AMD-Intel deal: No big change for consumers

The chipmakers are quelling their legal spat, but that won't mean much right away if you're shopping for a new laptop or desktop.

Erica Ogg Former Staff writer, CNET News
Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.
Erica Ogg
3 min read

The settlement between Intel and Advanced Micro Devices isn't just a matter of business between companies.

Sure, it's a big financial deal when the biggest chipmaker in the world forks over $1.25 billion to its closest competitor. And the settlement, announced Thursday, officially puts an end to a five-year battle over licensing disputes and AMD's complaints of unfair competition.

Beyond that, there will also be an effect on the two chipmakers do business with PC makers, and how they price their chips. Still, the settlement won't likely foment major changes for consumers shopping for a new laptop or desktop.

AMD processors are readily available from most PC makers, the major exception being Apple. If you really wanted one before the settlement came along, it's not like you couldn't get an AMD-based machine in stores or online. Intel now has agreed basically to not punish PC makers that choose to put AMD chipsets in some of their machines, but that doesn't mean Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Acer, Apple, and others will suddenly want to use AMD's latest chip in their flagship products. AMD will probably continue to be used as the "value" option for PC makers looking to offer cheaper notebooks.

Acer Netbook Atom
PC prices are already pretty low thanks to the Netbook movement brought on by Intel, Acer, and others. Acer

That said, there is room for AMD to increase its share in processors used in laptops. The company has made improvements in that area recently, particularly in the ultrathin category, according to observers. So if you're paying attention, you might see more from AMD when shopping for a new laptop.

My colleague Brooke Crothers made an excellent observation last week, that Intel, while accused of dampening competition with AMD, has actually kept prices very low for consumers buying laptops. Thanks to the Netbook movement, which Intel spurred with its Atom chip starting in late 2007, the average price of the small, lightly featured Netbooks is now below $500. While not everyone is in the market for a Netbook, all shoppers have ended up benefiting. In order to recoup some of the lost profit due to the popularity of Netbooks, the industry--led by AMD and its consumer-ultra-low-voltage chips--has now focused on selling ultrathin laptops, which typically cost somewhere between $500 and $900.

Though one might assume that Intel and AMD hitting reset on their competition and going head to head would bring prices down, that's not likely. If anything, prices may actually go up a bit, said Gartner analyst Martin Reynolds.

"This [settlement] potentially means that products cost a little more to manufacture because we don't have this irrational competition between the two," he said. "[PC makers] won't be able to pit the two against each other as much."

Speed to market
What matter to consumers most are price and capability. What matters to Intel and AMD is getting faster, cheaper processors that enable better battery life in laptops into as many new computers as possible. The speed of this cycle is very important. The faster the two companies come out with new products, the more often people will go shopping for new laptops.

AMD's product road map has severely suffered in comparison to Intel's over the last several years. Intel whips out new products on a regular yearly schedule. A quick infusion of $1.25 billion from Intel should do a lot to help AMD fund new product design in order to better keep up. Again, there won't be a significant change immediately, but over time we may see their speed to market pick up, Gartner's Reynolds noted.

Besides money, the end of the legal squabbling also means that AMD is freed up from focusing on the lawsuits and what Intel has done wrong, and can help the company focus on the task at hand: making good products at reasonable prices. So if not directly, the settlement will at least indirectly benefit those looking for laptops and desktops at their local retailer or online.

Of course the vast majority of shoppers, outside of those tuned into technology, probably won't pay much mind to whether there's Intel or AMD inside the laptop as long as it meets their expectations, said analyst Michael Gartenberg.

The buying decision is actually very simple usually, he said. "Does it even matter anymore? It's about who's delivering the cool machines at the price that I want."