They say the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. For Intel
In what must feel like a scene out of Groundhog Day for Intel investors, the FTC just announced that it has filed suit against Intel, alleging that it is using its monopoly power to stifle the competition.
One of the charges here definitely feels like old hat: the accusation that Intel uses its dominant position in the PC microprocessor market to discourage manufacturers from buying chips from competitors, the largest clearly being Advanced Micro Devices
Given the evidence that's turned up thus far, it wouldn't surprise me if Intel settles these claims with a costly payment and a vague promise not to engage in such bad, bad behavior again. But the skeptic in me isn't convinced that this will do much to change the competitive landscape. Partly because Intel has deep pockets, and partly because there are a variety of strong-arm tactics it can use while maintaining a semblance of deniability. But also because plenty of big-name PC manufacturers, such as Hewlett-Packard
Other than Apple
But while the FTC's suit might not have a huge direct impact on Intel's standing with PC manufacturers, it could have an indirect impact. The FTC's suit also includes a complaint that Intel manipulated its compiler software, which is used to translate software code so that it can be understood by a processor, to give Intel processors a performance edge over competing chips. If that claim holds up, and Intel is forced to modify its compiler code, that might have the effect of improving the performance of AMD processors; thereby improving their competitive standing.
Also of interest is that the FTC is upset over Intel's treatment of NVIDIA
Unlike the microprocessor space, it's pretty easy for the FTC to create a more competitive playing field here. All it has to do is require Intel to grant NVIDIA and other interested parties a license to develop Nehalem chipsets. If this happens, it should give a boost to NVIDIA, whose past chipsets for Intel processors have sold well in the notebook and high-end desktop markets. Although, even if there's a resolution in chipsets, it's still murky what further concessions the FTC may want to create a "level" graphics playing field.
This time around, it looks like the wrath of regulators may actually have some kind of impact on Intel's competitive standing. It may not be the kind of earth-shaking impact that AMD and NVIDIA investors might be hoping for, but it is the kind that could have a real impact on their companies' bottom lines within a couple of years.