Rumors swirl around AMD buy

Posted by Nick Farrell

Opinion If you read the financial press you might be surprised to learn that AMD is about to be bought by every company under the sun.

So far the outfit has been considered by pundits to be bought by Apple, Dell, Qualcomm and Intel using some fairly bizarre reasoning.

Take for example the "Intel plans to buy AMD" rumour. Given that this would be subject to all sorts of antitrust actions, you have to question how this one came into being.

The logic is based on a fallacy. Since the world is moving to mobile, x86 chips are less important and as a result antitrust regulators are not going to care any more that Intel would have a monopoly of making these.

However, antitrust regulators are concerned about competition and giving one manufacturer total control of a market, no matter how narrow, is going to set writs flying.

To buy AMD, Intel would have to act fast. AMD's share price is growing thanks to its gains in consoles and low-power computers.

The other consideration is what Intel would have to gain from buying its rival. The only thing AMD has which Intel lacks is the considerable graphics know-how of AMD's ATI business. Although Chipzilla's graphics knowledge is building, it is still a long way behind AMD on that score. However, it is a lot better at integrating that knowledge into a single chip.

This becomes important as the next trend in PC building is towards integrated chips and graphics cores.

But this problem might be solved not by Intel buying AMD, but something no less radical – AMD and Intel could actually bury the hatchet and team up.

This would mean the sharing of technology which both need but would stop short of an antitrust writ landing on anyone's door. While it would appear that such a deal would favour the much bigger Intel, in fact it would also assist AMD assert itself in the market and take the pressure off Chipzilla from regulators.

If the future really is mobile chips, then the loss of market share in this arena is less important, but the access to better graphics technology is a worthy pay off. Besides, the spin off technology might also help Intel and AMD match ARM in the mobile market.

But it is about as likely to happen as it was that the Nazis would team up with Stalin to defeat the US during World War II.

The Apple rumour is even weirder. The idea is that Apple could immediately move from Intel chips in its Macs to similar AMD processors, and, under its roof, Apple could tailor-make the processors to best fit its needs.

Somehow these rumours are also tied to Apple wanting to drop Samsung as its chipmaker. Buying AMD would not help it resolve that problem - AMD has not manufactured chips for a long time. Even if buying AMD would give Apple the ability to create better chips, it would still have to come up with a way of building them. Besides, Apple does have enough inhouse chipmaking ability to adapt ARM designs at the moment and there are also rumours that it will let its PC business quietly die off.

Again, the only reason why Apple would want AMD is that it would gain control of AMD/ATI's graphics products. But at the moment ATI technology is not the flavour of the month at Cupertino. While Apple might want AMD graphics processors in the near future, it is more likely to be happy with the way things are between the two.

If Apple bought AMD it would get back its former chief CPU architect Jim Keller, who left for AMD earlier this year, as he is known for his work as A4/A5 designer and K8 lead architect at Apple. On the downside it would also get back senior vice president of devices hardware engineering at Apple, Mark Papermaster, who Apple probably would not want back.

The Qualcomm rumour is silly. An ARM fabless chipmaker buying a x86 fabless chipmaker makes sense only if it were buying a market leader in the x86 market.

However, AMD owns 10,525 approved patents and a sizable share of TSMC's 28 nm production capacity that Qualcomm needs. Like the other rumours Qualcomm would benefit from AMD's graphics know-how. Qualcomm owns AMD's former Imageon technology but it could do with some more.

AMD's former CTO, Eric Demers, who now works for Qualcomm, would find himself in charge of his former company.

While the combined outfits could provide some good engineering products, there are few compelling business reasons for such a deal to take place.

Dell can be ruled out because it lacks the money and has other problems.

Based on this, all these rumours can be safely ignored for now. What is likely to happen is that AMD will end up with closer ties with one of the companies which is rumoured to buy it and from a practical point of view there will be nothing to see here, so move on please.