Santa Clara (IL) – If you were to look into the story of Intel’s latest microprocessors, you’d quickly learn that they aren’t based so much on their seemingly most likely predecessor, the Pentium 4. Track down the family line and you end up at Banias, the first Pentium M. Join us for an interview with Mooly Eden, the man in charge of a project that convinced Intel to put the Gigahertz campaign into reverse.
One of the great advantages of being a technology journalist is the fact that we can receive deep insight into the technology that is penetrating our everyday life. An essential part of the job is being in direct contact with the source and developers of new technologies and, while we spend much of our time on the phone, we do get opportunities to meet developers and inventors of new products in person.
From time to time, when we meet unique personalities, we are pursuing interview appointments to find out more about a particular project and the person behind it. Mooly Eden, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Mobile Platforms Group, is such a personality and given his background, a thorough interview on TG Daily is overdue. Eden joined Intel in 1982 as member of the startup staff for Fab 8 and eventually led the “Banias” project, which resulted in the launch of the First Pentium M in March 2003.
The Pentium M project is credited with prompting Intel to rethink its strategy to rapidly increase the clock speed and power consumption of processors. The Pentium M, designed in Israel, carries many of the genes of the Core 2 Duo, which enabled Intel to regain its leadership position in the CPU market.
We met with Mooly Eden in Intel’s Santa Clara HQ not only to find out more about the history of Banias, but about a unique personality as well.
TG Daily: A few weeks ago, Intel introduced its more power-efficient Core microarchitecture, which has been considered as one of the firm’s most significant product strategy turnarounds in quite some time. If we try to find the origins of this new thinking at Intel, we’ll end up at Banias, the first Pentium M. You were in charge of that product and are often described as the ‘man who changed Intel.’ How does it feel to be credited with the invention of such an important product?
Mooly Eden: I don’t believe that there is a single person who can change Intel. Well, perhaps the CEO who is doing those big things. The article you are referring to had a nice headline, but I would not go to such an extreme.
TG Daily: So, if you did not invent the Banias processor, who did?
Mooly Eden: I am not a modest guy and I am not trying to shy away from the credit, but I don’t think anyone at Intel can say “this is my baby.” It is an effort of hundreds of people. I was lucky enough to have been the captain of the ship back then. And, if the ship is successful and wins the battle, the captain is getting a lot of credit. But there are many other people who do the work and deserve the credit. For example, if you are the manager, you should be wise enough to ask the right questions; you should be smart enough to pick up the right answers and you should navigate everything. I got the opportunity to do it. But there are also very talented architects – and those include the people who invented the architecture. As manager, you need to know how to how to solicit them, how to motivate them, how to encourage them and how to move them forward.
If someone needs to be credited with the invention of the die of the Pentium M, then I would have to say it was the team in Israel: The design team, because it was a brilliant idea for the best processor in the world. And the management because we took a big risk and said “we are going to change the paradigm.” At the time, consumers were shopping for frequency and we said: “Guys, this is the end of the line. You need to do a right hand turn. Let’s look at performance and other values beyond frequency.”
Banias and the risk for Intel
TG Daily: What you effectively did, was putting the Gigahertz machine in reverse. From a world that seemingly was driven, at least inside Intel, only by Gigahertz, you told people to throw out the foundation of their marketing strategy. How much of a risk was it?
Mooly Eden: It was a huge risk for the IDC. Banias market came just after Timna had been canceled [Timna was the codename for an integrated processor designed for the entry-level market and originally scheduled for the second half of 2000 – ed]. We had worked on Timna for two years and needed to make sure that we didn’t get another project canceled. In such a case, the company may lose confidence in the development center. And worse than this, the people may lose confidence in themselves. But the biggest risk in this industry is not to take risks, because then you are doomed. If you want to play it safe, you are out of the game.
TG Daily: I would imagine that your idea to cut clock speed in half wasn’t very well received at your first presentation to C-level executives. I remember a briefing of Pat Gelsinger, in which he outlined a vision that CPUs may reach 20 GHz by 2009 and that such processors could be compared to small nuclear power plants. And there you are with a chip that goes into the other direction. What was the reaction of engineers and marketing to your first presentation of Banias?
Mooly Eden: Pat Gelsinger was actually one of the first people at Intel who figured out that the Gigahertz outlook would not be good thing. He said that we have to return, because we were running into a power wall. You can blame many people for the increase in Gigahertz and power consumption, but definitely not Pat.
At the very early stage, Pat was advocating exactly the same thing what we were doing. We did that almost in parallel. But, of course, and without saying names, there were other people who felt that a lower clock speed was too risky and they did not support the idea. In the very beginning, when we talked to people about our project, the first question we got was “what’s the frequency?” We replied “1.6 GHz” and got a “not interesting.” It was definitely not easy to push it through.
I do not want people to be misled: Frequency was the right thing to do at the time. It gave you more performance and we had enough headroom.
Die shot of the Pentium M processor. This picture shows the second-generation Pentium M (90 nm “Dothan” core.)
TG Daily: Who do you think was most essential in getting a green light for Banias?
Mooly Eden: There are several stages you need to look at. First, you have the development stage, where people aren’t aware of the chip. The development is creating it and we are seeing where we are getting to. But after that, you need approval to move forward and you do not get anywhere without the CEO on your side. You can’t continue, because it is a risk for Intel. For Banias, we got the support of all executives. Paul Otellini also embraced Banias.
TG Daily: Do you think that Banias will be remembered as the CPU that changed Intel?
Mooly Eden: I would say that Banias will be remembered as the product that brought Intel on the right track. Moving to low power was inevitable. I am proud that we have been in the position of developing it. But overall, I believe that Banias will be remembered as one of the products that changed Intel. If you look at the company, then the 4004 changed Intel, the 8086 did and the 386 did. I would be flattered, if Banias was remembered as one of the milestones that put Intel in a leadership position.
TG Daily: Intel introduced its first power-saving technology – Speedstep – back in January 2000, in fact just one day before Transmeta unveiled its Crusoe processor. There are people who claim that Intel may never have come up with a power saving technology without Transmeta being the one who discovered the trend. Now Intel is making a turnaround largely because of the pressure it received from AMD. Is Intel a company that now and then needs a step on its toes to see trends?
Mooly Eden: I was not in the U.S. at the time frame when Speedstep was introduced. But I would not be surprised, if this was started way, way before. You need to work with many parties, including Microsoft, to do something like that. Take, for example, the Yonah dual-core. We started with that project many years ago; way before anybody ever spoke about it. So, do we need somebody to step on our toes? Hopefully not. Is competition accelerating innovation? Yes. Competition is good. I am not afraid of competition. The only thing I need to make sure is that the competition is behind us.
Getting personal: 25 years of Intel
TG Daily: Let me give you a couple keywords, what’s your first thought when you hear them?
Clock speed … A great opportunity that turned out to be a burden.
Timna … The most brilliant engineering project, the biggest marketing failure. A great education for myself, in respect to the business.
AMD … What? [pause] We are going to give them tough competition.
32-bit … Part of the evolution.
Windows Vista … No comment. It’s the next OS, we need to look at it and see.
Free time … I love it.
TG Daily: You have been with Intel 25 years. Somehow, you don’t fit the image of a ‘dry’ high-level manager of an IT corporation with 100,000 employees. Your casual “the guy-next-door” appearance and your energy could be perceived as a much better fit for the environment of a startup or a company like Google. How do you fit into Intel?
Mooly Eden: I believe that you always have different types of people and different styles. My style is the style that I have learned in Israel. I am very emotional and I am very direct. At the end of the day, I believe in the spirit of diversity. The company looks at performance, at the risk taking, at the deliverables, your ability to manage. The bottom line of my style apparently was positive, because I got an opportunity. So, overall, I would say that some people enjoy my style and some have difficulty to digest it…but that’s me.
TG Daily: Let’s take a look back. 25 years ago, it probably was not an obvious choice in Israel to apply at a semiconductor company. Why did you choose to work for Intel?
Mooly Eden: Well, I actually have three different Intels in my life. First, I was hired as part of the startup crew to build up Fab 8 in Israel. It simply looks very challenging to start something from scratch. That was something totally new for Israel. I spent about six, seven years in Fab 8 in Jerusalem. We built EPROMs, but soon moved over to microprocessors and became the biggest producer of 286s. EPROM is a very complex technology – if you can do that, you can do other technologies as well.
But the fab was too disciplined for me and I am not a disciplined person in my nature. I looked into ways to change my career, to change from being a staff member of Fab 8 to become a member of the design center in Haifa. My goal was to spend about one year there and get up to speed in the design community. I did some design and I managed the cache team. There were some problems with Pentium MMX in 1995. I believe that this was an opportunity to show my capabilities as a manager, because it was a tough project. I eventually became the manager of the Israel Development Center (IDC), where I was managing about 1500 people.
My third Intel is the company in the U.S. I got an opportunity to become the Director of Marketing and introduce Centrino. I do not know many places that give you such an opportunity.
TG Daily: How difficult was it to leave Israel and your achievements and home behind?
Mooly Eden: It wasn’t a big move. When I was asked to move, I was asked to introduce Centrino. At the time, I was the general manager of IDC and they asked me to move as an individual contributor, as a program manager. I was simply flattered. But the plan was that I would introduce 1 million units to the U.S. market. Once the manufacturing machine was up and running, I thought they would not need me anymore. And, actually, after 7 months, I was done and I returned to Israel. After two months, I got an offer to come back to the U.S. to do marketing. I knew already a lot about the U.S. and how my family would adapt.
A different work style in a different culture
TG Daily: Work in the U.S. overall was probably a different world in itself. What differences did you see between the work culture in Israel and the U.S.?
Mooly Eden: Coming from a different culture, I believe that people are generally making a mistake by grading or judging another culture by using their own culture. I am often told that Israeli people are blunt. We are not blunt; we are just saying our opinion. Sometimes I tell my partners that they do not care about anything because they do not argue. And they tell me that I argue all the time. But all I do is care about it.
When you come from a different culture, you get into a lot of problems. For example, how do you tell someone that you do not agree with him? If I do not agree in Israel, I simply tell you that you are wrong. Here it is almost offensive to say that. Instead, people in the U.S. say “I am not following you. Can you reiterate?” But, what it really means is that “you are wrong.” If you come from another country, you get into situations where you can sound offensive. However, from my perspective, that is also what is nice about living in another country: You make new experiences.
TG Daily: Would you say that America changed you? Or do you change the people around you?
Mooly Eden: I am changing in the way how I am behaving in the U.S. I speak differently. At the end of the day, I want to achieve something and I do not want to insult people. But I am also trying to change everyone around me to what I think is right. And that is to influence them, to being direct, to saying what you think, to elevating problems. I love problems. I learned that people in the U.S. have a problem saying “we have a problem.” Instead, they say “we have a challenge.” I don’t think it’s a challenge – why don’t they call it a “problem?” It’s a challenge to solve the problem.
TG Daily: Do you think that a different work culture, a more direct way to work with each other was helpful to come up with the idea for a completely different processor?
Mooly Eden: There have been a lot of great ideas in the U.S. Think about the 286, the 486 and the Pentium. But I would agree to say that the culture in Israel helped to develop Banias, Yonah and Merom. We are very friendly, we work together in teams, but discipline is not our strength. The lack of discipline results in a behavior where everybody is challenging everybody. People are challenging you all you all the time. People are not influenced by your rank. They appreciate you for what you are. It’s a different thing. If you steer that behavior it into the right way, you get a lot of innovation.
TG Daily: What was the most profound lesson you learned in your career?
Mooly Eden: We learn from mistakes. There was Timna, which made me much more open. Performance or design is not good enough, if you do not have a deep understanding of the market. I was responsible for it and the writing had been on the wall. The marketing appeal disappeared since the project was based on RDRAM, which did not penetrate the market fast enough. I should have killed the project two quarters earlier. But I was so much in love with the project and we did not stop it. I learned that you have to respect marketing. You need to understand the market very well to determine if the product will be successful.
Also, the Pentium MMX project clearly indicated the importance of management and leadership of technical people. With the right management and leadership you can make it happen. Take the same project and a different management it could fall apart. It can make the difference between failure and huge victory.
TG Daily: What goals do you have left at Intel?
Mooly Eden: I would like to continue to do something interesting. I believe mobile is a huge opportunity. There is something that you can say when you work at Intel and it almost sounds arrogant: You leave your footprint on that evolution, you and your team. Look at Centrino, everyone in this world has a Centrino notebook and you look at it and can say “I was involved in it” and that makes me very proud. It will take 20 years until people will recognize it, because we are in the middle of a huge revolution. I hope I will be part of this moving forward.
TG Daily: What advice would you give someone who would like to pursue a similar career as you did?
Mooly Eden: I would say to just do it. Don’t copy. Do what you believe in. Try to find a job you love, don’t compromise with something you do not like. In your job, be patient because an opportunity does not reveal itself on a daily basis. Never be a yes man, say what you think, argue for your opinion. At the end of the day, it will be appreciated.
TG Daily: Thank you for the interview.
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