How beleaguered Intel fell so far behind

Apple still makes Macs with Intel chips, but nobody really wants them. They’re the past, not the future. Even Apple’s entry-level, first-crack M1 chip runs rings around Intel’s big, slow, and hot offerings. (See: M1 benchmarks prove Apple Silicon outclasses nearly all Intel Macs.)

Intel snail

When Apple unveils the M2, things will go from embarrassing to downright ugly for Intel.

When Apple officially announced the move from PowerPC to Intel on June 6, 2005, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said, “Our goal is to provide our customers with the best personal computers in the world, and looking ahead Intel has the strongest processor roadmap by far.”

That’s no longer the case. It hasn’t been for so long now that it sounds like a joke. Apple can’t dump Intel chips out of Macs fast enough.

How did once-mighty Intel fall so far behind?

Ian King and Tom Giles for Bloomberg Businessweek:

Intel has been a jewel of American manufacturing since the late 1960s… By July 2020 things had changed. During the conference call that followed the earnings release, Intel’s unassuming chief executive officer, Bob Swan, indicated that the company’s futuristic chip fabrication plants — “fabs” — might never be able to catch up. Instead the company was considering using contractors to build the 7nm chips. “To the extent that we need to use somebody else’s process technology, and we call those contingency plans, we will be prepared to do that,” Swan said in response to the first question from an analyst.

His words were halting and coldly technical, but every analyst on the call heard this and thought the same thing: Holy crap.

Before Swan could follow through on the outsourcing plan, the company changed course again, replacing him with Pat Gelsinger, who’d been Intel’s chief technology officer and who was still very much a believer in its manufacturing prowess. In March he announced a plan to spend $20 billion on new U.S. factories that could make chips for other semiconductor companies that want to outsource their production. He presented this plan to make Intel into a contract manufacturer, or what’s known as a foundry, as a statement of his turnaround ambitions. “Intel is back,” Gelsinger told journalists.

MacDailyNews Take: Statements are easy, but Intel hasn’t proven the ability to back them up for many years.

Gelsinger talks a lot. He has a big pocketbook. He’s a new CEO with a lot of big plans. We’ve seen and heard it all before.

We’ll have to see some actual “cutting-edge computing chip manufacturing” out of Intel before we believe he’s not just blowing Intel’s piggybank and even more hot air than our Intel-based MacBook Pros.MacDailyNews, March 24, 2021

Even today, even in its current diminished form — having lost the title of most valuable American chip company to Nvidia Corp., which designs graphics processors and outsources most of its manufacturing to Asia — Intel still controls about 80% of the computer processor market, with an even bigger share in servers, the powerful machines that run data centers.

MacDailyNews Take: Incorrect. The most valuable American chip company is Apple.

Intel’s predicament didn’t come about overnight. It’s been a consequence of a decade’s worth of missteps — including a failure to break into chips for smartphones — and cultural decay that blinded the company to serious shortcomings, according to more than two dozen current and former employees, most of whom asked not to be identified for fear of retribution or jeopardizing their job prospects…

MacDailyNews Take: Read the full article for the accounts of the disastrous tenure of Intel CEO Brian Krzanich. Anyone who’s ever worked for a large corporation (and maybe medium and small companies, too) have all met this malformed asshole in one form or another.

“Brian did not create an environment where people could bring him problems that could be worked on,” one former executive says. “Limiting the truth is death for a complex company like Intel.”

MacDailyNews Take: Hmm. Complex countries, too.

The company’s plight isn’t exclusively a function of internal missteps. It also reflects the decades-long shift of manufacturing out of the U.S. to parts of the world that have undergone rapid industrialization and economic development, aided in part by government policies that encouraged an expansion of export production. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the change has been TSMC, based in Hsinchu, Taiwan, which pioneered outsourced manufacturing in chips…

Even Intel’s status as the company that powers high-end personal computers seems to be in jeopardy. Apple has begun designing chips for Mac laptops and desktops and, in November, unveiled three new computers boasting a central processor that its own engineers designed and TSMC manufactured. Apple plans a series of chips that will be used in higher-end Macs to be released as soon as this year, according to people with knowledge of the matter…

TSMC has a more than three-decade head start as a foundry. It’s been producing 7nm chips since 2018, and Apple began making 5nm processors last year. Gelsinger’s determination to have Intel regain its position of leadership is underlined by its $20 billion bet on the foundry business. But the company’s plan to increase its capital expenditures by about 35% in 2021 puts it almost $10 billion behind what TSMC will spend this year.

MacDailyNews Take: Sometimes when you stumble in a race, even in a marathon, if you take too long to recover, you’re done. Winning is off the table.

But, hey, you never know, Apple could launch a line of calculators any day now. Intel would be a great foundry for that.

“We’ve got a supercomputer and a calculator. Calculator’d be good for you.” – Tim Cook to Pat Gelsinger

If Apple ever has a need for big, hot, slow 10nm and up antiquated junk with yields from hell, we’re sure they’ll give old inept Intel a call!MacDailyNews, March 24, 2021

See also:
• Adobe: Photoshop on Apple’s M1 runs 50% faster than 2019 Intel-hobbled MacBook – March 12, 2021
• TechCrunch reviews Apple’s M1 MacBook Pro: ‘Makes Intel’s chips obsolete’ – November 17, 2020


  1. There’s a HUGE number of Intel Macs, including expensive Xeon iMac Pro and Mac Pro, on Apple’s Certified Refurbished list. I’ll bet many of the offerings there are not actually refurbs. They’re new, but Apple doesn’t want to call it a “clearance sale” yet.

  2. The heck with Intel. No love lost, no loyalty.

    What I care about is a competitive CPU provider to replace them in the desktop “clone” world. It’s that ecosystem that I care most about. Maybe it’s AMD, maybe it’s nVidia, let’s see.

    Meanwhile I do have the 2020 M1 MBP.

    1. This moronic doofus is an M1-owning Apple cynic. Cynical about Apple he is, but he keeps buying their stuff. If this fool had brains he’d be an Intel cynic, but instead, he’s just a slime, like that from under the Intel snail.

  3. “Limiting the truth is death for a complex company like Intel.”
    MacDailyNews Take: Hmm. Complex countries, too.“
    Yeah tell that to China, it seems delusion isn’t just the province of Intel.

    More importantly it seems the guy at Intel who clearly had no faith in what his chief tech guy was telling him has been replaced by… the tech guy. Who will be proved right I wonder.

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