Will UMC end up a partner or a competitor? — Ed

Item One: UMC to begin making AMD chipsets.

In the past, we’ve rarely if ever noted such things, preferring the “Show me” approach. Why is this one different?

No other non-AMD chipmaker has actually made the CPUs, and UMC will.

Being AMD’s partner in manufacturing the CPUs has to give UMC an advantage in building chipsets for them over a Via, or nVidia or anybody else. UMC will get more and earlier hands-on experience than anybody else.

In all likelihood, AMD is passing on the role of “get the platform ball rolling” to UMC. So instead of AMD reluctantly coming out with chipsets, UMC probably will.

This will probably be a good thing since it would be hard for UMC to be more reluctant to make and improve chipsets than AMD has been. To AMD, mobo chipsets are a distraction, to UMC, they could well be an opportunity.

This doesn’t mean UMC will take over the AMD chipset world. It may take them time to get it right. They just may blow it.

But you should keep more of an eye on this company’s mobo products than you might otherwise give to a mobo newbie, simply because of that one big inherent advantages.

Item Two: Socket A gets a new champion Having UMC make Athlons creates an interesting potential conflict down the road. AMD’s statements and actions the last few months all say “Hammer, Hammer, Hammer.” They want to focus on Hammer, and probably hope socket A withers away sooner rather than later.

Recall what happened with the K6-2. AMD would have preferred people buying new Athlons to upgrading K6-2s, but it hung on pretty stubbornly for a while. That was a mixed blessing, for while the K6-2 helped to pay the bills as the Athlon was being introduced, they were so cheap that they were barely profitable.

AMD of course had complete control over K6-2 production. They won’t with the Athlon, and they’ve given somebody else a vested interest in keeping it around longer than AMD might like.

It would like Intel giving another company the right to manufacture Tualatins. Intel has more or less stifled Tualatin, using it just as a pinch-hitter in a few situations, simply because Intel didn’t want to compete against Intel. If another company had made them, I think the Tualatins made by that company would have given the early Willies more of a run for their money.

UMC will basically be given the right to make CPUs with an already well-established platform base while the originator focuses on a new generation. It is certainly not unreasonable to suspect that UMC might want to give those Bartons they’ll be making a lot longer run than AMD would like by tweaking and improving it. You then have the definite possiblity of AMD competing against AMD.

Not saying it’s going to happen, or that UMC will succeed, but it would be surprising if they didn’t at least try. Somewhere, there’s probably a few UMC lawyers looking for loopholes.


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