to replace x86; Itanium was only the most recent try. Far from being triumphal about x86, Intel seems to have had a bit of status anxiety about it: no fun riding a shabby old architecture next to the posh boys and their swanky RISC designs. Other companies and pundits were on the "x86 everywhere forever" bandwagon before Intel really decided to join it: "x86 everywhere" only became an Intel slogan/strategy in 2008, as far as I can see. Ironically this was just in time for x86's reversal of fortune, as the instruction set went from being the crusher of desktop and servers architectures to a mobile also-ran.

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Its simple really

Intel are pretty safe until MS produce their next OS, if that is a full version of windows that both consumers and exterprise want to use and also runs on either Arm or x86 then they are in big trouble as by 2014 when they catch up with where Arm are now they will still be 18 months behind and producing more expensive chips.

This is even more so if Arm get a real hold on server / big data storage systems.

Intel need to cut back on x86 research and really go full on for Arm if they want to have a product that will sale in the future as a full fat windows that works on Arm will be a cheaper option than the Intel one when upgrading the hardware.

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ARM? No way

They don't own the ARM instruction set.

Therefore, they are not interested in ARM.. as they would have to compete against foundries by price: they won't get much money out of this.

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Re Big Ted

Do you really think that Intel and Microsoft are going to be dominant market forces once the desktop PC ceases to be the domestic and increasingly, the corporate paradigm?

Reams of computer users running apple/android kit are realising they haven't got windows or an Intel chip and they aren't missing either of them.

End of both.

Intel will have to become another niche player . I cant see a future for Microsoft except maybe as a manufacturer of rather inferior games hardware.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: ARM? No way

> Therefore, they are not interested in ARM.. as they would have to compete against foundries by price: they won't get much money out of this.

Isn't that the whole point? Companies who buy Intel are propping up it's 55% margin, and most are getting a little fed up with it. ARM offers an alternative which is independent of the silicon vendor, and if you get your stack running on ARM you have literally dozens of silicon vendors to choose from. It's highly competitive, and price is therefore driven down. Hell if you are a big player you can even "roll your own" and cut out (most of) the middle men (see Apple) and keep the $$$ yourself.

Intel can dance around it all they like, but the CPU industry is becoming a commodity market, and their business model of selling high value chips is eroding quickly. They might not be interested in the market, but if they don't get interested, and quickly, then the market will simply walk away. The CPU market might have been commoditized years earlier if it was not for Intel's illegal marketing to exclude AMD, which no doubt discouraged other vendors.

55% margins ... not for much longer.

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Re: ARM? No way

Intel's main concern is making sure ARM doesn't make it out of the mobile market into desktop/server.

I doubt they are that interested in the tiny mobile margins.

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Happy

Re: ARM? No way

Intel could change that. Buy ARM. The market cap is about 10 bn, which Intel has in cash on hand.

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Anonymous Coward

"liked to see the Z8000 improved and expanded"

You, sir, need help.

a) The Z8001/8002 was/were a dog's breakfast of a chip. And a very poor breakfast at that.

b) You appear to have forgotten, perhaps understandably, about the Z80000:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zilog_Z80000

I wish you a safe and speedy recovery from your current condition.

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Anonymous Coward

Mea culpa

What's a zero between friends, eh?

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Thin gruel?

There simply aren't the big bucks in the portable device processor market that there are in the tradition PC and server markets. The ARM licensing model has fundamentally changed the economics such that any return Intel will make on the portable device processor market would be a fraction of what they are used to.

Should ARM move into the server or PC market, then that would be Intel's worst nightmare as it would have a catastrophic effect on their revenue model. It's still highly debatable if this will happen - it's unlikely that ARM will ever be capable of matching x86 ultimate performance, but then maybe it doesn't have to. If x86 starts to turn into a niche processor, then it will start to look like the Power, Itanium or SPARC markets. Relatively small volumes and high cost. Should that happen, it will be highly challenging for Intel. Not much margin in a largely semi conductor foundry business.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Thin gruel?

Yep, bang on I think.

In the grand scheme of things x86 volumes are not actually that high. It wouldn't take many big data center owners and a range of consumer computing products to switch to ARM to seriously dent Intel's volumes. If any silicon vendor loses volume then those new fab/process node investments start to look mightily expensive, and drive up the price of the remaining volume very quickly.

For guys like Google and Facebook who are investing heavily in data centers, being able to roll their own ARM chip with dedicated hardware to accelerate specific things they care about without paying someone else a large cut should be a really tempting prospect. I suspect the lack of 64-bit availability is the main limiting factor, and ARM should have that sorted out in the next 12 months or so. Interesting times indeed.

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Anonymous Coward

I'm glad Intel aren't successful in mobile, long may they continue to fail.

It's just a shame we can't grow the ARM business more.

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Anonymous Coward

x86 on mobile platforms...

How much on-board storage did Intel expect these x86 mobile devices to have?! Windows alone would eat a large proportion of available flash memory (I'm sure I read Windows RT occupies 12Gb of storage) before adding any applications. Intel should have been helping shrink the storage footprint of x86 software - not just the power consumption...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: x86 on mobile platforms...

At current volume pricing < $1 per Gb NAND and falling its no big deal looking to trends through 2013.

Actually Surface RT uses about 16Gb for Windows, Apps, backups etc. which seems excessive to me having been brought up working around 10Mb hard drive limits. Hardly a game changer nowadays though.

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Gold badge

Re: x86 on mobile platforms...

"Intel should have been helping shrink the storage footprint of x86 software - not just the power consumption..."

Actually, x86 software is usually smaller than the equivalent ARM code. The bloat you refer to is Microsoft being crap, not Intel.

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Re: x86 on mobile platforms...

And here lies Intel's second problem.

Using ARM and IOS forced Apple's and Android devs to start from scratch and build appropriate apps. x86 on mobile makes it too tempting to drop existing desktop apps in a mobile app store, where they destroy battery life.

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Linux

Some thoughts

"because the once implicit link between x86 and personal computing has been broken"

Only if you are not using windows, and I really doubt I would choose a tablet over a regular computer any day of the year if I had to choose one over the other (I only use the tablet while in the sofa).

Tablets and mobiles are complementary to desktop PCs (Shock!)

And the day the world moves to desktops and servers ARM based it will not be MS who will rule the land but Linux.

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Re: Some thoughts

Complimentary at the moment, but give it a couple of years and handsets will be more than capable of dealing with the average processing load requirements of a desktop. Get home, plug the phone in to docking station - hey presto - there's your desktop.

There will always be outliers - people who need lots and lots of ooomph, developers for example, but even that is changing with the ability to offload compute tasks to GPU's, and even mobile GPU's are surprising powerful.

Interesting times.

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Boffin

Like to see the SC/MP improved and expanded...

What a chip that was...

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Re: Like to see the SC/MP improved and expanded...

First thing I ever programmed - 256 bytes of memory - raw machine code - bloody awful, wonderful days !

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Re: Like to see the SC/MP improved and expanded...

6809 was my favourite for writing assembler - position independent code - lovely - enough 16-bit registers and elegant addressing modes to implement FORTH easily - NEXT as a 4 byte macro.

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Anonymous Coward

sc/mp to ns32032

SC/MP to NS32032.

Quite a transition. Both from NatSemi.

The NS32000 family looked quite interesting on paper, perhaps how a VAX would have looked if started from scratch with no need for compatibility and with the benefits of then-current semiconductor technology.

Sadly, the x86 and 68K had already won by the time the NS32000 came out.

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Meh

x86 holds a special place in long-term Intel executives’ hearts?

You mean the processor architecture that Intel has been trying to kill for the last thirty five years!

Long before the Itanic adventure, and even before the IBM PC, Intel’s cunning plan was a new ADA machine iAPX 432. If Intel thought there was a future in x86 chip series they never would have licensed it to AMD and others.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: x86 holds a special place in long-term Intel executives’ hearts?

"If Intel thought there was a future in x86 chip series they never would have licensed it to AMD and others." IIRC Intel had to license x86 because IBM demanded a second source as a condition of using it in the original IBM PC? I think you're right overall though.

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