Vintage 386sx ad from Intel, comparing 286 chip. Picture taken by Jean Georges Perrin in the Intel Museum in April 2009. Copyright (C) Jean Georges Perrin.
Vintage 386sx ad from Intel, comparing 286 chip. Picture taken by Jean Georges Perrin in the Intel Museum in April 2009. Copyright (C) Jean Georges Perrin.

My first PC (read PC, not computer) was a Compaq based on an Intel 80386sx. It was one of the first Intel chip to be a little hybrid, combining 32 bit computing power with an external bus of 16 bits. Far from nowadays standard, but pretty beefy for 1989.

This traditional line of business conducted Intel’s line of business for x86 CPU for quite some years, and it still is a good business for them. The microchip giant has even announced last quarter (Q3 2014) that it is “the first time Intel has shipped more than 100 million microprocessors in a quarter.”

Intel is divided in 5 major business units, among which, there is the Data Center Group. Its mission is to delivering platforms designed for server, workstation, networking, and storage computing market segments. In the last quarter, this unit was responsible for revenue of $3.7 billion, about a quarter of Intel’s revenues. In an interview to the New York Times, Diane Bryant, the head of Intel’s data center business admits: “We have never said no to a custom solution [..] We get orders from the tens of thousands to the hundreds of thousands” of custom chips. My sources told me that if you want your own custom chip, be prepared to order 75,000 of them.

Those chips are not targeted towards public clouds like the Amazon, OVH, or Microsoft Azure. Those chips are targeted to special needs like Facebook could have in face recognition, when it analyzes the pictures you send them.

It is a lucrative market for Intel as confirms Quentin Hardy from the NY Times: “In the first nine months of 2014, the average selling price of PC chips fell 4 percent. But the average price on data center chips was up 10 percent, compared with the same period in 2013.”

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