Intel's victims: Eight would-be giant killers

Intel's victims: Eight would-be giant killers

Summary: Want to take on silicon's biggest company? Think again. The chipmakers' graveyard is full of those who gave it their best shot

TOPICS: Networking

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  • Mostek 6502

    Another popular competitor to Intel's 8080 8-bit processor, Mostek's 6502 (above) and its variants had and have many fans. Found at the heart of the Apple II, the Commodore 64 and the BBC Micro, the 6502 was simple, efficient and massively cheaper — $25, instead of $179 — than the opposition.

    However, it never got the advantage of a common software base across different manufacturers, and the people behind it never got enough cash to compete properly. There was a 16-bit successor — the 65C816 — that did well at the heart of Nintendo's SNES games console, and once again there are embedded variants that continue to sell.

    The spiritual successor to the 6502 is the ARM architecture, which was consciously designed around the same ethos of simple efficiency, and which is alone in the world as a serious Intel competitor.

    Photo credit: Dirk Oppelt/Wikimedia Commons

  • IBM PowerPC

    The PowerPC was a joint effort from the AIM consortium — Apple, IBM and Motorola — which resulted from the three companies pooling their efforts in an attempt to stem Intel's desktop tsunami.

    Introduced in 1992, the PowerPC created a burst of interest — OS/2, Windows NT and Solaris all had PowerPC versions — which died away quickly, as nobody bothered to move x86 applications over to the new platform.

    Apple stuck to the architecture until 2004, when it capitulated and moved to Intel, and PowerPC left the desktop. It's still in IBM mainframes and, as is entirely predictable, embedded applications.

    Photo credit: Sanman89

  • Transmeta Efficeon

    Transmeta is one of the more recent — certainly one of the most unusual — Intel competitors. Instead of producing a chip that ran Intel code, the Transmeta low-power architecture was designed to run its own native code enormously efficiently and relied on software translation of Intel-compatible code to work with Windows and applications.

    It worked, but never quite well enough. Transmeta chips — 2001's Crusoe and 2003's Efficeon (above) — were never fast enough to compete, and AMD and Intel's chips rapidly became more efficient themselves. Plus, nobody ever produced native applications to really make the silicon fly, even though Transmeta did hire Linus Torvalds.

    The story doesn't end there. Transmeta sued Intel for intellectual property infringement, and got a substantial out-of-court settlement. In 2009, it sold itself to another, mysterious company called Novafora in a deal that also included Intellectual Ventures, Microsoft's ex-chief technology officer Nathan Myhrvold's patent-licensing company, which got all of Transmeta's patents. Shortly after that deal, Novafora itself vanished.

    Photo credit: Qurren/Wikimedia Commons

Topic: Networking

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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