updated 12:05 pm EDT, Wed August 4, 2010
Intel faces light penalties in FTC antitrust deal
As promised, Intel and the Federal Trade Commission today detailed the settlement (PDF) made to avoid a full penalty for Intel in its antitrust case. Under the new terms, Intel is barred from offering incentives to carry its chips exclusively or from retaliating if a PC builder uses chips from AMD or another rival. The semiconductor pioneer would be prevented from deliberately price dumping or threatening a lack of marketing or discounts.
The terms would also cater to NVIDIA by preventing Intel from engaging in unfair bundling through giving discounts on processor and chipset combinations so steep they lock out competition. Intel is widely believed to have priced the combination of an Atom processor and an official Intel chipset low enough that it became impractical to use NVIDIA's superior Ion hardware for all but the most expensive netbooks and nettops.
More technical terms ban Intel from artificially hindering competitors through its compiling tools and other software; it would have to disclose any instance in which Intel chips are treated differently. The firm must also keep supporting the PCI Express bus standard for at least six years to avoid favoring its integrated video in the event of a format switch. Via's licensing deal for x86 processors and chipsets must also extend five years later, to 2018.
Licensing terms must also change to allow companies like AMD, NVIDIA and Via to merge without jeopardizing their Intel agreements. Critics have claimed the existing terms would prevent other companies from getting as large as Intel and offering a genuine threat.
Intel's deal could give companies like AMD and NVIDIA a better foothold but are lighter than hoped for by many. FTC officials don't have the authority to fine companies in antitrust cases, but the settlement also evades liability for Intel and lets it still deny issues. Advocates of the FTC's case had hoped that Intel would be forced to admit wrongdoing in the US and have pointed to the EU's $1.45 billion fine as evidence that its approach was systematic and widespread.
The settlement doesn't touch on the dispute between NVIDIA and Intel over chipset licensing, which NVIDIA has said was deliberately reinterpreted by Intel to prevent faster integrated graphics from undermining its own.