Happy birthday, Intel! Here’s a big present!

I was a lot younger on July 18, 1968. We all were – and many of you weren’t even born when the company that changed the world was founded.

Intel has become a powerhouse since Gordon Moore (of Moore’s Law fame) and Robert Noyce created the company.

Starting out manufacturing RAM chips, the company – whose name is a portmanteau of Integrated Electronics — originally lived in the shadows of giants like Fairchild Semiconductor. That all changed when the company brought out its 4004 microprocessor in 1971. It was followed by the eight-bit 8008 and the general-purpose 8080.

Intel burst into the IT scene in 1981, when Big Blue chose the 8088 processor for the IBM Personal Computer. Intel’s chip wasn’t the obvious choice, and arguably wasn’t the best choice; Motorola’s 6800-series processors were arguably better. But Motorola was an IBM competitor, and so IBM chose Intel. Thus, the first member of of “Wintel” was ready for world domination. The rest, as we say, is history. Even computers from Apple and Sun use Intel chips these days.

That’s not to say that Intel’s path has been a smooth one. The company had many missteps, as with the 80186 chip and famously brain-dead 80286 processor. Let’s not even talk about the Itanium, shall we?

Intel also flirted with monopolistic practices, including many scandals where it was said that Intel wrote aggressive sales contracts to stop customers from buying competing chips from AMD, Cyrix and other manufacturers.

AMD has been a perennial thorn in Intel’s side. For years, the company released clones of Intel’s processors, but the roles were reversed in 2003, when AMD debuted the 32/64-bit Opteron processor, and then dual-core chips in a year later. It was Intel who was forced to play catchup – in the face of damning lawsuits, no less.

But Intel has overcome its challenges, and today is stronger than ever. Part of that is due to incredible missteps by AMD’s executives, who took their eyes off the prize by an ill-fated acquisition of graphics chipmaker ATI in 2006. With AMD’s brass distracted, and finances tanking, a reinvigorated Intel blew past them with its Core 2 processors, and then by releasing quad-core processors long before AMD.

That makes it ironic that yesterday, Intel might have received its best birthday present ever, as AMD whacked its CEO, Hector Ruiz, after announcing yet another terrible quarter, with US$1.19 billion loss and a stock price that has dropped from its 52-week high of $16.19 to only $4.90.

Happy Birthday, Intel!

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick
1 reply
  1. The Ole Prof
    The Ole Prof says:

    Hi Alan,

    I’m not so sure about your comments about the 80186 and the 80286. For the first, it gave a chance to many no-name clones to enter he market and spread the DOS-Intel market and later it was absorbed into the many LAN cards as a good co-processor. And the 286 provided the first chance to break the 1MB memory barrier better than previous software methods. Am I right or did I miss something from back then.

    P.S. I too was a lot younger then – I was just about ready to graduate from College in about two weeks.

    Professor Charles Kellermann

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