Analysis: AMD to capitalise on Intel's woes

In public, the pair battle like a couple of dogs. Now one is down, the other's moving in for the kill...

Making full use of a competitor's problems is exactly what underdogs have to do to survive in this high tech era. The company behind the world's fastest desktop microprocessor, AMD, is hoping to capitalise on the woes of Intel, its high powered adversary whose Pentium III strategy is being hobbled by at least three significant factors.

  • Most significant is the revelation that Intel is having problems coping with demand for its Pentium III, otherwise known as Coppermine. Intel insists it is not struggling, but concedes that things are "tight".

  • While Intel deals with supply issues, AMD is riding a wave of support for its Athlon 750Mhz part, announced Monday and hailed as the fastest processor of its type on the planet. Not a bad description in the run up to Christmas.

  • The newly uncovered bug in the Pentium III must seem like icing on AMD's Christmas cake.

No wonder then, customers are looking to the underdog for support in Intel's troubled times.

Dan computers admits it has been spooked by the bug, and as a result is taking another look at AMD's faster offering. "We're trying to find out if the bug is serious," says Chris Bakolas, technical director for the company. "If it is, AMD could be an alternative."

A source at Time computers endorses this sentiment saying it is looking at the AMD option also. Perhaps most worrying for Intel is the rumour that Gateway, one of its biggest customers, is also looking at AMD's Athlon. Nicky Bird, PC research analyst at Romtec, reckons AMD couldn't have chosen a better time to release the speedy new 750: "The Athlon has had very good reviews. I think people are seeing it as a serious competitor and not just a Pentium copy. AMD will gain some ground with this new chip but how much ground remains to be seen."

Michael Slater founder and principle analyst of respected US publication The Microprocessor Report, says he thinks Intel's adversity could contribute toward enabling AMD to double its production. "These factors will help in boosting AMD's sales. I think they will succeed in selling as many as they can produce and they'll probably come close to doubling production in the first quarter of next year."

That's a significant achievement for AMD which has suffered many a bad quarter at the hands of Intel. But the chip giant, perhaps safe in the knowledge that its entry into the new millennium will be marked by the arrival of its long awaited IA-64 architecture, defies any suggestions that AMD has anything significant to gain from its troubles. "I don't agree with comments about losing ground," a spokesman says. "In terms of losing momentum I think that that is absolutely not the case." The spokesman nevertheless concedes that for the first time in a long while Intel is in for a decent scrap. "We'll never be complacent. We're going to fight for the markets we always have."

Senior IDC analyst Peter Lemon says despite the timing, any wins AMD makes will be short term. "I'm sure they'll [AMD] make extra sales but I don't see them winning the mindshare." Lemon reckons other factors however may hold AMD back including a downturn in PC sales. "Actually, if you're going to have a bug, now is a good time to have it. High-end demand isn't going to be as good as expected. It's going to be a shocking Q4 in the consumer market."

But AMD admits it's not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. According to Northern European marketing manager Richard Baker. "Intel have always been able to squeeze us at the bottom," he says. "Now we are competing at the high-end they can't do that. We're economically stronger than we've ever been."

Indeed Baker may have let Intel's misfortunes go to his head, anticipating the perils of overwhelming demand. "One thing you have to remember is manufacturing capacity is not something you can turn on like a tap. If demand outstrips supply then we'll have people complaining that they can't get hold of our chips."

That would be a PR nightmare for AMD which has in the past shown itself unable to cope with demand. It will be an interesting Christmas.

Take me to the Pentium III Special.