As consumer demand and requirements change over time, processor manufacturers - like most manufacturers - need to keep one step ahead of the curve. Not only do they need to anticipate what customers are going to need next, but they also need to stay ahead of a constantly changing landscape of competitor technology and innovation. Intel have constantly strived to be the best in all respects, but the journey was never easy. With the ever-present shadow of AMD looming, the pressure has always been on to produce components that matched the needs of the PC market.
How Intel Began
Before PCs were thought of as gaming machines, they were the heart and soul of small and large companies around the world. When Intel was founded by Gordon Moore (commonly known for Moore's law) and Robert Noyce, and with executive leadership and vision from Andrew Grove, the primary business opportunity lie in large corporations. As a new manufacturer, Intel had to find their own way to stand out in a world dominated by - funnily enough - their former employer.
Moore and Noyce were former employees of Fairchild Semiconductors, and founded Intel (an amalgamation of integrated and electronics) initially with real strength in the production of logic circuits using semiconductor devices. The fastest route to market for Intel, it would transpire, would be in memory. The newly formed company quickly set their sights on dominating the semiconductor memory market, which had been predicted to replace the current de-facto magnetic-core memory. The first product from Intel in April of 1969, the 3101 Schottky TTL bipolar 64-bit Static Random-Access Memory (SRAM), immediately thumbed its nose at Fairchild's Schottky diode implementations, being almost twice as fast at access times of 60ns. The 3101 would be used in Xerox machines and by the US Air Force in their 'D' machine. The 3101 was a huge part of Intel's evolution as a chip maker, and would later be lauded as part of the process of creating the x86. By stacking the 3101 in the Datapoint 2200 - a mass-produced personal computer - Intel had made this early PC the grandfather of the x86.
Intel 3101 - Source: CPUShack
Intel's Early Success
In the same year - 1969, Intel developed the 1101 - 256-bit SRAM chip - and the 3301 Schottky bipolar 1024-bit Read-Only Memory (ROM). A year later, in 1970, Intel also created the 1103 to address concerns of how expensive it was to use the 1101, and how slow it was for larger computers. The 1103 was Intel's greatest early achievement, and was the best selling semiconductor memory chip in the world by 1972.
A Japanese calculator firm, Busicom Corp, would then go on to firm the foundations of Intel. Busicom Corp requested that Intel build a large number of custom microprocessors that were fully integrated into a single chip. With assistance from Federico Faggin - a physicist, engineer and inventor - Moore & Noyce would create the Intel 4004 in 1971, which would mark the historical evolution of the company, being the catalyst for many feats of engineering and experimentation in personal computing in a commercial setting.
Intel 4004 - Source: Wiki Commons
Intel would coast through the 1970s as one of the giants in SRAM, microprocessor technology and dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) chips. Pressure from Japanese manufacturers made the DRAM market unbearable for Intel, and Gordon Moore (Intel CEO at the time) became convinced that the company should focus on microprocessors and their bond with fellow industry giant, IBM.
IBM's systems were Intel-based, and the growth for both companies over the next decade - the 1980s - meant that Intel would become the primary supplier to the PC hardware industry. The 386 landed right in the middle of the eighties, and powered the majority of workstations and high-end personal computers.
Intel AMD Partnership
When IBM signed deals with Intel, there was a condition in the contract where Intel would need to provide IBM with a "second-source manufacturer" for their x86-based processors. The x86 architecture was originally designed in 1978 by Stephen P. Morse and assistance by Bruce Ravenel, with logic designers Jim McKevitt and John Bayliss as lead engineers in hardware development; this ISA - Instruction Set Architecture - is a list of all the commands and instructions, along with any variations, that a processor is able to execute.
This second-source would turn out to be AMD, who got the bid, and entered a ten-year long partnership with Intel. When AMD received the databases of the x86 architecture, however, the agreement enabled AMD to make their own processors and ensure they had at least the basis for becoming a competitor of Intel in the microprocessor market.
By the early 2000s, AMD had indeed become Intel's only competitor, with their own (x86-based) processors. In 2005, CEO at the time, Paul Otellini began a reshuffling of Intel to focus on its core processor and chipset business. In 2006, the Core microarchitecture was revealed, and it seemed like the company could not put a foot wrong once again, clawing back market share from rivals, AMD.
AMD vs Intel Market Share - Source: Hexus.net
Since the mid-2000s, Intel have had a long-running battle with AMD that has seen both companies make gains and losses at one time or another, but the gap has always been in Intel's favour. It wasn't until AMD's Ryzen series of CPUs in 2017 that Intel finally looked to be on shaky ground, with parity existing in the CPU race for the first time since 2006.
The Future Of Intel
With AMD close behind, the Alder Lake processors launched to massive critical acclaim, and resulted in AMD dropping prices to remain competitive. Alder Lake is able to outperform AMD's Ryzen processors in most scenarios, but - most notably - was able to take the crown as being the world's best gaming processor, with benchmarks confirming early suspicions that Intel had something extremely powerful up their sleeves.
AMD also look to be ready for war, with their own next-gen Zen 4 CPUs releasing in 2022, but with indications pointing to Raptor Lake being worthy successors to Alder Lake, with "enhanced" Golden Cove cores and using the same Socket 1700, it seems a war of attrition will be fought, rather than having an outright winner over the next few years.
The future is still bright for Team Blue, however. Intel have a slew of processor planned, with Grand Ridge, Elkhart Lake, Meteor Lake, and Lunar Lake CPUs in the pipeline and ripe for leaks on a Twitter feed near you.