IT journalists have devoted plenty of column inches to discussions of Intel's resurgence. From a position of superiority, the chip manufacturer has seen its fortunes dive in recent years. Now though, it's got a trail-blazing chip family and it looks like the glory days are back again. But is this a true restoration of a former king, or has the PC-buying public decided that the real power lies elsewhere?
Back in the 1990s, when Intel feasted itself on victory after victory, hungrily devouring its competitors, being in the processors market wasn't just the greatest game in town -- it was the only game. There were just as many components that went into a PC as there are today, but the processor was the only one that mattered. Whether your system soared to the highest heights or met with a watery grave could be summed up in that one crucial measure of quality, the processor's clock speed. A customer in today's PC market, however, will need to have their finger on more than one pulse.
Memory wasn't unimportant 10 or 15 years ago. But today's customer is hit by a variety of choices. Will 512MB or a gigabyte suffice, or will you feel the need to slam in the RAM with 2GB? Indeed, some of today's manufacturers seem to think only 4GB will be enough. Startling yes, but with the advent of Vista and dual-core computing, such a configuration might prove wise.
And then there's the graphics card. A decade ago, these were still very simple affairs. Today's chip has a level of sophistication that outstrips even the main CPU. Graphics cards are fantastically powerful, and nVidia and ATI can play every big a part in your computing as Intel and AMD. We're not saying the processor is superfluous. As we put a trio of new AMD and Intel systems through their paces, we found that the CPU is still the single biggest determinant of overall system performance. But it's no longer the only thing that matters. Intel may once have been a big fish in a relatively modestly sized pond. But, while it seems not to have shed any pounds today, it's quickly conceding pond-space to some rather voracious and increasingly hefty co-habitees.