Opinion: X-Box dumps AMD

Observers say Microsoft's decision to dump AMD in favour of an Intel processor is not surprising
Written by Richard Barry, Contributor on

The decision to put an Intel processor in Microsoft's X-Box games console was always on the cards, despite strong rumours that AMD might get a look in.

Logic dictates that in the mass gaming environment dominated by users not bothered by what goes under the hood of a machine, an Intel chip is the best way to go. Before I get flamed by the AMD fan club, though, let me explain.

Joe Public -- and let's be clear, this is who buys consoles -- hasn't a clue who or what AMD is. Frankly, he or she doesn't give a damn and he sure as hell isn't bothered how many clock cycles the CPU thingy can perform or what number bus it runs on. What they look for is brand. When they're thinking about which games console to buy, they wants names they are familiar with, and sufficient marketing reminders in the form of TV ads or full-page spreads in newspapers help back up that decision.

When was the last time you saw an AMD ad on the TV?

Now don't get me wrong, AMD's boss, Jerry Sanders is a nice guy, but as he told me himself a couple of weeks ago, when you're up against Intel, there are a few realities you just have to get used to. One of those is the amount of marketing muscle Intel can flex and what it can offer its partners.

Microsoft is about to enter a very tough fight with the X-Box. It's going to take on Sony 18 months after the Japanese giant has launched the PlayStation2. There'll probably be 300 to 400 PS2 titles available when X-Box launches, and a whole raft of committed developers all working for Sony. So do you seriously think Microsoft is going to fight that battle alone? Come on guys, be real. Microsoft needs all the help it can get, and it will be relying on its Wintel buddy to get the message out, Homer Simpson style: "BUY X-BOX... BUY X-BOX..."

Not surprisingly, Microsoft employees are well in on the act. John S O'Rourke, Microsoft's director of games marketing, stood up in front of an audience of assembled European journalists on Friday and said, "You know, I am so amazed at the energy in this room. Wow, y'know, I've gotten this energy from everyone I've spoken to about what we're doing here... Amazing energy, truly."

Yup, right John, thanks for that. Very feng shui, sir.

Microsoft and Intel combined are going to barge their way into this market. O'Rourke promised that the launch of Windows 95 (remember that? Queues outside PCWorld and so on...) would "pale in comparison" to the X-Box launch. And there's no doubt it will -- the terrible twins have already demonstrated with today's shocker that they fully intend to go after the gamer, together.

So what of AMD? Well, Sanders is clear that the corporate arena is where the serious money is. If he is to go after that dream of 30 percent market share by the time he retires by making low margin processors -- a 600MHz Athlon will be worth very little in 18 month's time -- then tying up its two fabs into the bargain probably isn't the best plan.

That said, AMD isn't out of the console race just yet. A large pigeon on the way back from the Microsoft press conference told me that a deal with another games manufacturer is on the cards. You can probably guess who when you consider who else is Microsoft/x86-compatible in the market already, but if I mentioned a name on the record, I'd be sending out 'negative energy... man'.

All flames to richard_barry@zdnet.com

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