It was a pre-Independence Day sell-off on Wall Street today, with the Nasdaq falling 1.5% and the Dow and S&P each slipping about 1%. Apparently, traders wanted to get out of the market before heading to the Hamptons for a long weekend. That's OK. We'll be here tomorrow, looking at stocks the same way we do every day.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

AMD and Dell at Last?


Bill Mann (TMF Otter)

It's a tale as old as time, but it isn't Disney's(NYSE: DIS) "Beauty and the Beast."

Dell (Nasdaq: DELL) , the bellwether PC company (and Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick), has used Intel(Nasdaq: INTC) microprocessors forever. Intel Inside. Exclusively. Intel's biggest rival, AMD(NYSE: AMD), has been pursuing Dell forever to offer computers running its chip. A look back through the Fool archives has mentions of a potential Dell/AMD collaboration from last year, the year before, all the way back to about, oh, 1926.

A research report from Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Tai Nguyen noted that Dell is designing two dual-processor servers based upon AMD's Opteron processors. If this is true, it would represent a major victory for AMD: all of the other big box makers, including Gateway(NYSE: GTW), Hewlett Packard(NYSE: HWQ), IBM(NYSE: IBM), and Sun Microsystems(Nasdaq: SUNW)ship products running AMD microprocessors. But they're not Dell.

Dell's "special relationship" with Intel has traditionally meant that when Intel releases a new product, Dell gets first crack. This works out great as long as Intel's driving the chip-design horse. But many industry experts have pointed out that AMD has a long history of design wins over Intel, and the recent decision by Intel to offer a chip modeled on Opteron silicon represents a bit of a watershed. These chips can process data at 32 bits, but can scale up to 64 bits for more calculation-intensive applications.

But AMD's been claiming design and processing speed victories for years. Nothing has really helped: Intel still has the outward appearance of a juggernaut, and AMD's various production problems over time have given manufacturers just enough excuse to stay with the proven leader in Intel. AMD hopes that by breaking into some Dell designs, Joe Consumer's perceptions would begin to change. For whatever reason, the fact that Hewlett and IBM, among others, have launched AMD-based products isn't as important to perception as whether the dam breaks at Dell.

This would spell trouble for Intel. Not because Dell is suddenly going to start throwing Intel chips and designs onto the slag heap -- I'd expect that the amount of AMD-driven gear that Dell would sell would comprise a small portion of its overall gross. But given Dell's special relationship with Intel, the only reason that the company would move to the Opteron or Athlon chips from AMD would be due to customer demand. The PC business remains quite hairy and brutally competitive. Due in no small part to its growth trajectory and superior economic model, Dell used to be able to be a bit schoolmarmy with its customers, in effect saying "We choose Intel because it's the best for you." But if customers are demanding AMD, then what does this say about Intel's carefully groomed image?

Let's not start carving Intel's tombstone just yet. In fact, a Dell spokesman has flatly denied claims that the company has plans currently to offer products based on AMD. Until such an announcement takes place, this is just a rumor, coming from an analyst who may simply be trying to make a name for himself. Or it could be that he's done some excellent primary research. Whatever the outcome, he's managed to re-ignite the rumor that just never seems to die. Regardless of what happens with Dell, it seems clear that AMD and smaller Transmeta(Nasdaq: TMTA) are finally prying into a world that was once Intel's own private oyster.

Bill Mann owns shares of Disney. Interested in learning about some companies that pay you to own them? Consider a free trial to Mathew Emmert's Income Investor.

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Microsoft's Still Searching


Alyce Lomax (TMF Lomax)

Today, Microsoft(Nasdaq: MSFT) unveiled an upgrade to its MSN search capabilities, as well as a preview of search functions to come. It's only the first in what is certain to be a series of steps for the tech giant as it makes efforts to catch up with the search industry. In fact, today's news may be a small step, though it hints at the kind of trouble Microsoft will dish out to its rivals.

MSN's new features mirror Google's. The new MSN search has a less cluttered approach, not at all dissimilar to Google's Spartan interface. Advertising is now text-based and limited, and it has discontinued paid inclusion, a trend that's been followed by most other than Yahoo!(Nasdaq: YHOO).

However, for all that it's exciting to unveil something in a hot new space, Microsoft is still relying on search rival Yahoo! to provide its search results until later this year. That's an ironic turn of events, considering Yahoo! fired Google earlier this year as it went with its own Overture's search results.

For all that Microsoft has set its sights on the search market, it's got a long way to go, considering that Comscore statistics say that Google is relied on for 35% of users, with Yahoo! close behind with 30%. Microsoft's Web search lags with a mere 15% of the market.

Meanwhile, other smaller, hungry rivals are also offering up some compelling services for Web surfers lately, not least of which is Ask Jeeves(Nasdaq: ASKJ), which has had the scrappy audacity to start searching the desktop, another coveted search arena.

News reports cited Microsoft's investment in the upgrade at $100 million, even though it currently seems a pale comparison to the search and perks currently available through Google and Yahoo! Of course, today's MSN move is also far more cheerful news than the recent uproar over Internet Explorer and malicious hackers.

It doesn't seem like MSN's upgraded search page is all that compelling... yet. Judging by what we do see so far, Microsoft's not flattering Google, it's looking at what works and emulating it -- that means it certainly is on the attack and sees Google as the one to beat. While Google may be the one that stands the most to lose, Yahoo! will have plenty to worry about too.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.

Discussion Board of the Day:Current Events

Retailers, airliners, and delivery companies have all decried record-high gas prices. But those without deep pockets -- the lower- and middle-class Americans -- have felt the sting of spiraling fuel costs most acutely. Polls show it tops lists of economic concerns. Will gas prices be a pivotal issue in this year's election? Or will more pressing matters crowd out the problem? Share your views with other Fools on our Current Events discussion board.

Clones Attacking Apple's iPod


Alyce Lomax (TMF Lomax)

These days, it seems every time you turn around, there's another company taking some desperate measure to try to wrestle Apple Computer's(Nasdaq: AAPL) first-mover advantage in digital music. Is Apple about to get sauced?

This week, two formidable rivals, technology giant and Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick Dell(Nasdaq: DELL) and gadget maker and Walkman inventor Sony(NYSE: SNE), joined the fray, finding new ways to pick on the iPod.

Today, Sony announced the launch of a Walkman music player, NW-HD1, that packs a 20-gigabyte hard drive and a mere four-ounce weight. Its claim to fame is holding 13,000 songs, more than the 10,000 songs that can be stored on a 40-gigabyte iPod. In mid-August, those without iPod mania will be able to purchase an NW-HD1 for $400. It also boasts 30 hours of battery life.

Just days ago, Dell dealt an even lower blow. It said it would offer a $100 rebate to those who turn in their iPods. That rebate will apply toward their brand-new Dell Digital Jukebox, or DJ, music player, which will then be available for $99. Talk about getting down and dirty.

And, of course, Roxio's(Nasdaq: ROXI) Napster recently offered up free MP3 players in exchange for a long-term commitment to its own service.

Lots of people are probably wondering if Apple is about to get trumped by rivals over pocket change. Of course, Sony's increased storage and battery power do hit Apple where it hurts.

However, we've always known iPods were "expensive" -- buyers didn't blink an eye. Meanwhile, the gadget has become so wildly popular that a stealth industry has developed. You can outfit your iPods with Prada and Gucci cases, among other things. Apple recently provided adapters to allow for iPod playing in BMWs (including, of course, the aptly named Mini Cooper).

In computers, Apple's past strength has been elegance, form, and functionality that commanded loyalty from a small but fierce customer base. After all, many will argue that Microsoft(Nasdaq: MSFT) just copied and commoditized features that Apple's operating system did first and did better.

Sure, the same thing could happen to the iPod. However, the iPod and iPod Mini have already garnered more mainstream popularity than Mac ever did; nearly 3 million of the devices have been sold since the 2001 launch, when it was still just a budding industry. What with Apple's first-mover advantage and its history of fostering rabid addiction to its products, I'd like to bet that the iPod will fend off much of the rivalry for a long time to come.

More recent coverage of Apple includes the company's European adventures. Check these out for more:

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned, though she is a Mac loyalist.

Quote of Note

"Europe will never be like America. Europe is a product of history. America is a product of philosophy." -- Margaret Thatcher

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For a list of all our stories from today, see our Today's Headlines page.