AMD misses a trick in security battle

Summary:AMD could have been making it known that it was ahead of the game on buffer-overflow protection all year but it has instead opted not to - why?

AMD blew it. Microsoft could have chimed in as well, alerting its customers to the types of systems we'd need in order to take full advantage of the security features in SP2, but it didn't. (During a recent ZDNet audiocast interview, Microsoft Security Business Technology Unit vice president Rich Kaplan couldn't even tell me what processors to look for.)

But AMD had the most to lose. At a time when Intel was already reeling from the Nocona "admission", AMD had a golden opportunity to compound the success that it's starting to see in the market. With security at the top of all of our minds, the company could have, starting in February, claimed that if we bought anything but AMD systems, we'd be committing our budgets to obsolete systems. But it didn't. AMD ran no big ads alerting buyers to the mistake we might be making, made no warnings to the press. Sure, many such communications from vendors are pure propaganda. But, in this case, there would have been an element of truth to AMD's claims -- if it had ever claimed them. It didn't. AMD's division marketing manager Bahr Mahony disagreed with me, saying "We have been promoting this capability since the introduction of the Athlon 64 processors in September 2003. We've been promoting across OEMs and retailers and promoting the capability through our own promotional efforts."

Even if it did promote the capability, promoting the capability and competing on the capability are very different things. On 25 February, 2004, the same day as's story was published, AMD did issue a press release with the heading "AMD and Microsoft to Provide Customers with New Security Technology". But it drew no attention to Intel's lack of a similar feature. If mentioning Intel is off-limits in its press releases, AMD could have at the very least said something like "AMD is the only microprocessor company to offer this feature." But it didn't. The most newsworthy aspect of AMD's collaboration with Microsoft went unnoticed.

Apparently thinking the world needed a reminder, AMD on 9 August issued another press release under the heading "AMD Fortifies PC Security For Business and Consumers." But, even with three or four months still to go before DEP-supporting Intel boxes hit the streets, AMD once again missed an opportunity to distinguish its offerings from what else is currently available today. This time, we reported on Intel's shortcoming, saying "Although AMD's larger rival is expected to add similar features to its chips later this year, those chips will take some time to work their way into the market. EVP can be switched on in existing AMD64 processor systems, which have been shipping for about a year, just as soon as Microsoft's SP2 is installed."

A review of the reader comments area below my initial blog entry on this issue reveals a host of conspiracy theories regarding why I would have made such a pro-AMD recommendation. "Methinks I smell a rat," said one reader. "You must own a lot of AMD stock," said another. I do not own any AMD stock, and I'm certainly not here to fight the battles of AMD or any other vendor. The only one that can do that is AMD. But apparently, its competitive advantage department is still sleeping at the wheel. Advantage, Intel.

Topics: Tech Industry


David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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