Prior to AMD's Barcelona/Quad-Core Opteron processor launch event this evening in San Francisco, I lunched, along with fellow journalists, with company Chairman and CEO Hector Ruiz and Randy Allen, corporate vice president of AMD’s Server and Workstation division.
What stood out for me was AMD's psychic battle--living in Intel's shadow, a self-acknowledged David trying to slay, or compete against, a Goliath ten times bigger.
Throughout the luncheon Ruiz and Allen never uttered the name "Intel," as if it were equivalent to "the unmentionable," "the one that cannot be named," the evil Lord Voldemort of the Harry Potter books.
Instead, Intel is called the "competitor." When Ruiz was asked why he doesn't utter the competitor's name, he responded that it helps AMD focus on customers rather than on the arch rival, but it probably has more to do with his enmity toward Intel.
Ruiz believes that AMD provides customers with more innovative products and choice. "Customers are not going to give up choice. The two companies approach the market differently," Ruiz said. "Customers find it healthy and we welcome the opportunity to compete in a fair and open way."
"Fair" and "open" are meaningful words for Ruiz. AMD is suing Intel for alleged monopolistic practices. Ruiz said that despite the current lawsuit, Intel continues to abuse its market power in the non-server space (which accounts for 80 percent of the 300 million processors sold), and he is putting on a full court press to pursue the litigation.
"We grew from less than 5 percent market share in 2003 to 20 percent in 2006," Ruiz said. Intel introduced its quad-core chips last year and AMD's market share dropped. "Did partners enjoy that? Not a one would not tell you that balance is needed. It drives innovation and choice. Today is the day we address the fundamental issue....closing the gap and delivering a superior quad-core product. With this product we bring back a kind of balance and innovation in the same way the Opteron was balanced in the portfolio. We had the product gap and we were penalized. Now, we have a clearly superior quad core."
Ruiz also had a few choice words for analysts who don't agree with his assessment of AMD's Quad-Core Opteron (at left) versus Intel's. "That makes my hair stand up. I don't know what kind of Kool-Aid some analysts drink," Ruiz said. "They should be able to see the investment protection--any customer using the same ecosystem on the hardware and software side has a compelling advantage on significant workloads that are important to customers. We have outstanding performance--26 percent better [than the Intel's Xeon 5345 based on SPECint and SPECfp benchmarks] with the 2GHz version. I am bullish on where we can take the frequency."
In the fourth quarter, AMD is planning to crank up Quad-Core Opteron frequency, with a 2.3GHz high-performance version. The company is also relying more on performance per watt-- energy efficiency leadership--as a differentiator from Intel, as well as virtualization performance via hardware optimizations.
AMD has clearly gotten Goliath's, its Lord Voldermort's, attention over the last few years. "There is no question they've taken us a lot more seriously," said Ruiz. "The price competition is brutal. Our calculated average price will improve because the mix is stronger. For the foreseeable future aggressive pricing will continue."