Intel Is Dying, And We Can’t Save It
How I realized that this is truly the end of the Intel era.
If you keep up with the tech world, even to a minimal extent, you may be aware that Intel has been struggling for the past few years. I was recently catching up on some news, however, and I (rather abruptly) concluded that Intel, the company which had all but dominated the world of computer processing in the past 42 years, is dying.
That’s right, I’m calling it here.
Intel is dying.
For someone who had been an Intel fan from childhood, this was quite a shock. The first PC I toyed with at a very young age was powered by Intel. My first laptop was powered by Intel. Back in 2012, I built my first computer, and it was powered by Intel. And yet, I dare to say that Intel is dying. How did this happen? Why would I come to such a bold conclusion? Am I insane?
Although my first instinct is to attribute the death of Intel to the release of AMD’s Zen platform, AMD isn’t solely to blame. Since 2012, Intel was the hare taking a nap under a tree. Performance-wise, Intel did not progress, leading many (including myself) to proclaim that “Moore’s Law is dead!”
In 2017, AMD sounded the alarm for Intel to wake up, and for a while, it seemed like Intel was going to do just that. I quite distinctly remember being excited, as now there would be some real competition in the computing space for the first time since I was little.
And then three more years went by. Today, AMD dominates the workstation and gaming niches, is making massive bounds in laptops and similar devices, and is suddenly one of the most prominent names in servers and the cloud.
Despite all this, Intel would be able to recover if this were the only factor.
Apple Silicon, RISC-V, and other developments
Then came WWDC 2020, Apple’s annual conference held to prepare software developers for upcoming changes and additions (and, of course, show them off to the world.) Apple is another idol from my childhood, and I remember watching each keynote through to the end.
However, this year was especially interesting. Apple announced that it was going to use its legendary ARM-based chips from its iOS devices in Macs, replacing Intel’s chips. And this wasn’t even solely because Apple wanted to lock down their ecosystem even further in the usual Apple hubris. At some point along the line, Apple had realized that Intel’s chips were just not powerful or efficient enough to meet their needs.
Current rumors suggest that for a significantly lower price than similar tier Intel computers, Apple will be able to deliver more performance and more battery life, and simultaneously retain many of the features end-users expect, while even adding some more.
Apple rarely leads the pack, but when it does, the industry follows. Unless, of course, the industry notices AMD’s chips are bringing many of the same advantages as Apple’s own.
In addition to Intel’s loss with Apple, the chipmaker faces a war against new architectures, such as RISC-V. RISC-V promises performance improvements and efficiency, something that Intel possibly could have provided if it weren’t for the many years of slack in R&D.
Considering the leaps and bounds AMD has made in the past few years with their product line, AMD probably feels a lot more comfortable than Intel does.
The final (and most devastating) nail in the coffin doesn’t come from another company, or even from some revolutionary technology like RISC-V, but from within Intel itself.
Many in the tech media space who interact with Intel engineers and other Intel employees seem to have a consensus. The issues at Intel aren’t coming from the ground up, but from the top down; that’s why it’s taken so long to finally collapse.
From playing nickel and dime with performance on their low- and mid-tier products while AMD blows Intel’s performance out of the water in nearly every possible way, to likely having outright lied on multiple occasions to stockholders and the public about the timelines Intel had planned to catch up to AMD and others in their process nodes, Intel’s senior management has constantly subverted itself at every step.
This culture of allowing stagnation because it’s easy to profit in the short term, combined with the terrible treatment of the employees who give Intel its true heart and soul, is what led to this current situation.
If Intel had been able to overcome its short-sighted profit goals and kept up R&D, they would be very far ahead right now. The future is far more important than the skittish investors at a quarterly earnings report. Now, instead of Intel leading the industry, others are picking up the slack.
This piece may not age well, and I’d honestly be a bit relieved if it doesn’t. I’m no market analyst or trader, and it would be a massive stretch to call me an expert in the tech world.
But the hare can only run so fast. And this time, it’s still asleep.