Speculation is mounting that US authorities will launch a two-headed antitrust action against Intel in the next few weeks.
The US Federal Trade Commission refused to comment, but the 'USA Today' newspaper echoes the beliefs of many industry watchers with a report that two suits will be filed soon. One, it says, would accuse Intel of withholding vital product information and plans from companies with which it is in dispute - an issue that was recently tested in the Intel-Intergraph lawsuit, with an interim judgement going against the chip giant.
The second suit would accuse Intel of forcing companies to buy its chips before they could purchase other devices, so putting other processor makers at a disadvantage.
Both practices might be reasonable for a smaller company, but not one with a 90 per cent market share, analysts speculated.
However, other observers feel that Intel has not faced as much competition for years as it is doing now, and so may avoid action. For the first time, clonemakers AMD and National Semiconductor/Cyrix look set to take a larger bite out of Intel's PC processor base, with their offerings for the growing sub-$1,000 market. This is a hard sector for Intel, with its huge overheads, to make reasonable margins in.
Ironically, Intel's settlement of its patent dispute with Digital Equipment over Digital's Alpha processor technology may also weigh in its favour. Antitrust authorities approved the settlement, which gives Intel manufacturing rights to Alpha while Digital retains design control, on condition that the processor is still licensed to other hardware vendors.
The thinking is that Alpha, with the massive resources of Intel's manufacturing base behind it, could provide a viable second source of high end chips for licensees that do not choose to take Intel's upcoming 64-bit Merced.
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