See "Making Changes" for several computer models jumping on the alternative processor bandwagon.
Turn on your television, and you'll come across some rather unlikely advertisements for computer technology. In one James Bond-inspired commercial, for example, a bad guy plots to take over the world--only to be foiled by a slow-moving computer chip. The ad isn't for a movie. It's for the latest computer chip manufactured by Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD), a direct competitor of Intel.
If you've seen this marketing campaign--or gone shopping for PCs lately--chances are alternative chips from makers like AMD and Cyrix have entered your radar screen--or soon will. Off-brand computer chips are hitting the U.S. computer market with full force, having made considerable inroads with top-tier PC manufacturers like Compaq and IBM. In fact, alternative chips are making appearances in some PC manufacturers' models in a big way, particularly in lower-end consumer desktop models.
One reason alternative chip manufacturers are gaining momentum is they're coming out with better products, says Michael Slater, principal analyst with MicroDesign Resources, an information services company in Sebastopol, California, which publishes The Microprocessor Report newsletter. Overcoming sales hurdles and boosting manufacturing capacities have helped many companies reach critical mass, as well.
Meanwhile, alternative chip manufacturers have gotten a boost from the burgeoning demand for inexpensive PCs. Consumer interest in low-cost computers, particularly in the sub-$1,000 range, is extremely high. And with Intel's competitors selling processors for 30 percent to 40 percent less, says Slater, their offerings have become quite attractive to PC manufacturers.
In 1997, alternative chip manufacturers grabbed about 15 percent of the PC microprocessor market, and they have aggressive plans to control 30 percent of the market by year-end, says Slater. If computers containing off-brand chips are well-received by consumers, this could create a snowball effect in which more PC manufacturers move to adopt them. In the coming months, alternative chip manufacturers challenging Intel's monopoly could provide computer buyers with an unprecedented array of choices.