VMware CEO: Intel chip design too complex

In a recent video, VMWare CEO Paul Maritz offered some less-than-laudatory words about the Intel chip architecture.

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

In a recent and so-far relatively obscure video, VMware CEO Paul Maritz offers, at times, a sharp critique of the Intel chip architecture and the challenges of getting it into cell phones.

VMware CEO Paul Maritz
VMware CEO Paul Maritz EMC

At the TiEcon 2009 conference in mid-May, Maritz gave a brief oral history of the Intel x86 chip architecture. He noted its shortcomings and the challenges presented by ARM, the chip design that powers most of the world's cell phones and will power Netbooks running on Google's just-announced Chrome operating system.

The video has been made available by TechPulse360.

"Consumer devices came along and there was one problem with the x86 instruction set. All of that complexity in there, accumulated over the years, meant it's a power hog. It loves electricity," he said in the video, referring to Intel's x86 architecture, which virtually all PCs use today.

Maritz--who worked for five years as a software and tools developer at Intel before spending 14 years as a top-level executive at Microsoft and then joining VMWare a year ago--continued: "In consumer devices like phones you can't have that. Battery life becomes paramount," he said.

Maritz described how Intel experimented with the ARM processor architecture and bought a license "for a much simpler microprocessor," referring to Intel's development of the StrongARM architecture, which eventually became a designed called XScale.

Subsequently, Intel decided to get out of the business, according to Maritz's depiction, because the devices were "low-end, low-power, low-profit." Here Maritz is referring to Intel's XScale business, which was sold to Marvell Technology in 2006.

Maritz continued, describing how Intel wanted to get back to its roots: "high performance, complex microprocessors." Then, Intel realized, according to Maritz, that it had to get back into that market: "This ARM thing is a real problem, we're going to have to go back into that space."

In response to the video, an Intel representative said: "Paul Maritz is not privy to all of Intel's future product plans."

Note: Though the video is from May, it did not come to my attention until very recently. I think the topic is important enough to bring up now because Maritz is a high-profile CEO at a large company that builds software that runs on Intel processors and because he's speaking about one of Intel's greatest challenges.