2008 Intel converts: Bigger flock than Apple

In 2008, Intel not only won the PC processor war against AMD but walked away with a new PC market that it now virtually owns.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

When Apple converted to Intel in 2005 that was big. But 2008 Intel Atom converts make this look like a small-town baptism.

Overall, it was a good year for the Intel faithful despite the Wall Street financial crisis. Intel handily beat Advanced Micro Devices in the PC processor performance war. (Not coincidentally, AMD was forced to spin off its manufacturing operations to save itself.) But that really was last year's news since AMD had not been delivering competitive processors for almost two years.

iBook G3: Apple's conversion from IBM-Motorola to Intel pales against the conversion of PC makers to Intel's Atom
iBook G3: Apple's conversion from IBM-Motorola to Intel pales against the conversion of PC makers to Intel's Atom CNET Networks

The tectonic shift in 2008 came as one PC maker after another adopted Intel's new Atom processor. Count 'em: Acer, Asus, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Toshiba--to mention only the largest vendors. (Atom shipments in the third quarter were strong and expected to hit between 10 and 20 million units this year.)

This wasn't one sole convert (like Apple), this was a Pentecostal conversion of biblical proportions. Almost overnight, the entire top tier of the PC industry got the Atom religion. In fact, it happened so quickly and so massively that companies like AMD and Qualcomm didn't know what hit them.

Wait a minute, Qualcomm seemed to say, we specialize in making chips for small devices, why is Intel running away with this market? (Even Intel was a bit surprised at the swiftness of Atom adoption in Netbooks.) And though AMD had helped pioneer the market by supplying its Geode processor for the progenitor of the Netbook, the One-Laptop-Per-Chip XO laptop, the Geode never came close to the commercial success (or performance) of the Atom.

AMD took notice, however, and said it plans to deliver a processor for the ultraportable market (an upscale Netbook or cheap notebook--however you want to look at it) at the Consumer Electronics Show.

And Nvidia followed suit. And seemed to be posing the same questions. Hey, if everyone's doing this, is this the Second Coming of the PC? Or, at least, a restructuring of the traditional price structure of the PC market? (The other question Nvidia is asking itself is whether it can bust the Intel bundling Juggernaut).

Oh, and we almost forgot Microsoft. Not initially enthusiastic about the Netbook market because of its XP-centric nature, Microsoft seems to have also gotten the Netbook religion with Windows 7 which will be ready for Netbooks from day one.