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Taking the necessary risks in design

Posted: 01 Dec 2000 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:x86? ddr? chipset? sige?

Rich Heye, vice president of AMD's Texas Microprocessor Division, ascended the stage at the Microprocessor Forum in San Jose and said that AMD's philosophy is to support "evolutionary" growth of the X86 architecture. His comment that "revolutions are hard to win" was in reference to AMD's decision to push double data rate (DDR) memory technology for its processors and chipsets, rather than the Rambus technology.

Heye's feisty defense of AMD's memory roadmap got me to thinking about a related comment from Intel CEO Craig Barrett last Aug.22 at the Intel Developer Forum.

Pressed by reporters about the rash of missed deadlines at Intel, Barrett said that Intel may have reached too high. "We took too big steps. We looked at too many opportunities, in too many areas," he said, adding that the company may have become "too ambitious, tried too many things," and not planned properly. Intel seems to have validated the maxim that if something can go wrong, it will. But is it a fault to reach too high?

IBM appears to have hit its technology targets. Silicon germanium was a major research topic 15 years ago at IBM, albeit as a way to speed bipolar circuits for mainframe computers. Now, SiGe is paying off handsomely for Big Blue in communications. Ditto with SOI.

Who declares a successful revolution anyway? Ultimately, "success" is validated in the marketplace and from Nobel Prize selection committees (the latter taking a swift 40 years to recognize Jack Kilby's monumental contributions).

Indeed, we should reward companies for failed projects, for taking risks. After all, by trying something that fails in the research lab first, the rest of the company, the rest of the industry, benefits by not going off in the "wrong" direction.

Intel is getting more cautious about tipping its cards: there were no road maps announced at the recent IDF, in trying to steer the huge PC industry in a new direction. So many companies now are trying to reduce risks by keeping their R&D dollars focused on short-term projects with limited goals, which is a very safe strategy.

But ultimately, large and small companies must remember: To stay ahead of commodity price curves, take big risks. Perhaps the secret is not to talk too much about a commercial road map for those R&D projects until you are pretty sure that you have the project moving in the right direction.

? David Lammers

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