Sometimes Watts and Volts Do Matter

Should engineers run chip companies? A few years ago it was a no-brainer. The decisions taken relied so much on making a sound technical judgment that you had to have an engineer calling the shots.

I remember asking Gordon Moore, over dinner in London back in 1990, whether the industry would ever be run by conventional industrial managers, and he replied:  “It’s still a very technical industry, technical judgement is still very important. I don’t think we’ll be able to turn it over to the accountants.”


It took another 15 years before a non-engineer took over at Intel. That was Paul Otellini whose first degree is in economics, and whose post graduate degree is an MBA.


It seems to work OK much of the time but an insouciance about Watts and Volts can get you into trouble.


Otellini is making a huge personal push on Intel’s Atom processors. He is trying to position these as an alternative to ARM processors in mobile internet devices and smartphones.


But the Atoms use an order of magnitude more power than ARM processors, and Intel reckons it will be a couple of years before it can produce a processor matching ARM’s processors for power.


It must have been humiliating for Intel, at last week’s Computex in Taipei, to see Nvidia produce a MID with 26 hours video playback time, and have Intel present its device with four to six hours battery life.


Maybe, if you’re a marketing guy, you think you can shrug off these things with a clever spiel.


But not if you’re pitching to the ultra-smart portables manufacturers of Taiwan.


Sometimes Watts and Volts do matter.

Tags: chip companies, Intel, Nvidia, taiwan

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