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AMD Businesses Hardware

AMD: What Went Wrong? 497

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-enough-cowbell dept.
Barence writes "In 2006, AMD could seemingly do no wrong. Its processors were the fastest in the PC market, annual revenue was up a record 91%, expansion into the graphics game had begun with the high-profile acquisition of ATI, and it was making exciting plans for a future where it looked like it could 'smash Intel's chip monopoly' for good. Now the company is fighting for its very survival. How did AMD end up surrendering such a advantageous position – and was it given an unfair shove on the way down? This article has plotted AMD's decline, including the botched processor launches, the anti-competitive attacks from Intel and years of boardroom unrest."
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AMD: What Went Wrong?

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  • Products (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bonch (38532) * on Saturday February 18, 2012 @02:22PM (#39086587)

    It's really simple--Intel made better products. Once Intel abandoned the dead end of the Pentium 4 and changed tacts with the first low-power Core chip, AMD never had a valid response. The article details some predatory behavior on the part of Intel which was eventually settled, but I don't think the outcome would be different today had that not occurred.

    Of course, Intel better watch its back with ARM around.

  • Re:Products (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @02:30PM (#39086635) Journal

    AMD made good products too, they just made them for the wrong market. This is why commercial semiconductor manufacturing is so difficult. You give your engineers a set of constraints and then about 5 years later you have a product. Intel, back around 2003, bet heavily on laptops and power-conscious servers. AMD bet on desktops. Intel's market predictions were better and so the products that they brought to market turned out to be the ones customers wanted by the time the related products made it to market. AMD's were not. Of course, Intel only made this bet after seeing how badly they'd underestimated the importance of power consumption with the Pentium 4 so, if anything, their later products were an overreaction to the poor performance of the P4.

    So, in summary, AMDs problem was that they didn't screw up the previous generation, so assumed that the next one could be more of the same and missed the industry shift to mobile devices.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 18, 2012 @02:31PM (#39086643)

    ... and then there was a small matter of Intel being accused of monopolistic behaviour, in some cases convicted, in several countries.

  • by mpapet (761907) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @02:33PM (#39086663) Homepage

    A firm with a Monopoly has multiple, permanent advantages. That there is little/no interest in breaking it up is another story.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 18, 2012 @02:40PM (#39086715)

    In 2006, AMD could seemingly do no wrong. Its processors were the fastest in the PC market...

    Right from the start, you've lost me. If memory serves, 2006 would've been Athlon XP Barton core era. At this time they were numbering their CPUs in a way that indicated what P4 they could beat. But who was responsible for rating the CPUs for speed when they came off the line? AMD. So really they asked themselves, "Is this processor faster than a P4 1.6Ghz? Yes? Then this one is a 1600."

    Yeah, you can stay that they were faster and be right, but only because the processors were marketed in a smart way.

  • by spookthesunset (1562927) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @02:43PM (#39086737)
    AMD might have made okay CPU's but their partners made junk. You simply can't buy quality motherboards for AMD. All of it seems to be low-end crap with weird flaws. Every AMD system I have put together I wound up regretting. Things would crash randomly, freeze randomly, or just act downright strange. With Intel-based systems, I rarely have this problem (though I always pair it with a boring, plain-vanilla intel motherboard).

    Bottom line, I simply cannot recommend AMD-based systems. Sure it costs less, but you pay for it in frustration.
  • by bonch (38532) * on Saturday February 18, 2012 @02:45PM (#39086763)

    Yes, that was covered in the article. But it doesn't excuse AMD's numerous bad decisions since 2006.

  • by ArcherB (796902) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @02:58PM (#39086863) Journal

    AMD might have made okay CPU's but their partners made junk. You simply can't buy quality motherboards for AMD. All of it seems to be low-end crap with weird flaws. Every AMD system I have put together I wound up regretting. Things would crash randomly, freeze randomly, or just act downright strange. With Intel-based systems, I rarely have this problem (though I always pair it with a boring, plain-vanilla intel motherboard).

    Bottom line, I simply cannot recommend AMD-based systems. Sure it costs less, but you pay for it in frustration.

    Strange. I was able to find a quality board for an AMD processor from several choices. I've used AMD for years and never EVER have hardware based crashes. I think the trick is to do your research, buy a name brand board and spend more than $80 for it. Yeah, I could have gone with the $30 board, but then I'd be in the same boat you're in.

    My last system was a dual core Opteron 175. Something in the system finally died after years of abuse. I don't know if it was the processor, RAM, MB or even the power supply. Frankly, I didn't care as the system had outlasted its usefulness and it was way past time for an upgrade. My current system is a Phenom II 965 with a Gigabyte board and 12 GB of name brand, PC1666 RAM. No problems whatsoever. Sure, it's not as fast as the 7-series, but I saved hundreds by going with AMD and frankly, I never wait on anything. It's still much faster than what I need.

    The processor is really not the bottleneck any more for the vast majority of people.

  • by hcmtnbiker (925661) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @03:03PM (#39086881)

    The article is pretty explicit about how AMD dug its own grave. I don't think blaming an Intel monopoly is all that convincing.

    Really? The article mentions how Intel managed to get Sony money to cancel ALL AMD shipments, and how they paid Dell roughly 3/4 of a billion dollars in a single quarter to not use AMD chips. But I'm sure you're right, I'm sure keeping AMD out of all of the major OEMs(except to some extent HP) had nothing to do with it.

  • Re:Products (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 0123456 (636235) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @03:06PM (#39086899)

    Dell was an especial example of this: in the K7/K8 days they'd make noise every year or two about how they were considering selling AMD-based systems rather than being exclusively Intel, and those of us in IT who wanted /better/ computers would get very excited

    Um, if you wanted better computers, why did you keep buying from a company which didn't sell them?

    This is the problem with the whole 'evil Intel' argument; you're assuming that customers would continue to buy second-rate products when they could buy better PCs from another company. When AMD released AMD64 they owned much of the server and workstation market and most of the high-end desktop market, because if you cared about CPU performance you didn't buy an Intel space-heater.

  • by Vanders (110092) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @03:10PM (#39086917) Homepage

    Only the geeks still worship pc type computers
    Most of us moved on to smartphones and tablets.

    What're those things? Big, loud boxes. There's usually lots of them in a big, cold room together. Oh yeah, servers!

    I think those are probably quite important, too.

  • Re:Products (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lightknight (213164) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @03:13PM (#39086931) Homepage

    Bah, it's a new design. They get an upgrade cycle to fix the bugs before we declare Bulldozer to be the new Itanium.

    Supposedly, there is a hotfix for Windows 7 which deals with a lot of the issues. Again, this problem isn't too dissimilar to the one Intel enjoyed with Hyper-threading many moons ago.

    As for their server offerings, I am a little unhappy that while we are getting more cores per chip (always a win), they are fairly slow. And the prices...could be better.

  • Re:Products (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MurukeshM (1901690) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @03:17PM (#39086945)

    Maybe the GP wanted laptops. Not much choice there.

  • by hitmark (640295) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @03:30PM (#39087057) Journal

    In essences what AMD was evolution vs Intels attempted revolution. They evolved x86 with a 64-bit extension rather than attempt to revolutionize like Intel went for.

    Now however the roles have switched. Intel goes for a evolution, while AMD tries for revolution with their APU concept of shifting floating point onto the GPGPU.

  • by hitmark (640295) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @03:34PM (#39087083) Journal

    We can see some of the same behavior with MS, where they basically stopped doing anything with IE and slowed down considerably the Windows development in the 2k/XP run. Then all of a sudden they find that Mozilla and Linux can be credible threats on the casual home market, their traditional marketing leverage vs corporate office sales. Just consider the quote from Gates about him preferring people pirating Windows than considering alternatives. The central issue is one of mindshare. If a potential employee already knows the product from home, MS can claim that there will be little to no training time once hired.

  • by dshk (838175) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @03:35PM (#39087087)

    When Intel produced laughable chips for years they still remain the absolute market leader, because of their unethical tactics. Therefore AMD was not able to collect its well earned profit, so they had no resources to improve faster.

    This is the classical case of monopoly, the resources cannot go to the better company, like they would on a free market.

    I believe that anybody not totally illiterate (yes, for example RTFA), with at least some small amount of ethics, will not buy anything from Intel in the foreseeable future.

  • by lightknight (213164) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @03:36PM (#39087091) Homepage

    "Once Intel realised they were falling behind, they dropped their brain-dead policies and pushed out better chips than AMD's."

    Hmm. Not so much. More along the lines of they had a "Oh Shit!" moment, and cross-licensed AMD's 64-bit design (Intellectual Property swap) to get back in the game. Even Intel's earliest attempts (at a 64-bit x86 architecture) were pathetic in this area, with numerous complaints about their broken, half-assed 64-bit support (it supported, at first, only a handful of 64-bit instructions that AMD did, and required some unnecessary work, hence the bitching from the programmers). There's a reason the architecture is commonly referred to as AMD64, even after attempts to change the name to something more neutral.

    This is not to say that Intel doesn't put out some good products, their NICs are simply wonderful.

  • Re:Products (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 19thNervousBreakdown (768619) <davec-slashdot&lepertheory,net> on Saturday February 18, 2012 @03:41PM (#39087137) Homepage

    What? Why? That's crazy, I've run compiles for days (yes, I'm still a Gentoo user) on 10-year-old, crappy, about-to-be-tossed-in-the-trash, filled with dust, consumer hardware more times than I can count. I'm currently running a compile on my new(ish) consumer-grade CPU under a virtual machine, while typing this response, that'll be going for hours on end, and if anything went wrong because of the CPU I'd consider it a broken CPU.

    Thank god more people don't think the way you do, if they did we'd already be buying "unlimited" CPUs. Your viewpoint is an asinine one that is just begging to be charged more for no reason other than you've outright told them they can get away with it.

  • by Dogtanian (588974) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @03:42PM (#39087145) Homepage

    If [..] you had the time/budget to write Itanium-specific assembler, you'd love Itanium (64 64-bit registers is nice)

    I thought one of the major problems with Itanium was that it used EPIC architecture [wikipedia.org] which relies heavily on the compiler explicitly figuring out how the parallel instructions should be scheduled (rather than the CPU itself doing this at runtime)... except that apparently such a compiler was never really written.

    (Interesting quote I just came across in the Itanium WP article [wikipedia.org] from Donald Knuth- "The Itanium approach...was supposed to be so terrific- until it turned out that the wished-for compilers were basically impossible to write".)

  • Re:Products (Score:5, Insightful)

    by voidphoenix (710468) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @03:43PM (#39087155)
    No, it's not Slashdot. These days, it has become hard to tell the difference between Apple and Microsoft, except maybe Apple sues more people.
  • by MindPrison (864299) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @04:24PM (#39087421) Journal

    The movie character Gordon Gekko, got famous for his words "Greed is good" in the movie Wall Street, but he was wrong, and AMD has proven it - as so many others have before them, greed is indeed NOT good, it's a destroyer of all things good.

    Why?

    Because AMD was Warner Brothers when Disney always bet their money on Cute & politically correct. AMD appealed to the young student generation, the people that wanted POWER but didn't buy into the heavily advertised Intel hype. Sure - nothing wrong with Intel, I was an avid Intel fan myself, the AMD processors where notorious for overheating, and several issues on certain math performances, but AMD overcame those issues, and produced some absolutely AMAZING processors that even outperformed their competitor at a staggering 3rd of the price back then, it was a no-brainer, every geek wanted an AMD in their computers, many of them where excited about overclocking their AMD cpu's to unseen speeds, it was indeed the "rogue" choice, but people (like me) loved it, and certainly took advantage of it.

    But anyone who gets up there, get's taken by GREED, it's kind of like Nintendo who just couldn't understand why no one wouldn't pay the same price for their toy, when it was 3 times slower than the competitor, it's like Sony who simply didn't understand why no one wanted their proprietary formats and couldn't understand the need to have an open platform, when they could be in total control instead...

    Yep, story of our lives as computergeeks & users, history repeats itself, and it never fails to tell things like it is.

  • Re:Products (Score:5, Insightful)

    by timothyf (615594) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @04:35PM (#39087509) Homepage

    While I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy, do you have any proof to back up your assertion? Or do I just have to take you at your word?

  • Re:Products (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @05:14PM (#39087861)

    When did noticing legal standard business practices suddenly become the realm of conspiracy theory?

    When proof is requested and the response is a speech about how you shouldn't believe it isn't true.

  • Re:Products (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The Master Control P (655590) <ejkeever@noSpam.nerdshack.com> on Saturday February 18, 2012 @05:35PM (#39087985)
    I don't see more cores as a win... Parallel programs are always harder to write than serial programs (and in far too many cases effectively impossible). More cores is a crummy consolation prize that we've had to accept since serial speed increases died in about 2003-4. I'll be the first person to preach about how much I love nVidia's s20x0 processor cards (Half a double precision teraflop in a card? Yes please!), but I'd love a quad-core chip running at 40GHz way, way more.

    Mainly because CUDA is the only language I've ever encountered where if a programmer told me "I can't get this simple finite difference function to work" I would nod in shared pain instead of thinking they're stupid. I have never encountered a language that was harder to get things right in. Never.
  • by 0123456 (636235) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @05:53PM (#39088141)

    Intel seems to be winning because of marketing. Their top end CPUs out perform AMDs, but few people actually buy those.

    Intel's MID-RANGE CPUs beat AMD's high-end, even though the AMD CPUs are 50% larger. That's a recipe for disaster, because AMD are forced to sell their most expensive CPUs for less than Intel's mid-range. Few people can see any good reason to buy a slower, more power-hungry AMD chip instead of an i5 unless the price is low enough to justify that.

    I wouldn't bet against Bulldozer in the long term because the benchmarks I've seen seem to indicate some kind of unexpected bottleneck in their hyperthreading implementation; if that's the case then a new generation could actually make some use of all those extra transistors. But for now it's hard to see how they're going to make enough money from it to fund development of the next generation.

  • Re:Products (Score:3, Insightful)

    by stevel (64802) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @06:59PM (#39088551) Homepage

    And one big thing you leave out - Intel was never "found guilty" of the alleged practices. Lots of high-volume innuendo, but the manufacturers who supposedly got pressured denied that it happened at all. Yes, Intel settled because it was costing too much to have to deal with the discovery and allegations. Look at the recent settlement with the New York State AG (that lawsuit was politically motivated, in my opinion, in exchange for AMD saying it would build a fab in NY.)

    I wish AMD well, but they "got lucky" once with Opteron and have not been able, so far, to repeat that success. If you want to blame Intel for being a fierce competitor, fine. But nobody has been able to prove they did anything "monopolistic", despite repeated attempts.

  • We've yet to see where Bulldozer can go and it's definitely a design aimed at a 6+ core future.

    Throwing cores at the problem isn't really a solution for the desktop. Most desktop apps are still single threaded and even games are usually unable to use more than four cores.

    The big question has to be: why are AMD losing money?

    Becuase intel are both bigger and technically ahead (both better designs and better processes afaict). This means a few things.

    1: Intel can almost certainly produce equivalent/better chips to anything AMD can make at a lower cost.
    2: Intel can produce chips that are faster than anything AMD can make. These chips can be sold with no competition (at prices that go up by big chunks for each minor step-up in performance).
    3: Intel can spread their R&D costs over more units.

    AMD got ahead of intel briefly because intel went up a dead-end with the pentium 4 but intel fixed that with the C2D and afaict AMD CPUs havebeen behind intel ones ever since. Afaict AMD has an advantage in integrated graphics but Intel is working hard to try and destroy that too and any serious gamer will probablly go discrete anyway.

    Where AMD has chosen to not compete

    I'm pretty sure that if AMD COULD compete in the high end desktop market they would. The very existence of the FX brand implies that they want to.

  • Re:Products (Score:4, Insightful)

    by elashish14 (1302231) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {4clacforp}> on Saturday February 18, 2012 @07:56PM (#39088915)

    Hertz to Hertz, AMD makes a better processor.

    I would say that the complete opposite is true. Intel has better IPC and IPW. Their branch predictors are the best in the business. The Achilles heel of AMD's fusion processors is the fact that they bundled a solid GPU with a mediocre CPU. Well it turns out that you can't really upgrade the CPU in a Llano rig. On the other hand, it's trivial to upgrade one of Intel's crappy integrated GPUs with a discrete card.

    I mean, look at what the 3850 compares to in CPU-intensive benchmarks: http://www.anandtech.com/bench/CPU/2 [anandtech.com] - it's behind Wolfdale chips that were released 2 years earlier and aren't even available anymore. Let's just face it: AMD chips are terrible. That doesn't mean that they're a bad purchase - they're still great value. But you get what you pay for. Intel's technology is much more advanced. And honestly, I'm firmly in the don't-buy-from-Intel-cause-they're-evil camp. Thankfully I can build my own desktop, but a Linux-based AMD laptop is pretty much impossible to find.

  • Re:Products (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cheesybagel (670288) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @08:14PM (#39089069)
    Diamond is a better heat conductor than silica. So theoretically you can just switch to Diamond substrates and get higher speeds without melting the processor.
  • Re:Products (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JDG1980 (2438906) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @09:33PM (#39089643)

    Our testing of everything up to quadcores says that clock for clock, AMD made mincemeat out of Intel.

    Tom's Hardware disagrees. [tomshardware.com] Basically, the newest AMD K10 cores are about on par, clock for clock, with a 2006 Core 2 Duo, and get the pants beaten off them by Nehalem and Sandy Bridge.

    Now, should I believe Tom's Hardware, or some random Slashdot poster named "postbigbang"?

  • Re:Products (Score:4, Insightful)

    by laffer1 (701823) <luke@ f o o l i s h g a m es.com> on Saturday February 18, 2012 @09:59PM (#39089807) Homepage Journal

    Yeah, I've heard these crazy counter claims. They didn't duplicate everything so it's not a full 8 core chip.

    Intel Atom chips have hyper threading technology; well at least the newer ones do. They may have made independent ALUs in the AMD parts, but it still performs like HTT on most operating systems. Unless schedulers are modified, an OS will not know how to efficiently schedule processes for these chips and they will never perform like they're supposed to. I consider that a design fail.

  • Re:Products (Score:5, Insightful)

    by realityimpaired (1668397) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @11:08PM (#39090185)

    If I were a major computer manufacturer these days, I'd spec in AMD CPUs (Black Editions, etc.), then attach a self-contained coolant system to it, and crank it until it reached the temperatures that the i7 normally operates at. The $500 in cost savings would appeal to my customers, and I'd be able to price my competitors out of the market.

    A core i7 2700k (unlocked for overclocking) only costs $369 on Newegg ( http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115095 [newegg.com] ). Pair it with the most expensive LGA 1155 motherboard they have at $339 ( http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131760 [newegg.com] ), and you're paying $708. Do you mean to tell me that you can get an equivalently powerful AMD processor, with a motherboard with similar features, for less than $210?

    Now what if I were to tell you that you can get a motherboard that ticks all the same boxes as the other one, for $129? ( http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813157271 [newegg.com] ). That brings the total cost down to $498. Could you please enlighten me on how it is possible to *save* $500 by building an AMD solution instead of Intel, when the Intel option is less than $500, at retail ?

    The only consumers spending over $1000 on a CPU are the folks with too much money and not enough brains. And while you can spend that much on an extreme edition 6-core Intel processor, you're forgetting that it's also overclockable, by about 30%, and that you'd really be pushing things if you tried to get an FX6 running stably at 4.5GHz. You'd also be forgetting that unless something is massively parallel, the i7 still retains a performance edge over the bulldozer architecture. Chiefly, though, you'd be forgetting that for 99% of what you do, you'll never see the difference between the i7 2700 and the FX6, except perhaps that the ability to use a small SSD as a cache drive to improve spinny platter drive performance, something that's built into the Intel Z68 motherboard chipset and, at least last I checked, didn't exist on the AMD platform, would actually give the i7 a boost in real world usage, for significantly less price (pair a 32GB SSD with a 3TB spinny platter drive, and you get the write speed of the SSD, coupled with the capacity of the spinny platter drive). You may see a performance increase in things like video encoding, depending on the software you're using, but it's not going to get you any more frames per second in Skyrim. And truthfully? When I rip a DVD, I queue up the transcode in Handbrake before I go to bed, set it to turn the computer off when it's done, and don't really care if it finishes 2 minutes earlier.

  • Re:Products (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DuckDodgers (541817) <keeper_of_the_wolf&yahoo,com> on Sunday February 19, 2012 @11:03AM (#39092431)
    Legalese nonsense. Intel was guilty and settled out of court to avoid the costs, bad publicity, and higher damages from a real court battle.

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