The Rise and Fall of AMD

AMD has long been the subject of polarizing debates among technology enthusiasts. The chapters in its history offer ammunition for countless discussions and not a little rancor. Given that it was once equal to Intel, many wonder why AMD is failing today. However, it's probably fairer to ask how the company has survived for so long – a question we want to examine when we rethink the company's past, examine its present, and look to the future.

AMD's rise

AMD was founded in May 1969 by seven Fairchild Semiconductor employees under the leadership of Fairchild's Marketing Director Jerry Sanders. One can say that AMD has established itself as an outsider from the start, focusing its early efforts on redesigning parts of Fairchild and National Semiconductor, rather than developing new products like Intel with the legendary 4004. Although it did in the early 2000s Years ago, as we'll discuss shortly, the company had major problems shattering Intel's shadow.

Already in 1969, a few months after its founding, AMD moved from Santa Clara, California – Intel's hometown – to Sunnyvale and brought with it newly designed integrated circuits (ICs) that worked for more efficiency, stress tolerances and speed. AMD has designed its chips to meet US military specifications. This proved to be a significant advantage in the emerging computer industry where quality control was extremely different. The design and production of logic ICs grew steadily.

By 1975 AMD developed into a significant company. This year, the Am2900 family of ICs was introduced, which included multiplexers, ALUs, system clock generators, and memory controllers – individual IC blocks that can be found in modern CPUs today, but at the time were separate integrated circuits. AMD also started reverse engineering the 8080 processor from Intel. Originally called AM9080, it was renamed to 8080A after AMD and Intel signed a mutual license agreement in 1976. AMD cost: $ 325,000 ($ 1.3 million in today's dollars).

It took AMD over five years to convert the 80386 to the Am386, but once it was completed, it again proved to be more than a match with Intel's design.

The 8085 (3MHz) processor followed in 1977 and was supplemented in 1979 by the 8086 (8MHz) and the 8088 (5-10MHz). This year, production also started at the AMD plant in Austin, Texas. A new phase of the company started in early 1982. When IBM started moving from mainframe computers to PCs, the company decided to outsource parts rather than developing them internally. The 8086 processor from Intel was selected with the proviso that AMD acted as a second source to ensure a constant supply of the IBM PC / AT.

In February 1982, a contract was signed between Intel and AMD in which 8086, 8088, 80186 and 80188 processors were manufactured not only for IBM, but also for the many multiplying IBM clones – especially Compaq. AMD also started producing the Intel 80286 as the Am286 towards the end of the year. This was to be the first truly significant desktop PC processor, and while Intel's models were generally between 6 and 10 MHz, AMDs started at 8 MHz and reached 16 to 20 MHz – a blow to Intel.

This period meant an enormous growth of the young PC market. Intel found that AMD had offered the Am286 a significant speed boost over the 80286, and tried to stop AMD by excluding them from the next generation 386 processors. The arbitration lasted four and a half years, and although the ruling found that Intel was under no obligation to transfer any new product to AMD, the larger chip maker was found to have violated an implied contract of good faith.

Intel denied access to the 386 license to AMD at a critical time when IBM PC's market share rose from 55% to 84%. AMD had no access to the Intel specification and took over five years to convert the 80386 to the Am386. Upon completion, however, AMD proved to be more than a match with Intel's design. Where the Intel 386 reached 33 MHz, the Am386DX reached 40 MHz, closing the performance of the 486. This was probably the first instance of AMD that is known to offer better value for money.

The success of the Am386 was followed by the release of the highly competitive 40 MHz Am486 from 1993, which offered around 20% more performance than the 33 MHz i486 from Intel for the same price. This should be replicated across the entire 486 series, and while Intel's 486DX was predictably at 100 MHz at this point, AMD offered a faster 120 MHz option. To better illustrate AMD's happiness during this period, the company's sales doubled from just over $ 1 billion in 1990 to well over $ 2 billion in 1994.

In 1995, AMD introduced the Am5x86 processor as the successor to the 486 and offered it as a direct upgrade for older computers. The Am5x86 P75 + had a frequency of 150 MHz, whereby the reference power "P75" was similar to that of the Intel Pentium 75. The "+" indicated that the AMD chip was slightly faster than the Intel solution for the integer calculation. Intel had changed naming conventions to distance itself from AMD and other vendors' products. The Am5x86 was a big revenue generator for AMD, both with new sales and with upgrades of 486 machines. As with the Am286, 386 and 486, AMD further extended the life of the parts by offering them as embedded solutions.

In March 1996 the first internal processor was introduced, the 5k86, which was later renamed K5. The chip was developed to compete with the Intel Pentium and Cyrix 6×86 series. Good execution with the K5 was a crucial point in the history of AMD because the chip had a much more powerful floating point unit than Cyrix and was roughly equivalent to the Pentium 100, while the integer performance corresponded to the Pentium 200. Unfortunately, the project was stubborn with design and manufacturing issues that resulted in the CPU not meeting its frequency goals, coming out too late, and suffering from poor sales. Missed the opportunity.

The rise of AMD reflected the decline of Intel since the early beginnings of the K6 architecture, which competed against Intel's Pentium, Pentium II and (largely revised) Pentium III.

At that time, AMD had spent $ 857 million on NexGen, a small fabless chip company whose processors were manufactured by IBM. AMD's K5 and development K6 had scaling problems at higher clock speeds (~ 150 MHz and higher), while the NexGen Nx686 had already shown a core speed of 180 MHz. After the buyout, the Nx686 became the K6 from AMD and the (original) AMD "K6" was brought to the junkyard.

The rise of AMD reflected the decline of Intel since the early beginnings of the K6 architecture, which competed against Intel's Pentium, Pentium II and (largely revised) Pentium III. The K6 accelerated AMD's success. The CPU owed its existence to a former Intel employee, Vinod Dham (a.k.a. the "father of the Pentium"), who left Intel in 1995 to work at NexGen. Dham was instrumental in the development of the K6.

The arrival of the AMD K7 (usually known by the model name Athlon) in 1999 is the culmination of the company's golden age.

When the K6 hit the shelves in 1997, it was an alternative to the Pentium MMX, and while Intel continued to stumble with its overwhelming Netburst architecture, the K6 grew stronger – from 233 MHz in the first step to 300 MHz for revision " Little Foot "in January 1998, 350 MHz in the" Chomper "K6-2 from May 1998 and 550 MHz in September 1998 with the revision" Chomper Extended ". K6-2 released AMD's 3DNow! SIMD instruction set (similar to Intel's SSE), but with the disadvantage that programmers have to integrate the new instruction in addition to patches and compilers that have to be rewritten in order to use the function.

Like the original K6, the K6-II was outstanding and often cost half as much as Intel's Pentium chips. The last iteration of the K6, the K6-III, was a more complicated CPU. The number of transistors was now 21.4 million – compared to 8.8 million in the first K6 and 9.4 million in the K6-II – and contained AMD's PowerNow !, which changed the clock rates dynamically depending on the workload. Finally, at clock speeds of 570 MHz, the K6-III was quite expensive to manufacture and had a relatively short lifespan, shortened by the arrival of the K7, which was better suited to compete with the Pentium III and beyond.

The arrival of the AMD K7 (usually known by the model name Athlon) in 1999 is the culmination of the company's golden age. From 500 MHz, Athlon CPUs used the new socket A and a new internal system bus, which was licensed by DEC and operated at 200 MHz. This exceeded the 133 MHz offered by Intel at that time. June 2000 brought the Athlon Thunderbird, a CPU that is valued by many for its overclockability and includes DDR RAM support and a full-speed L2 on-die cache.

Thunderbird and his successors Palomino, Thoroughbred, Barton and Thorton fought Intel's Pentium 4 in the first five years of the millennium, usually at a lower price. Athlon was supplemented in September 2003 with the K8 (codenamed ClawHammer), better known as Athlon 64, because it added a 64-bit extension to the x86 instruction set.

This short episode is usually referred to as AMD's crucial moment. While AMD was on the rise, the approach of Intel's netburst architecture (especially the Pentium 4 family) was exposed at all costs as an exercise in hubris.

So what happened? Why hasn't AMD continued on its way to fame? This is where the heated debate generally begins …

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