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By Jason D. O'Grady | November 21, 2011, 12:01am PSTSummary: An attack of the MacBook Air clones in underway, funded largely by Intel’s $300M Ultrabook Fund. Will it push Apple to jump ship for AMD? We’ll have to wait until next year to find out.
Last week Partially Accurate’s Charlie Demerjian declared that a MacBook Air with AMD processor was dead. (MacRumors picked up on the storyline that Apple had late-stage prototypes of an AMD Fusion-based MacBook Air). Demerjian claims that an AMD Llamo-based MacBook Air was really, really close to production but that it never saw the light of day because AMD dropped the ball.
The problem is that Demerjian’s posts creates more questions than answers.
For starters, Apple’s going back to Intel’s $300 million dollar Ultrabook dinner table (a.k.a. “plan B”) doesn’t explain why Intel has passionately executed its Ultrabook initiative — which is squarely aimed at the MacBook Air. Why is Intel attacking the product line of one of its exclusive partners?
When Dell was the king of the hill, Intel paid it $6 billion not to use AMD processors, so it makes no sense that Intel would attack Apple with MacBook Air clones. Logic would dictate that Intel would want to keep preserve it’s relationship and exclusivity with Apple — at all costs.
Just a week earlier I raised questions about Intel’s intentions with Ultrabooks and the prospect of a closer relationship between AMD and Apple. This leads me to think that Demerjian’s information is coming from either Intel or Apple.
The post comes across like a decoy because it mentions the AMD Llano rather than Trinity. Llano is AMD’s first generation fusion processor, Trinity is the second generation (see table above). Nobody actually thought Apple would use Llano. Analysts were long ago saying that AMD’s Trinity and Krishna processors would make more sense.
Why was this post about Llano rather than Trinity? Could it be a clever decoy staged by Apple to help keep their plans secret? (Especially after my piece may have blown the lid off their plans?) Could it be retribution by Intel for Apple testing Trinity in the MacBook Air?
If the FTC gets enough evidence that Intel is, in fact, punishing or threatening/bribing Apple despite their Consent Decree, Otellini himself could go to jail - assuming that the U.S. Department of Justice has any teeth.
At the end of the day, it’s out of character for Intel to pull a “we are going to copy you” stunt on a precious, exclusive, premium manufacturer like Apple. If Intel was willing to pay Dell $6 billion, then I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t pull the Ultrabooks stunt on Apple without a compelling reason.
What’s more likely the case is that Apple did consider the Llano processor but that it didn’t like it. Apple probably wanted to look at Trinity instead. Intel probably didn’t pay Apple enough to keep it exclusive and Steve Jobs was never the type of CEO to be Intel’s lap dog.
Apple is either still considering using Trinity, or has already decided to use it.
AMD has repeatedly stated that it isn’t having production issues with Trinity, and that is probably the same thing they are saying to Apple every day. A silent begging war is going on between Intel and AMD for Apple’s affections. That’s why, in that recent interview about Ultrabooks, an Intel executive said that it’s “up to Apple” to decide whether the MacBook Air is officially an Ultrabook.
Was that a veiled threat?
Based on Intel’s history of coercive tactics, its Ultrabook Fund and worldwide release of Macbook Air clones begins to look like a simple bribe and threat strategy. Intel’s executive was simply telling Apple that it isn’t too late to dump Trinity.
Again, dumping Llano was old news. In fact, it never even seemed to be a possibility. Instead we should be asking who led Demerjian to focus on Llano, rather than the true candidate, Trinity?
It looks like we’ll have to wait until Apple’s planned overhaul of the MacBook Air in 2012 to find out if Intel was successful in keeping Apple from using AMD’s Trinity processors.
Jason O'Grady+ is a journalist and author specializing in mobile technology. He has published six books on Apple and mobile gadgets and his PowerPage blog has been publishing for over 15 years.