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Esteemed Contributor III

Intel Quietly Threatens Microsoft, Qualcomm Over x86 Emulation

It wasn’t until near the end of the post that things turned ugly. In the editorial, Intel Fellow Richard A. Uhlig and Intel general counsel Steven Rodgers write:

" Intel carefully protects its x86 innovations, and we do not widely license others to use them… In the early days of our microprocessor business, Intel needed to enforce its patent rights against various companies including United Microelectronics Corporation, Advanced Micro Devices, Cyrix Corporation, Chips and Technologies, Via Technologies, and, most recently, Transmeta Corporation. Enforcement actions have been unnecessary in recent years because other companies have respected Intel’s intellectual property rights.

However, there have been reports that some companies may try to emulate Intel’s proprietary x86 ISA without Intel’s authorization. Emulation is not a new technology, and Transmeta was notably the last company to claim to have produced a compatible x86 processor using emulation (“code morphing”) techniques. Intel enforced patents relating to SIMD instruction set enhancements against Transmeta’s x86 implementation even though it used emulation…

Only time will tell if new attempts to emulate Intel’s x86 ISA will meet a different fate. Intel welcomes lawful competition, and we are confident that Intel’s microprocessors, which have been specifically optimized to implement Intel’s x86 ISA for almost four decades, will deliver amazing experiences, consistency across applications, and a full breadth of consumer offerings, full manageability and IT integration for the enterprise. However, we do not welcome unlawful infringement of our patents, and we fully expect other companies to continue to respect Intel’s intellectual property rights.

This is clearly a shot across the bow of Qualcomm and Microsoft’s plans to introduce Snapdragon 835 hardware in mainstream mobile markets. Historically, Intel has good reason to feel confident about its chest-thumping. On the one hand, it’s hilarious to see the company talking up its legal actions against AMD. Intel has generally come out the loser in multiple countries and in the United States when it attempted to argue AMD had no right to build its own microprocessors based on the x86 architecture.

But look at things from Intel’s perspective: Its tactics in the early 1990s and mid-2000s substantially limited AMD’s addressable market share. It may have paid a whopping $1.4 billion fine to the EU to settle antitrust claims, but that’s peanuts compared with the threat Athlon 64 might have represented to Prescott and Smithfield. And Intel isn’t wrong when it talks about the myriad other companies that used to hold x86 licenses (or tried to emulate the ISA), but withered on the vine after their attempts to compete with Santa Clara failed.

The problem is this: System OEMs like Dell, HP, and Asus aren’t in the business of taking chances. When your net margin on hardware is in the 2-4 percent range, you can’t afford bravery. Imagine a hypothetical future in which HP shipped a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 that could run x86 code via emulation, only to be named as a party to a hypothetical lawsuit in which Intel sues Qualcomm and Microsoft for their emulation system. Unless one of its two partners agrees to indemnify it, there’s no way HP would risk a serious lawsuit over the topic.

Asus, Dell, Acer — all of these companies are likely to see the situation similarly. The specter of these kinds of lawsuits has always loomed large over the computer industry. I wouldn’t blame them for Transmeta’s problems; Transmeta’s code-morphing approach and Efficeon architecture were initially innovative, but performance wasn’t strong and Intel quickly moved to address its own power weaknesses through the Pentium M and the development of technologies like SpeedStep."

Intel Quietly Threatens Microsoft, Qualcomm Over x86 Emulation - ExtremeTech

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2 Replies
Esteemed Contributor III

Re: Intel Quietly Threatens Microsoft, Qualcomm Over x86 Emulation

Intel wouldn't win over the suit else they'd face the same fate that Qualcomm is.

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Adept III
Adept III

Re: Intel Quietly Threatens Microsoft, Qualcomm Over x86 Emulation

It is not the age when people are busy with programming with assembly, I believe if Microsoft do really want to promote Windows on ARM platform, and that would be successful even without needing the support of x86 software. I am an RISC fan, I would be glad to see the future PC or laptops based ARM processors besides AMD64.

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