ideas: technology

Intel's Campaign
How to win with a non-existent product

A big part of this article is quoted from a reaction of Jhan on Let me summarize it for you:

1. There were at least five leading processors architectures back in 95
2. Intel announced the IA64 architecture and promised to deliver in 98.
3. In 96-98 four out of five concurrent processor developer stopped investing into this field (in 98 Intel bought DEC, the supplier of Alpha processors)

4. In 2005, ten years later we only have IBM’s PPC in the ring as an alternative to IA64. (AMD64 is only an extension to the IA32 technology)
5. Conclusion: Just by announcing a superior technology you can knock out unprepared competitors, even if you don’t have the product
Let me quote the whole comment (From Jhan):
“Let me tell y'all a little story...
Back in '94-'95 i was doing the third grade of the Computer Science course at the Royal Institute of Technology, which meant I had to choose a specialization. I chose "Computer Systems", ie. processors, buses, caches and what-not.
This was a very exiting time to be studying processors since (for a fleeting moment) Intel processors where the absolutely worst processors among the serious combatants.
Yes, you read that right. The Alpha was (of course) and unstoppable juggernaut, but through a freak act of development schedules the new MIPS had managed to outstrip the latest Alpha.
After MIPS and Alpha we had PA-RISC, SPARC, PPC and then finally the pathetic, lowly Intel x86.

Alpha had strong plans of totatlly replacing the x86 by offering Alpha based x86 emulations that were faster than the fastest x86 in running x86 code.
But now, Intel announced the Itanium.
• It will be 64 bit (all the above architectures were, of course already 64 bit).
• It will be multi-processor (all the above architectures had cache coherency logic to allow 8+ processors).
• But, most of all, it will have THIS!, and I mean <blink>THIS!!!!</blink> much preformance! (Intel pulls wildly insane numbers out of an orifice of your choice).
...and the monster thing will ship in 1998.

Apparently, all the CPU makers sat down and discussed this, and agreed that "They may be last right now, but they have piles of cash. They could do this. They really could."
So, what did the competiton do?
• Alpha tried to stay agressive, but didn't sell enough, so they tanked. Bought by Compaq, then HP then sweet nothingness (see HP).
• SGI and MIPS didn't know what to do. They made some noises about shifting to the Itanium... Maybe. While still developing the MIPS... Just a little. A very little. Now, as Netcraft confirms, SGI is dying. :-)
• HP promptly shat their pants, threw their PA-RISC processor platform (which was third fastest in the world at the time) out the window and partnered with Intel, making plans to replace all HP/UX PA-RISC machines with Itaniums. ...which is what they have been doing for some time now, and loosing customers by the droves for it.
Because of acquisitions, they also happened to be saddled with the best processor ever made, the Alpha.
Stick with dying Intel... Develop best processor. Hmm...

Well, you all know where HP is going.
• Sun, I'm sad to say, didn't ruin the Sparc platform because of Itanium, but just by being their usual ineffectual self.
• The PPC consortium tried to press on, and did quite good. Motorola was too obsessed with embedded chips, but even now, I personally think IBM's "G5"s are very good, and believe they have it in them to produce several new generations of kick-ass chips.
And then what happened?
Intel didn't deliver... and didn't deliver... and didn't deliver some more.
Year after year passes...

When the Itanium was finally delivered, it was obvious that every other platform could have kept up, if they would just have kept developing their processors!
But they didn't and now they sleep with the fishes.
Conclusion: By making their Itanium announcement, Intel slew four out five serious competitor. It doesn't really matter if the Itanium sucks. In fact, the Itanium would be Intel’s greatest success even if they had never delivered it.”

<End of quote>


This story doesn’t mean, that the IA64 technology is not adequate. It might be a very good technology. However it does mean that in 95 it was vaporware and in this form it successfully knocked out most of the competition. Besides it caused about 2-4 years of lag in the development of new processor technologies.
Moral: do not waver, when your competition announces a product better than yours. It might be just a vaporware . I hope the players of this market – and other markets - learned that lesson.
Was Intel unfair considering these announcements? It is a question like were the Europeans unfair to knock out the technologically undeveloped tribes in both Americas? Dear Reader, please decide upon this one!

References: ,
Microsoft Encarta (Intel, DEC)
CHIP Magazine (Hungary)

Intel, Itanium, Merced, IA64 are trademarks of Intel Corp.

Published on in 2004.