Fun Friday: AMD-Intel Battle Commences, Big Honking Space Guns, and our Good Friend, the Comb Jelly

The Changing Face of Intel (Economist, 2021)

Another slow Friday. Texas has frozen over. California is becoming ever-drier. The Polar Vortex has crept downwards over the decade to now reach Mexico. Summer will be burning. And the pandemic continues.

Everywhere climate change has come for us all. We are not ready for it. Not. At. All.

Pat Gelsinger has taken the reins at Intel, as the Economist notes (paid subscription). I do enjoy a piece that remembers Andy Grove, the iconoclastic Intel CEO who passed away in 2016 and made Intel a leader in microprocessors. 

I remember hearing rollicking stories of the semiconductor industry from Dick Williams, then retired Director of Research from Ford Aerospace / Loral, when we shared an office in the late 1990’s at InterProphet (he was on the Advisory Board).

Back in those days, he would recount, creating semiconductor processes was so difficult that people would talk about it from different firms over drinks after work, so everyone knew everyone. He also hired Bob Noyce into his first job.

Andy Grove and Bob Noyce were among the Traitorous Eight who founded Fairchild Semiconductor. When that got stuffy, Noyce left with Gordon Moore (of the famed “Moore’s Law”) to found Intel, and of course immediately pulled in Grove and dived into DRAM — and did well, until the DRAM Wars drove them out. That’s when the X86 series was born. 

By the time the 80386 was established in the late 1980’s, we were outlining a new open source Unix future with 386BSD and A Modest Proposal in 1989. When we were updating 386BSD in 1990, we were given access to their prototype 80486 processor at their headquarters here in Silicon Valley — just so 386BSD would run correctly.

I actually have a fondness for the early Intel. They were supportive of 386BSD and courteous, unlike AMD’s bland officiousness. Later on, when Intel abandoned 386BSD and went exclusively to Linux for what they thought were legal concerns, I was disappointed but not surprised. There was a lot of “fake news” back then about 386BSD and us, and there was no Snopes to counter it. 

Only years later was I told by one of my retired Intel executive contacts that they made a mistake in that decision, as none of the catastrophic claims ever came to pass. But it was water under the bridge at that point, and I had gone on to found InterProphet, a TCP low-latency fabless semiconductor company with William. It was just another of the many opportunities in Silicon Valley killed by malign neglect.

Now Pat Gelsinger, architect and technologist, is back at Intel, and he has quite a mess to clean up. Bad business decisions, delays in chip production, and an unimaginative product roadmap might still have not hampered Intel’s profitability. But unlike the Sanders era of AMD, the current CEO, Dr. Lisa Su, is a brilliant technologist and business leader who has led AMD to leadership in the industry.

So now a battle of equals commences. AMD and Intel. It should be interesting, to say the least.

But while we’re waiting, there’s always Big Honking Space Guns from Russia and the ever-amazing comb jelly to bemuse and bewitch you, as they have me. 

Have a Fun Friday, everyone!

Sedate Sunday: Battle of the Batteries

Tesla has been in the forefront of fully electric vehicles (EV) at a time when most of the major car manufacturers only fitfully dabbled with short-range plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) and battery electric vehicles (BEV). Now that Li-ion batteries Tesla builds into battery packs at their Gigafactory have become standard, the automotive industry has essentially abandoned the older BEV battery approaches and embraced Li-ion.

The pursuit of energy dense batteries to increase range may take a left turn, however, due to cost. You see, the batteries used by all the EV car manufacturers today use cobalt in the batteries (Tesla uses Li-NCA — most others use Li-NMC), and cobalt is costly. So Tesla is now considering a less energy dense LFP (lithium iron phosphate) battery manufactured by Contemporary Amperex Technology Company (CATC, Fujian Province, China) for their Chinese Tesla EVs that does not require cobalt. In addition, instead of the current module packaging strategy, the cells would be bundled tightly directly, which CATC claims will result in an energy-dense battery pack comparable to current module-based battery packs using cobalt. This will take the battle of the batteries to a whole new level.