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The Settlement

The resulting settlement is, in the FTC’s words, “not punitive but rather remedial.” Going in to the suit the FTC was not asking for a fine or some other method of punishing Intel, and nothing like this is in the final settlement either. Everything in the settlement is geared towards undoing the damages from Intel’s past actions and/or preventing future damages by disallowing Intel from engaging in specific anti-competitive actions. Ultimately the only money that this will cost Intel is $10 million for a reimbursement fund to pay misled buyers of Intel’s compilers and libraries, and another $2 million to pay for Technical Consultants to evaluate Intel’s compliance over the next 10 years.

Overall the FTC got the vast majority of the terms they were requesting when they filed the suit back in December. However they did not get everything, and we’ll be touching on what they didn’t get.

The settlement covers several areas of Intel’s business: CPUs, Chipsets & GPUs, and Compilers & Claimed performance. The following are the settlement terms, roughly grouped by what business they impact:

CPUs

The first and most important requirement being placed on Intel is that they are barred from engaging in any further rebate schemes or punishment schemes to discourage OEMs from using AMD processors. This means that Intel cannot offer any kind of benefit or rebate to an OEM based on the percentage of Intel processors they use, and at the same time they cannot punish an OEM by taking away marketing dollars or limiting their chip supply if they do use AMD or Via processors. There is an exception to this however: this does not impact most volume discounts. Intel is still free to offer volume discounts so long as they don’t end up selling CPUs below cost. Furthermore Intel is free to break the above terms and offer benefits to OEMs if they reasonably believe that AMD is already doing the same thing – this effectively keeps AMD from abusing rebates and payments in a manner similar to what Intel was accused of, by allowing Intel to resume those rebates if AMD does.


The biggest benefactor of rebates, Dell?

The second requirement is very similar to AMD’s settlement with Intel last year which paved the way for AMD to spin-off its fabs in to Global Foundries and then in turn outsource the fabrication of their CPUs to GF. Intel is required to let all of its x86 licensees outsource their x86 CPU fabrication to a third party fab. As Intel’s agreement with AMD already allowed AMD to do this, this requirement effectively means that Intel also allows Via to do this.

The third CPU requirement is a bit more interesting. It’s well known that Intel’s x86 cross-licensing agreements with AMD and Via place strict requirements on what these companies can do while still maintaining their x86 licenses, largely to keep these companies from selling off their license or sub-licensing other companies to design x86 CPUs. Or to put this another way, Intel’s x86 license agreement is designed to keep AMD and Via as the only other x86 CPU designers and to prevent anyone else from becoming an x86 CPU designer by buying the license or the company.

The FTC has not gone so far as to require that Intel drops these provisions, but it does weaken them. If either AMD or Via has a “change of control” (i.e. a buyout/takeover/merger/joint-venture), Intel cannot immediately take the resulting company to court to terminate the license. Intel is required to enter in to good-faith negotiations with the new company to continue x86 CPU design and can only begin court proceedings after a certain period of time. As far as we can tell this does not require that Intel extend a license to a buyer of AMD or Via, but it does require that they consider it. If Intel does not act in good-faith in these negotiations, then the FTC can sanction Intel over it.


The Foundry Dilemma: A problem no more. x86 CPU fabrication can be outsourced

The big question of course is whether this will lead anywhere. x86 CPU development is a uniquely expensive and time-consuming endeavor – just because AMD or Via could work with another company doesn’t mean there’s anyone else out there that wants to. NVIDIA has long been considered a candidate for entering the x86 market, but as far as we can tell these terms are to protect the x86 market as a whole, and are not just there to allow NVIDIA to enter the market.

The final requirement of the settlement specifically pertains to Via. Via’s x86 license was scheduled to lapse in 2013 – Intel is required to offer a 5 year extension to Via. Note that this doesn’t compel Via to take the extension or under what terms Intel must offer it, but ultimately Via must be given the option to extend their x86 license to 2018.

Chipsets & GPUs

The next group of requirements relate to Intel’s chipset and GPU businesses, and also how they interact with competing chipset and GPU manufacturers. Thus these terms largely dictate how the company interacts with NVIDIA and AMD’s GPU business.

The first requirement is that Intel must continue to support PCIe on all of its CPUs/chipsets for the next six years. Ultimately this is to prevent Intel from releasing CPUs that can’t be used with a third party GPU, although technically speaking this can apply to any peripheral that uses PCIe. Notably this only applies to PCs, which automatically excludes any device with a screen smaller than 7”. This means that Intel’s SoC platforms such as Moorestown are not required to include PCIe connectivity (which would hamper the platform’s energy saving abilities) while netbook platforms such as Pine Trail are required to include PCIe connectivity. Similarly, designs over 7” such as tablets are not automatically defined as PCs, but this is where the FTC’s definition gets murky.

It’s worth noting that while this requirement means that Intel has to support PCIe, it does not specify a revision or the required number of lanes. Intel is free to choose PCIe 2.1, 3.0, 4.0 (if there ever is such a thing), etc., and we don’t expect that this will change Intel’s plans to move to newer versions of PCIe in the future. Meanwhile in lieu of lane requirements, there’s a second, more general requirement towards limiting the performance of the PCIe bus.

The second requirement is that Intel is not allowed to engage in any actions that limit the performance of the PCIe bus on the CPUs and chipsets, which would be a backdoor method of crippling AMD or NVIDIA’s GPUs’ performance. At first glance this would seem to require them to maintain status quo: x16 for GPUs on mainstream processors, and x1 for GPUs on Atom (much to the chagrin of NVIDIA no doubt). However Intel would be free to increase the number of available lanes on Atom if it suits their needs, and there’s also a clause for reducing PCIe performance. If Intel has a valid technological reason for a design change that reduces GPU performance and can prove in a real-world manner that this change benefits the performance of their CPUs, then they can go ahead with the design change. So while Intel is initially ordered to maintain the PCIe bus, they ultimately can make changes that hurt PCIe performance if it improves CPU performance.


PCI Express: Intel is required to support it for six more years

Finally, six years is a not a number that’s set in stone. If the industry moves away from PCIe sooner than this, then the FTC can cancel this requirement early at their discretion.

Ultimately the fact that this is a six year (or shorter) requirement is quite interesting in the face of the fact that most of the other requirements are for five or ten year periods. Since the FTC has the power to cancel this requirement at any time, why didn’t they go with a full ten years? With the oncoming merger of the GPU and the CPU in Intel’s Sandy Bridge and AMD’s Bulldozer, it’s not a stretch to question whether the PCIe bus has more than six years’ life left in it as a CPU-GPU interconnect. The way this requirement was structured would seem to indicate that it was NVIDIA and AMD driving it, in which case we’re left wondering what the two GPU juggernauts have planned for 2016 and beyond.

Finally for chipset & GPU requirements, the FTC is requiring that Intel accurately represent its roadmap. One of the FTC’s charges was that Intel mispresented its roadmap to NVIDIA which in turn lead to the spat between NVIDIA and Intel over chipsets, buses, and licensing rights, so this would forbid Intel from offering false roadmaps in the future. Since the terms of this settlement don’t involve the renegotiation/reinstatement of NVIDIA’s chipset license for DMI and QPI however, we’re not sure where this is going to lead beyond clarification over what version of PCIe future Intel chipsets/CPUs will support.

Compilers & Claimed Performance

The final group of requirements revolve around Intel’s compiler, libraries, and any performance claims made about their products which involve those compilers.

As we mentioned previously, Intel was accused of sabotaging their compiler to use suboptimal code paths for non-Intel CPUs, such as by using an x87 code path instead of an SSE2 codepath on an Athlon 64 processor. As far as we know this practice ended some time ago, but we’re still trying to get a more conclusive answer here. In any case there are a few different requirements related to this.

The first requirement is that Intel needs to disclose when their compiler is favoring their CPUs over AMD or Via’s CPUs. Notably this doesn’t require that they treat other CPUs equally (such as by picking code paths based on CPU feature flags), only that if they discriminate based on the CPU that they disclose this discrimination.

This leads in to the $10 million reimbursement program that Intel is being required to offer. This fund will be used to cover the costs encountered by mislead customers who choose to move their software to a non-Intel compiler and/or library. Since Intel now has to disclose any Intel-only optimizations in their compilers, this only applies to existing customers who used Intel’s compilers ahead of Intel’s compiler disclosure.

The rest of the requirements relate to Intel’s advertising of their compiler’s performance, and the performance of their products when using those compilers. Intel is not allowed to claim their compiler is faster on AMD/Via CPUs when this is not the case. Finally Intel will be required to disclose that benchmarks may not provide an accurate performance comparison between their processors and AMD/Via’s processors whenever they are making a performance claim involving benchmarks. Or to put this another way, it’s a Your Mileage May Vary clause for CPU advertisements.

Index What the FTC Didn’t Get & Final Thoughts
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  • Wurmer - Monday, August 09, 2010 - link

    ''I wonder what would have happened if Intel had not (allegedly) paid off the OEMs to shut AMD out of the business?''

    I was wondering the same thing a while ago. I think that in the end it wouldn't have changed the big picture but AMD might have end up in a better financial situation this allowing them to put more $$ in R&D. They had the better product for about like 2 years during the Athlon 64 era, that's a hell of a long time in the computer business. Anyways, you can speculate all we want we'll never know.
    Reply
  • cesthree - Saturday, August 07, 2010 - link

    I like my limited vocabulary, fucking fuckers.

    Intel has done nothing wrong. Evil rebate mongering corporations exist in every fucking facet of business; it's not Intel's fault, they're just playing the game and winning!

    Fuck AMD, but first fuck Nvidia for ever venturing past GPU's. Intel needs to keep them AWAY from DMI and QPI. They totally FUCKED up 939, AM2, and 775 with their piece of shit NF4-7 bullshit, especially 775.

    If a motherfucking software patch can enable SLI on ANY motherboard that has the electrical capability, because it is totally possible, then Nvidia can go get fucked and never engineer another motherboard, PLEASE.

    AMD, well if they don't like being outcompeted by Intel, then stop making CPU's and chipsets and just stick to the ATI bullshit. Maybe if they weren't fucking around with bullshit CPU's and chipsets they could get a Catalyst release that didn't suck-off 100 donkeys simultaneously.

    Fuck.

    That was a last fuck for good measure you fucking fuckeddy fucks.

    Don't tell me you don't like the cursing or that it offends you; you know you like it Shit Fuck.
    Reply
  • rscoot - Sunday, August 08, 2010 - link

    Despite your obvious troll, perhaps you are merely too young to remember when nVidia offered the best AMD chipsets on the market during a time when AMD did not make chipsets of their own. Their onboard audio solution back in 2002 is still better than 99% of the onboard audio solutions provided by intel/AMD right now, it's too bad they had to drop it on the nForce 3's because of cost issues.

    And maybe it's just me, but I remember my nForce 4 SLI board working quite well with my manchester 939..
    Reply
  • cesthree - Sunday, August 08, 2010 - link

    Ok, I was a bit drunk when I posted that last bit; but you've still helped me prove my point.

    Yes, I had two NF4 boards. One DFI LP UT NF4 Ultra-D and one Asus A8N32SLI-Deluxe. The DFI is my current HTPC. Couldn't agree with you more. The only reason I bundled NF4 in is for Nvidia's garbage software patches preventing SLI for running on any setup; the NF4 was guilty of that too.

    Do you see it now?

    One stupidly obvious point is that neither of those boards had QPI or DMI on them. Well, not exactly.

    Still not catching it?

    The IMC and pretty much everything else that needs to be stable was already designed and packaged on the physical CPU. (no, not 754 and before, but those NF2-3 boards were good for what, on-board sound is what you're telling me? Maybe they were good OC'ers, but AMD didn't shine until 939 and then only for a minute.)

    Let me tie it together for you now.

    That's the same as, you guessed it, the i3/i5/i7 CPU's that Intel has today.

    The NF4 series worked fine, because Nvidia couldn't screw up what was designed by AMD. Mostly I am talking about the communication of the major parts in an x86 design: CPU, RAM, IMC.

    No wonder Intel wanted Nvidia not designing parts to do those jobs. The Nvidia 775 IMC controllers were trash aside from hand selected boards given to review sites.

    Maybe it was just the EVGA 775's I had; I've never like their BIOS releases.

    If Intel is shady so is Nvidia, and so is AMD. The only reason anybody is looking at Intel like they are, is because they are on top. If AMD or Nvidia were on top, they would be the one's answering to the FTC.

    Nothing any of us can do about it. Besides, AMD should be glad they have lasted this long after getting their start on Intel's coattails.
    Reply
  • ClagMaster - Monday, August 09, 2010 - link

    Silly Troll Scumbag. Being drunk does not excuse you for the worthless profane remarks about nVidia chipsets.

    Nvidia chipsets were really meant for AMD parts. Nvidia chipsets for Intel parts were an afterthought that I believed did not recieve the same level of attention and testing as those for

    I myself have used nForce 2 400 chipset with a nicely overclockable AMD XPM-2500.

    I have also used an nForce 4 chipset with an Optron 175. Built in 2006, it still runs fine today.

    I have been satisfied with the performance of both chipsets. What I was not satisfied with is the poor construction of motherboards associated with AMD chipsets. Since 2004, this has markedly improved.
    Reply
  • synaesthetic - Monday, August 09, 2010 - link

    Is there a full moon or something tonight?

    The trolls are really coming out of the woodwork... comments on AT are usually very civil.
    Reply
  • matt b - Thursday, August 12, 2010 - link

    Ryan, I read that Anandtech is still looking into the performance of Intel compiler with non-Intel chips.
    Here is Agner Fog's updated blog where he describes how Intel compiler treats AMD chips, and Intel dishonesty to him about it in 12/30/09. http://www.agner.org/optimize/blog/read.php?i=49#4...
    Intel's newly released beta June 2010 of its Math Kernel Library v.10.3 is still crippling AMD processors.http://www.agner.org/optimize/blog/read.php?i=49#1...
    Agner says that he is working on a list of software and benchmarks that are crippled on AMD processors due to the Intel Compiler or libraries.
    From a year ago at ArsTechnica, PCMark05 memory performance increased 47% by changing CPUID from VIA to Intel.
    http://arstechnica.com/hardware/reviews/2008/07/at...
    Reply
  • matt b - Thursday, August 12, 2010 - link

    Note they allege that Cinebench is compromised by using Intel compilers. Until Cinebench responds, I think that Anandtech should quit using it.

    64. Several benchmarking organizations adopted benchmarks that measured performance of CPUs running software programs compiled using the Intel compiler or libraries. Intel’s deception affected among others, the Business Applications Performance Corporation (“BAPCo”), Cinebench, and TPC benchmarks.

    67. Intel publicized the results of the benchmarking to promote sales of products containing its
    x86 CPUs even though it knew the benchmarks were misleading. For example: ...
    Reply
  • saifikhan - Sunday, August 15, 2010 - link

    Buy AMD based laptops and notebooks/netbooks ! Let the dealer know that you're interested in AMD. Unfortuntately in India, one can still see HP selling underpriced Intel laptops with overpriced AMD laptops. eg here. Compaq Presario range http://is.gd/eiUXo , Essentials http://is.gd/eiV0n and EliteBook http://is.gd/eiV20

    The same sad story repeats with Vostro, Acer, Sony, Benq laptop models in India.

    AMD is offering a large number of Notebook processors, please see the list here http://products.amd.com/en-gb/NotebookCPUResult.as...

    thanks
    Saifi.
    India.
    Reply
  • davidri - Friday, September 03, 2010 - link

    "In reality most of the things Intel is being barred from doing are things that they discontinued doing long ago if they did them at all (note that this settlement is not an admission of guilt on Intel’s part)."

    Uh, ok... then why was Intel sued by the FTC and fined by the European Commision and going to be under such scrutiny and regulation by the FTC for years to come??!!

    There is probably a whole crap ton of other despicable and undermining business practices Intel could be held accountable for that no one but top Intel execs know about.

    Big B.S.
    Reply

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