AMD’s decision to move into the business PC market this week reminds me of the first line of Shopgirl, a novella by Steve Martin, which points out that working in the glove department at a large retail store means “you are selling things that nobody buys anymore.”
Of course, someone has to be buying new PCs somewhere, but with more people concerned about software licence terms and the ability to save the Windows XP operating system, updated hardware seems kind of beside the point. It’s intriguing, then, that AMD would not only move into such a saturated segment but that it would offer absolutely no innovation. The company’s Business Class line includes its Phenom quad-core X4 9600B for US$230, the Phenom triple-core X3 8600B for US$175, and the Athlon dual-core X2 5400B and 5200B for US$120 and US$110, respectively. There is also the Athlon X2 5000B and 4450B for US$95 and US$80 and the single-core Athlon 1640B for US$50.
In place of enhanced features AMD is pitching stability. The company is and guaranteeing that processors will remain available for two years and is extending warranties from one to three years. Forge about good enough computing. This is peace of mind computing, and, much like Oracle’s pledge for lifetime support in the software space, it’s not a bad strategy.
I’m not sure how well this competes with Intel’s processor lifecycle, but given that its product roadmaps often seem to stretch from Toronto to Vancouver, something tells me it’s more focused on moving customers to the next generation of technology than preserving their investment in the previous one. AMD admitted its Business Class line will probably resonate with small businesses first. That’s because corporations, if they’re big enough, are probably able to wrangle the lifecycle they need with Intel’s product line.
Although all the major business PC makers leapt on the announcement, the big beneficiary might be Dell, which is trying to regain its No. 1 position and could nicely piggyback its traditional reputation for quality service onto the longevity of AMD’s platform. Remember that three years ago, former Dell chief exec Kevin Rollins caused major upheaval in the market by considering AMD-based Dell servers. It’s a sign of AMD’s progress that an OptiPlex 740 with AMD inside is almost a foregone conclusion.
Intel’s own business processors and chip sets, Vpro, is not that old, and AMD hopes to win with features like out-of-band management, which allows IT staff to access machines even if the OS doesn’t boot. Although Vpro’s Active Management Technology allows this, AMD is touting an open standards approach. That may not make much of a difference, though, when the proprietary option, Intel, owns more than 80 per cent of the market.
Perhaps the biggest issue of AMD will be its own financial performance, which has been dismal lately. Although Intel has had its own operational screwups, missing product deadlines has been an ongoing problem since AMD’s early days. It may be difficult for IT managers to think of AMD as a business-class PC provider if it can’t keep its own business running smoothly.