The end of the Intel age
Author(s)Fleming, Robert Swope
System Design and Management Program.
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Executive Summary - The End of the Intel Era. Today, Intel is nearly synonymous with computers. In the past thirty years nearly all personal computers and the great majority of servers have shipped with a processor based on Intel's x86 architecture, of which Intel is the dominant vendor. Yet the past few years have seen a subtle yet remarkable convergence of different industry trends that very well may topple the semiconductor giant. For the past three decades, computers have largely assumed the same shape and form, regardless of their task. Laptops, desktops, and servers have all been based on the same open modular architecture established by IBM. Yet this is not likely to be the case going forward. The past decade has seen the rise of embedded computing, perhaps best epitomized by smartphones and tablet computers. Instead of the standard PC architecture where individual components can be easily exchanged, embedded devices are typically modular designs with highly integrated physical components. Independent functional units, all designed by independent companies, are integrated onto the same piece of silicon to achieve system cost and performance targets. Instead of a standard x86 processor, each device category likely has a chip optimized for its specific application. At the same time that the form of computing is changing, we are witnessing a redistribution of where computing power resides with Cloud Computing and data centers. These have ordinarily been the province of Intel based machines, but data centers have moved from using standard off-the-shelf PCs to custom designed motherboards. Again, we are seeing a shift from the modular personal computer architecture to one that is customized for the task at hand. Another concern for Intel is that the standard metrics by which products compete are in flux. For both embedded systems and data centers, the operational costs and constraints are starting to outweigh the initial outlay costs. An example is the industry shift from overall performance to system power efficiency. Intel has been a relentless driver of processor performance, and this is a significant change of focus for its R&D divisions. Of all Intel's competitors, ARM best represents the magnitude of these challenges for Intel, and is well positioned to take advantage of all these trends. Their business model of licensing their design is well suited for a world with customized architectures, and their extensive experience in low power embedded devices has given them an advantage over Intel in processor power efficiency. Intel is heavily invested in its existing vision of the market. They have always maintained a manufacturing process advantage through tremendous investments in new foundries, and have long championed the open PC modular architecture. Time will ultimately show if Intel is capable of meeting these growing challenges. Yet it is clear that in order to do so, it must make radical changes to itself. One may ask if it is even the same company that emerges.
Thesis (S.M. in Engineering and Management)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Engineering Systems Division, System Design and Management Program, 2011.Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (p. 108-111).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Engineering Systems Division.; System Design and Management Program.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Engineering Systems Division., System Design and Management Program.