When Intel's Developer Forum (IDF) first started back in 1997 it was a small affair of about 850 attendees, and lasted about two days. It's most important function was to tell the PC universe what Intel planned to do with its chipsets and boards so that everyone from graphics chip vendors to the guy who was shipping cables would know what they had to do to stay in the PC universe. It was a cozy affair. Lots of engineers and developers milling around. Not too much glitz. No flashy keynotes.
These days, IDF is a geek festival, circus, and rigorously controlled by Intel's spin doctors. It's more enlightening for the stuff you have to read between the lines than anything else. Judging by some of the press coverage Intel has received from this IDF, it's not clear what we should be excited about so, we at THG are going to take a little time over the course of the next week to digest the data, do some follow-up, and try and cover some off-the-beaten-track sessions, too.
In this first report, we will focus on Pentium 4 because, it will have the biggest impact on the PC market this year, and Intel's strategy, particularly in regards to memory has left some of us shaking our heads. In Part II we will cover Intel's view of the computing world, and see whether the company's strategy for handhelds, and peripheral devices is something we can feel excited about. We are also going to look at some of the directions that Intel is giving its OEM partners in terms of what systems they should be building in the coming year. Some of you can probably do a better job of building your own systems than any OEM, and get more bang for your buck than any store bought system, but it's always nice to know what your competing against :)
Pentium 4 - It's Not Personal; It's Just Business
The first thing that we need to clear up is the issue of Pentium 4 and RDRAM support. In fact, the whole issue of Intel's roadmap. Well, Dr. Tom's crystal ball got it right in his
So, as far as we got the gist of Intel's thinking:
- PCs ain't PCs anymore, folks. They are rich clients. And handhelds, PDAs, MP3 players etc. they're all clients, too. Intel's got clients, baby!
- You can't have clients without...? You got it, Intel's got severs!
- Which also means... Intel's got networking stuff!
- Which also means... Intel's driving the digital world (so is just about everyone who is reading this on the Web, but let's not quibble with Intel's marketing team).
There's a whole lot going on at Intel. It's the Mud Theory of Management - throw enough products at enough markets and eventually enough of them will stick to make it seem like a great strategy. In the meantime, Intel was adamant that, despite the rumblings in the press, RDRAM was it.
If you don't like it, bear this in mind, Intel will drive prices down, get volumes up, and phase out the desktop Pentium III market before the end of this year. This is not too different to the way that Intel forced the PC world to go from 286 to 386 processors. The company said as much. And again, the press was left in no doubt, "Get over it guys. It's RDRAM, and the other stuff just isn't going to be worth it in the Pentium 4 space unless you are just interested in running Word." They didn't quite use those words, but you could sense the impatience of executives whenever the specter of Athlon was raised, and the high cost of RDRAM.
The good news is that now, every performance freak, and hardware enthusiast can rest easy. They have a choice. There's Intel and there's AMD, and it's really okay to just say no to Intel because, all their corporate buyers, and their OEMs, are going to make up for the fact that Intel has, to some extent, abandoned the hard core user, the early adopter, the connoisseur of performance.
Yeah. Intel's busy building the digital world.
Now, let's be fair to Intel. That's the plan of action this year. Intel can afford to have us all wail about their Pentium 4 and RDRAM strategy. They are going to ramp up Pentium 4 volumes. They are going to get RDRAM prices competitive. They really do believe that RDRAM fits into their long-term performance roadmap. They have contractual obligations to Rambus that gives RDRAM a free run at Pentium 4. Pentium III is on its way to being the mobile CPU. For Intel's product line, the company's strategy is right. It's not an easy transition. It's kind of like the ham-fisted approach the company took moving the graphics industry to AGP from PCI. With AGP came the threat of Intel engulfing 3D graphics with its own integrated designs, and graphics chipsets, but heck, they didn't, and so we said farewell to the i740.
Dr. Tom's crystal ball got it right. Like we said. And a long time before the soft pronouncements at IDF came around.
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