Last month, tech giant Apple introduced new MacBook laptops that use its own silicon, or chips, designed in-house, replacing those run on Intel Corp microprocessors. Chips for Apple accounted for 4% of Intel’s total sales in 2019. Apple is not alone in abandoning Intel. Long-time partner Microsoft’s Surface Pro X tablet PC now sports a custom-designed chip just as Google’s new Chromebooks.

From the late 1970s to until recently, Intel was the dominant designer and manufacturer of chips that powered PCs and cloud computing. It was one of the dynamic duo dubbed “WinTel”, with Microsoft’s Windows being the other that launched the PC era four decades ago. The WinTel relationship was based on an instruction set architecture known as “x86”. Intel patented the instructions for operating PCs and Microsoft wrote the software that ran exclusively on those instructions.

The competitive landscape for Intel has dramatically changed as it sees its traditional strongholds eroded by mobile chips based on ARM Holdings technology. Apple’s forays in chips as well as the rise and rise of rivals such as Advanced Micro Devices Inc (AMD) and graphic chip giant Nvidia Corp are increasingly seen as existential threats to Intel. ARM designs mobile chips, AMD focuses on chips for cloud computing as well as gaming chips and Nvidia’s niche is in making chips used for advanced graphics, gaming, data centres as well as artificial intelligence (AI). Nvidia is in the process of acquiring ARM from Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp for US$40 billion ($53.1 billion).

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