Wintel Armageddon

Rumours are now confirmed. Intel plans to enter the hardware market in a big way and also to exclude others…

“so the PC ends with a whimper, not a bang. Broadwell will be available in a ‘desktop’ variant as well as a laptop version, but neither will be socketed. There are a lot of good technical reasons to release it only as an embedded and mobile CPU, but not for anyone other than Intel. They want more of the PC ecosystem, and are taking it. Enthusiasts have been written off, and the rest of the ecosystem is being preemptively kneecapped in case they try to step out of line. The desktop is dead, and with it, PCs become irrelevant, mobile or not.”

Intel kills off the desktop, PCs go with it | SemiAccurate.

By not producing CPUs with sockets, Intel will cut out all kinds of small players, and gain more power over the motherboard makers, even to the point of preventing motherboard makers from competing with Intel.

The other half of this imminent collapse is M$’s entry into hardware with “8” and “Secure Boot”. the folly of allowing Wintel to rule IT is coming home to roost. The only way out for OEMs and motherboard makers is to switch to ARM or AMD. AMD could surely use the business but could not fill the vacuum of Intel. ARM could. We live in interesting times.

For mere users of IT, this is disastrous. Whatever freedom of choice people had with x86 is gone. No one will be able to upgrade an x86 PC by swapping CPUs, or even replacing a CPU that got fried.

It is the end-times for Wintel. The survivors are grimly killing every competitor in hopes of surviving a bit longer. M$ is on the edge of a cliff. Intel seems intent on defining its own Apple-like hardware domain, increasing share of x86 space by restricting options. Firmly locked into Wintel with no alternative suppliers? Expect to pay more for the privilege of being a slave.

There are few advantages for most of us. A socketless motherboard might be a few $ cheaper and an iota more reliable but Intel will pocket that most likely as anyone who wants an x86 motherboard will be forced to buy from Intel.

Looking back over decades we now see this disaster was foretold in the first agreements between IBM and M$ and Intel. Not requiring M$ to second-source was stupid. Requiring Intel to second-source (Motorola, Signetics, Cyrix,… remember them?) was a bit better but Intel still managed to throttle their competitors in CPUs through instruction-set patents and payoffs. Now Intel is about to leverage it’s monopoly in x86 CPUs into something every bit as ugly as what M$ did.

Despite the obvious fact that GNU/Linux, Android/Linux and ARM are not quite ready to fill the Wintel space (volume, not quality), there is a silver lining. All up and down the food-chain of IT people will be actively seeking choices in hardware and software. When the dust settles, M$ and Intel will still thrive in some cracks but the world will be free to make choices at last. The more M$ and Intel cannibalize their “partners” the more opportunities for */Linux on ARM and, eventually, new CPUs from China.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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6 Responses to Wintel Armageddon

  1. ram says:

    The Intel i3 NUC boxen have been released to the public:

    http://misc.altech.com.au/html/Intel_Next_Unit_of_Computing_at_Altech-2344.html

    They are also selling a decent variety of motherboards WITHOUT UEFI directly.

    Yup, the Taiwanese motherboard manufacturers have truly screwed themselves this time!

  2. ram says:

    No motherboard manufacturer makes boards for the full range or Intel’s (or for that matter even AMD’s) processors. Look at their OEM and embedded offerings sometime – that is alot of processors. No single motherboard manufacturer comes close to covering all those processors.

    Intel’s NUC boxen will NOT run Microsoft 8, since they don’t have UEFI. Their power consumption is so low that they generate (even with i7 processors) very little heat. That elimates a host of problems, like fans, like overheating components, like expensive failing capacitors. That, and their small size contribute massively to reliablility.

    I agree the traditional motherboard manufactuers (i.e. the ones that went for UEFI) are shafted. I just wish AMD would make something similar to Intel’s NUC boxen, or at least supply Linux compatible motherboards directly. For OEMs and embedded system manufacturers UEFI is a HUGE problem cutting out swathes of former suppliers.

  3. ram wrote, “Intel is not cutting off the supply of x86 chips to motherboard manufacturers, so motherboard makers have nothing to sue about.”

    That’s too simple a viewpoint. Consider those motherboard manufacturers. Instead of having x models with y sockets, they now have to produce xy models in order to compete. If you are a manufacturer, you have to be able to run all of Intel’s CPUs or someone else will… This will only be neutral to the manufacturers if Intel drastically cuts down the models of CPUs it produces. That won’t happen because Intel has to be able to tell customers that they have .23 gHz higher clockspeed or 4MB more cache or something with better price/performance than what AMD produces and they have to keep ARM off motherboards as long as possible, so they have to cover all clockspeeds from ~1gHz to 4gHz, a wide range of core-counts etc.

    About the environment, the next time a cap dies on your motherboard, do you want to change the CPU, too? Most of the silicon and packaging of a PC is in that CPU. Then there’s the heat sink. Suppose the motherboard you have has moved on and that CPU is no longer produced. You have to change motherboard, CPU and heatsink in some cases just because a 15 cent cap died. Oh, and if you are running that other OS, you probably will have a lot more trouble with “secure boot” being involved. What if the new board has different key-expectations? It’s a mess. Might as well just buy a new PC, what M$ wants.

    I long ago chose AMD but they are shaky now. ARM will soon be competitive for desktops. It will all sort itself out but this is definitely a power-grab by Intel. Getting the world to depend on your stuff and then yanking options away is a good way to demand higher prices.

  4. ram says:

    I’ve seen the NUC boxen, and the guy telling me about their plans was a VP, so I think Intel is for real about this.

    Intel is not cutting off the supply of x86 chips to motherboard manufacturers, so motherboard makers have nothing to sue about. It is their own fault they crippled their motherboards with UEFI. Intel has long sold boards directly, especially to OEMs. Now they are just moving down to the box level.

    Making boxen where the processors are surface mount soldered in eliminates alot of cost and adds alot of reliability. How many people change processors on existing motherboards these days anyway. Far more add more memory, or replace memory for faster – that is the bottleneck today, memory speeds.

    With respect to the environment, the NUC boxen consume far less power (a few 10’s of Watts) than ordinary desktop PC’s. The NUC boxen boards are also physically small. Small in electronics translates to reliable. Big boards (in all electronics) fail far more frequently than small ones. Likewise, the NUC boxen contain very few internal connectors – another big source of failures and manufacturing expense. All around, the NUC boxen use far less resources than ‘normal’ desktop PCs.

    I personally look forward to them becoming available. Powerful enough alone for workstations, and if you stack them and make a Linux cluster you can build a supercomputer with enough of them!

  5. ram wrote, “x86 ain’t dead, but a bunch of Taiwanese motherboard and computer manufacturers are, the just don’t know it yet!”

    There was litigation when Oracle tried to discontinue support for HP’s servers. It would surprise me if lots of businesses that would be harmed by this move without warning would not sue Intel globally.

    Further, ram wrote, “I would not lump in Intel with Microsoft”.

    While Intel has done a lot to help Linux, this move is a desperate power-grab as far as I can tell. They do own 90% of the x86 desktop CPU market and what they are doing will harm competition in that market in a huge way. It will also harm the economy and the environment as more stuff will become scrap whether the motherboard or the CPU fails. Think of it as Intel’s version of “bundling”. It certainly will raise the cost of upgrading hardware. Want to change the motherboard or the CPU? Buy another motherboard+CPU. Also, scrap all your existing inventory of motherboards or CPUs.

  6. ram says:

    I would not lump in Intel with Microsoft. At this year’s Intel Channel Conference, besides announcing several new servers the run Linux extremely well, Intel is introducing something they call NUC which are small powerful Linux boxen. That’s right they run Linux, and not Microsoft8.

    The motherboard manufacturers that went with Microsoft and UEFI are going to be well and truly screwed. Fat chance competing against Intel’s ability to make high performance, low power consumption, physically small, boxes.

    x86 ain’t dead, but a bunch of Taiwanese motherboard and computer manufacturers are, the just don’t know it yet!

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