The Deep Intel, AMD & Nvidia Connection That You Never Knew Existed

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Sep 20, 2015

Intel, AMD and Nvidia are undoubtedly three of the most iconic companies Silicon Valley. They collectively hold the torch that lights the fires of PC gaming. Without their hardware and innovation this wonderful, multi-billion dollar industry that millions of gamers love with an unbridled passion would not exist today. Blue, red and green share a deeply fascinating and intertwined history that connects them in ways that will surprise, astound and fill you with a genuine sense of joy.

Left to right ; Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce And Jerry Sanders

Setting The Historical Stage – How It All Began

Why don’t we start from the very beginning, before there was an Intel, an AMD or an Nvidia. It all started with a company that was spearheading semiconductor innovation in the late fifties and in the sixties, arguably the one that started the entire Silicon valley computing revolution, Fairchild Semiconductor. It was inside Fairchild and through the genius of Robert Noyce that the world’s first commercial integrated circuit came to be. And it was under the very same roof that the observation we’ve come to know as Moore’s Law was conceived by Gordon Moore. This brief introduction should help set the stage for the first fascinating juncture in Intel’s and AMD’s shared history.

Founders of Intel And AMD All Worked For The Same Company, Fairchild Semiconductor

That’s right, the founders of both Intel and AMD were actually all working in the same place before they left and started their own companies. Fairchild was actually a huge company back then and Fairchild Semiconductor was merely a subsidiary of a much bigger entity, Fairchild Camera And Instrument. In the late sixties the atmosphere inside Fairchild Semiconductor changed, it was losing its status as the leader and driver of innovation in the industry. Unfortunate mismanagement meant that the innovators inside the company were not being rewarded as they should. The revenue that was generated as a result of their hard work went to Fairchild Camera And Instrument and little of it came back to Fairchild Semiconductor where the real innovation was taking place.

Robert Noyce grew weary of this fact and convinced Gordon Moore to leave, together they founded Intel in 1968. A year later, Jerry Sanders who was the Worldwide Sales Manager at Fairchild Semiconductor, confronted senior management about the dire situation. Back then a young and brash engineer, his shtick was seen as a threat to senior management and as a result he was let go. He left in 1969 to found Advanced Micro Devices.

The Motto Of Andrew Grove, Intel’s Most Successful And Second Longest Running CEO, Was “Only the paranoid survive”

Robert Noyce recruited Grove on the very same day of Intel’s incorporation, making him Intel’s first non-founding employee. Andrew Grove was born to a Jewish middle-class Hungarian family who had survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary during WW2. At the age of twenty he fled from the then communist controlled Hungary and finally made his way to the US where he continued his education to become a chemical engineer.

Steve Jobs idolized Andrew Grove and sought his advice as often as he could.

Grove spoke of his early life in Hungary in his memoirs and said :

By the time I was twenty, I had lived through a Hungarian Fascist dictatorship, German military occupation, the Nazis’ “Final Solution,” the siege of Budapest by the Soviet Red Army, a period of chaotic democracy in the years immediately after the war, a variety of repressive Communist regimes, and a popular uprising that was put down at gunpoint. . . [where] many young people were killed; countless others were interned. Some two hundred thousand Hungarians escaped to the West. I was one of them.

Grove was Intel’s President from 1979 to 1987 when he succeeded Gordon Moore as the company’s CEO. Being a chemical engineer Grove focused heavily on the manufacturing side of the business. He spearheaded the development and expansion of Intel’s fabrication plants propelling the company’s manufacturing capability and capacity from a handful of small facilities to become the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer.

He worked in an office that was an eight feet by nine feet cubicle and did not dedicate a reserved parking space for himself, but rather used to park just like regular Intel employees. In 1998 he stepped down as CEO after being diagnosed with Prostate cancer. In his 12 year tenure as CEO, Intel’s market capitalization skyrocketed from $4 billion to $197 billion, making it the world’s 7th largest company.

The Motto Of Jerry Sanders, AMD’s Founder And Longest Running CEO Was “People first, products and profits will follow!”

Sanders grew up in the south side of Chicago. He was born to a very young family and was raised primarily by his paternal grand parents. Jerry was the only Sanders to go to college other than his grandfather who’s an electrical engineer. Sanders did very well in school, he graduated as the valedictorian of his high-school and won a scholarship to the university of his choice. The young Sanders decided to go to the University of Illinois and started there as a chemical engineering student and later switched – no pun intended – to electrical engineering.

“Out invest, out produce or out innovate” was one of Sanders’ famous mantras and considered innovation the primary driver for success because out investing and out producing larger companies was not an option according to the flamboyant businessman.

Jerry Sanders 2002, Silicon Genesis – Standford University interview :

I went to the University Of Illinois and I started as a chemical engineering student. Why chemical engineering ? because chemical engineering according to what I learned from my placement counselor paid more money than any other kind of engineering and as I said I was just interested in having a good life and I figured out early that being poor was not good. Turns out that I’m the eldest of 12 children and by definition that makes you maybe rich in spirit but maybe not so rich in financial terms.
So I started as a chemical engineering student and to my chagrin I discovered that chemical engineering was in The School of Liberal Arts And Sciences so I really wasn’t involved with a group of people that I really thought of as engineers, they were all liberal arts people. So I returned to the University of Illinois and transferred to electrical engineering and I will be eternally thankful to God that I transferred to electrical engineering.

Sanders went to work for Douglas Aircraft Company before moving to Motorola and finally being recruited to Fairchild Semiconductor in 1961 by Robert Noyce who Sanders described as “the smartest man I’ve ever met in my life, he was congenial he was engaging and he was just so smart”. As Worldwide Sales Manager at Fairchild, Sanders used to ask applicants for sales positions to take him on a drive after conducting a job interview. Because according to Sanders sales reps had to be “aggressive drivers”.

Sanders founded AMD in 1969 and was the company’s President and CEO until 2002. During his tenure as President and CEO AMD market capitalization grew from $1.505 million to over $30 billion. Sanders was considered a charismatic and outspoken CEO but also one that valued employee talent very highly. Under Sanders AMD became the first US company to give every employee shares of its stock and the first to employ a cash profit sharing employee compensation program. His maxim “people first, products and profit will follow!” was given as a printout for each employee who started a job at AMD until his retirement.

Jen-Hsun Huang, Worked At AMD Before He Co-Founded Nvidia And Became Its President And CEO

Jen-Hsun Huang went to University at the age of 16 to study electrical engineering at Oregon State University. Hgraduated from Oregon State University at the age of 21 and married his lab-partner Lori the following year. Before co-founding Nvidia in 1993 Huang worked at a few companies including LSI Logic when it was pioneering the idea of chip design tools. Prior to that he worked at AMD for two years designing microprocessors. According to Jen-Hsun the sheer difficulty of how microprocessors were designed was what made LSI Logic’s pitch to invent chip design tools so attractive and why he eventually went to work there.

Huang maintains that the three most important questions for any successful business are : Do you enjoy doing it ? Is it worthwhile? and Is it difficult?

Huang described how an AMD poster inside his university lab changed his life. It was a bit-slice processor – a chip that powered game consoles at the time – that made him fall in love with microprocessor design and go work for AMD following his University graduation. During his tenure as President and CEO Nvidia went public in 1999 and its market cap grew by over 20 times since then.