Barcelona: the Real Magic of AMD is Elsewhere

Sure, AMD’s new quad-core server processor is pretty swift, but the company’s true competitive thrust comes from another source.


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Posted September 14, 2007

Rob Enderle

Rob Enderle

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For those that watch Intel and AMD, and use their products in offerings ranging from hand held computers to large enterprise server clusters, it often seems about who has the faster part. But, for some time, we haven’t been all that interested in speed as an absolute – we’ve been more interested in overall system performance, power savings, and solutions that were better designed for our own needs.

In watching the Barcelona launch it struck me that the real competitive dynamic between Intel and AMD has very little to do with technology now, but I wonder if either company fully understands this.

Let me walk you through how I came to this conclusion and then talk about what it means.

Barcelona Launch Hoopla

AMD’s launch for their newest flagship part was a large (for them) event with representation by each of the companies supporting the offering. In fact there were so many folks talking, but unfortunately not really saying much, that it was a little hard to pull out the value of what was being said.

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The problems with launch events is that often the vendors focus on quantity and not quality. They want lots of executives to get credit, they don’t want to anger any partners, and the end result is an overlong event that has very little real content. If you look at an Apple launch event you’ll generally see the best of this. I could go down a long list of vendors who repetitively do these things badly, wasting millions of dollars and a lot of sales opportunity in the process.

To be kind, the AMD event wasn’t really in the Apple class but, if you paid attention and dug through the massive amount of rhetoric (and got over the fact that they weren’t going to feed you until it was over) there was some really interesting stuff said.

Industrial Light and Magic

Three talks stood out (well 4, but the 4th was Sun and that was a story in and of itself). The opening talk by one of the most powerful executives for Lucas Films and Industrial Light and Magic was what got me thinking that we just haven’t been looking at the battle between Intel and AMD properly. We’ve bee ignoring the real differences between the firms.

In what was the most impassioned talk I have ever heard from an end-user advocate, the Lucas executive praised AMD – and actually called Intel evil, indicating they had been let down catastrophically by Intel, and implying AMD had saved their company. Seriously, you don’t get this from major customers very often and it was the first time I’d actually been present when this happened.

In short what had happened, according to the speaker, was that early on they had gone to Intel to help create the magic that became Industrial Light and Magic, the company that dominates the digital graphics market for movies. Everything they are didn’t exist back then and they desperately needed help creating the foundation platform to build this powerful company one. After a lot of work with Intel, Intel walked away from the project. AMD stepped in; the implication was that most of the wonderful stuff we’ve seen in movies wouldn’t have existed without them. According to Lucas Films, Intel is basically locked out of this very influential industry as a result (that was a little hard to believe given Intel’s breadth but it sure was passionately delivered).

No real mention of technical prowess, instead it was the power to partner that was the differentiator, allowing AMD to dominate a very important segment and gain what appears to be an incredibly powerful ally.

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