So, Dell's not a Wintel lapdog? It should probably thank AMD

Summary:According to a report by News.com's Stephen Shankland, Dell wants the world to believe that it's not the Wintel sycophant that it used to be (or, at least that other OEMs could be accused of being).

According to a report by News.com's Stephen Shankland, Dell wants the world to believe that it's not the Wintel sycophant that it used to be (or, at least that other OEMs could be accused of being).  Wrote Shankland:

[Dell's chief technology officer Kevin Kettler] outlined several areas where Dell has gone its own way--over objections from Intel and Microsoft--and has cut behind-the-scenes deals that brought new developments to market....Dell's assertiveness has led to friction at times between the company and its major allies, however. Just last Monday, Kettler spent eight hours in a meeting with Intel. It was productive, but it "wasn't pretty," he said.

Sure, Dell can point to instances where it dug its heels in against Intel or Microsoft AMD is the one that handily proved you don't need the brains and fab capacity of Intel to beat an Intel chip. (it claims to have forced Intel into ditching HomeRF in favor of WiFi).  But at the end of the day, I could see how it's hard to argue that Dell isn't still a lapdog in some way.  For example, try buying a Dell desktop or notebook without Windows.  The last time I checked a random sampling of systems on Dell.com (today), you couldn't deselect Windows and pick a non-Microsoft operating system.  There is one page where you can order one of three workstation-class machines pre-loaded with Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS (the "WS" stands for workstation, as opposed to server). 

On the Intel front, had it not been for Dell's recent acquisition of boutique gaming system maker AlienWare which sells both AMD and Intel-based systems, Dell would still be selling Intel systems to the exclusion of all others.  As a side note, don't expect Dell to ixnay the AMD offerings anytime soon.  As I learned from my 15 year-old hardcore gaming son during a recent weekend excursion he took me on to Tom's Hardware, when it comes to gaming, AMD currently rules the roost.  Intel performs really well in multithreading tests.  But, as it turns out, many of the harder core games don't take advantage of multithreading. 

In terms of Dell  talking about how it's not Wintel's lapdog, the AMD angle is worth a bit more discussion. It's fair to say that there were some external forces at work that gave it the leverage that all vendors should rightfully have -- forces that were beyond Dell's control.  But forces, nonetheless, that greatly benefited Dell.  Despite keeping AMD out of it's portfolio until it squirmed its way in through the Alienware acquisition, Dell has always been able to use AMD as a bargaining chip with Intel. 

Going back to the many stories that have been written about how Dell might or might not be finally considering a partnership with AMD, how much more perfectly could the press (me included) and AMD have been played like a piano.  If you're Kettler, you want Intel to be reading in the press about how Dell might finally play the AMD card.  But let's give credit where credit is due.  Only two companies made the AMD card worth playing (thereby giving Dell the leverage it has). The first of these is AMD.  Against a tidal wave of skeptics including me (foot, mouth, insert), AMD is the one that handily proved you don't need the brains and fab capacity of Intel to beat an Intel chip.  The second company was Intel.  Intel grossly underestimated the chances of David faring well against Goliath, left some of its flanks undefended, and paid a price in terms of giving even more of an upper hand to OEMs like Intel.

The second force that's beyond Dell's control is a legal force and once again, AMD gets the credit.  For ages and for fear of reprisal, no system manufactured dared to speak publicly in defiance of Intel.  What sort of reprisals? Survival practically depends on being able to get allocations of the newest chips which are always in short supply coming out of the gate.  Now however, as I wrote last year (and as a result of  AMD's antitrust lawsuit against Intel), those same companies -- Dell included --  will probably be ordered by the court to break their silence.  This is not a condemnation of Intel. Dell and the other system manufacturers may very well have nothing juicy to serve on a plate to AMD's lawyers.  Nevertheless, just the fact that Intel's dealings with OEMs are under such scrutiny means that its Intel that's walking on eggshells when dealing with OEMs rather than the other way around.  For Dell, that translates into leverage.

But for me, the ultimate test of non-lapdogness is what turns up in Dell's offerings. For example, Kettler has been out extolling the virtues of virtual machine (VM) technology on the desktop.  As a proponent of such virtualization, I'd like for my next system extremely virtualized but with a far-less-resource-intensive-than-Windows build of Linux as the host operating system with Windows running in the guest VMs. 

Kettler must agree.  When he recently demonstrated the power of virtualization on a Dell desktop at LinuxWorld, he did so with Linux as the host operating system (using XenSource's virtualization technology, not VMware's).  Virtualization is resource intensive.  Less so if the VM software takes advantage of the virtualization technologies (VT) in the hardware (for example, the VT technology found in Intel's newer chips).  I don't want the host, which in my case is there simply to be a host to the VMs, to be robbing the VMs of precious resources.  I could and probably will try to figure out how to do this on my own but I'd be much happier (and more inclined to become a customer) if Dell, IBM, or some other system manufacturer took care of the problem for me instead.  Especially on the newer systems  (particularly notebooks) where Linux driver availability generally lags that of Windows.  In other words, forget Desktop Linux for now.  That's not the real compelling reason to me to ship a desktop or notebook with Linux on the bare metal.  Now that Intel's VT technology is finally on the market, optimal virtualization is.

Topics: Intel

About

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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