Intel and AMD threatended by Chrome OS

Part 2: Collateral damage when Microsoft falls

GOOGLE IS FINALLY launching an operating system called Chrome OS. The big loser in all of this is Microsoft, but there are two others that will also take a huge hit, Intel and AMD.

As we said yesterday in Part 1, Microsoft won the war for Google and Chrome OS by ignoring users and foisting unconscionable software on people. MS utterly lacks any reason a customer would want to use their code, and now depends on force feeding ‘customers’. Without arms to twist, MS has an uphill slog for sales, and lacks a plan B. It has the stick, but no carrot, and not enough time to grow a few. MS is on the way down, fast.

A bloated giant like MS doesn’t fall without collateral damage, and this time, much of the PC industry is in the shadow of this wavering behemoth. The heart of that industry is of course the CPU makers, Intel and AMD, they will have the hardest time scurrying out of the way when MS nears the ground.

The new Google OS is aimed initially at connected netbooks, but will scale up as well. From all accounts, it is a stripped down Linux distro with a new window manager and the Chrome browser. If you are thinking this sounds like just enough OS to do housekeeping and run the browser, you would be right. What Google is proposing is what an OS used to be before MS made it into a morbidly obese tool for shutting out competition. Google is bringing the OS back to it’s roots.

Slimmed down is good in more ways than just speed. The less extraneous garbage that needs to load after power up, the faster it boots, and the faster it runs in general. If you don’t have a wad of TSRs running in the background, you use less memory, less CPU cycles, and less power to do the same task as a machine that has all of that gunk clogging up the intertubes in the background.

This is the short way of saying that Chrome will run faster than any MS product on the same hardware. That brings up the big question, so what? Who cares how many FPS your browser runs at, if it can decode video, play the occasional flash game, and doesn’t bog on complex pages, does double the horsepower matter? 10x the horsepower? Good enough is good enough to all but a tiny fraction of the user base.

While that is bad for MS, it is potentially even worse for Intel and AMD. They have both been positioning x86 down market with increasing urgency. Low end SKUs of Intel’s Atom are a direct competitor to high end ARM CPUs, and both side overlap more with each new generation. AMD is trailing, but has a chance to get into the game for real with the Bulldozer cores in late 2010.

Intel positions Atom as more compatible than ARM for all the relevant software that runs the internet. Fair enough, but ARM has a power advantage and more variants to fill niches. Intel also has enough raw horsepower to do what the fixed function bits do, but at a wattage cost. Stalemate. The best solution for any particular device depends more on the use than CPU architecture.

Along comes Google and says, in effect, “You can do everything you need to on the net with our widget that uses only 1/4 the CPU power of a Windows machine, 1/4 the RAM, half the storage space, and we consume 1/2 the wattage”. Compelling argument. When you consider that all those 1/4s and 1/2s add up to a much smaller BoM (Bill of Materials), Google can offer Chrome OS netbooks/notebooks/desktops at a far lower price than anything x86 + Windows. Wintel goes from a gold standard to a millstone.

Would you rather have a $1000 notebook with a 4 hour battery life that runs a few more apps, or a $200 Chromebook that has a 24 hour battery life? Apps compatibility isn’t going to be much of a problem, Google has the clout to twist arms and the financial might to spend what is needed.

Google Chrome OS will likely be hardware agnostic, it’s open source lineage, and Google’s Android platform show that ARM is a key market for this type of device, so why pay extra for x86? If you don’t need added horsepower for Windows bloat, and Chrome OS has the drivers ported, there doesn’t seem to be a compelling reason.

This is why Intel is scared stiff of Google, and why AMD should be getting pretty nervous too. Chrome OS makes x86 irrelevant for most consumer and likely a lot of business users. It will work with Google apps, Gears, Flash, and tons of cloud/SAAS apps, so why do you need the old model?

Intel won’t take this lying down though, we hear they are actively trying to shut Android out of the MID/netbook market in favor of Moblin 2.0. Other moves show they are serious about development too. This is not going to be a cold war, but it may be low key, no cans of whoop-ass here.

In any case, Chrome OS blows the doors open for ARM and other non-x86 architectures to step up and claim a place at the table while displacing x86. Google wins, MS looses badly, Intel and AMD suddenly find themselves in a fight for survival in several key markets. Google fired a big shot at Redmond, and it squarely hit the target, but the shrapnel may very well do lots of damage in Silicon Valley.S|A

Note: Part 1 can be found here.

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also available through Guidepoint and Mosaic. FullyAccurate