we don't know whether the custom chips for eBay and Facebook were designed from scratch.
I very much doubt they were. I'd guess modifications of existing designs. The X86 core will be the same, but peripherals will differ.
Intel got press years back by talking about reusable library code for chip design. I'd guess that on a low level, they are aiming for a modular design that is extensible and customizable. Customers with special requirements can be accomodated by building a chip with a different base components list than the off-the-shelf design.
Of course, simple doesn't mean easy, and no doubt it's a complex and expensive effort to make a one-off design, but it's still an order of magnitude cheaper than a design from scratch.
I mean like speed grades or what we called binning, taking specific kinds of parts with certain yields or certain killed blocks out of the mix and calling them custom. Anyway, it's all just speculation now. I am waiting for an interview. If you know something, tell us all.
I agree about customization being important. But that has to be more difficult for Intel to do. If the company's main focus remains on the off the shelf products, I am simply saying I hope that all of the customization work doesn't distract Intel from its work on those products. As we've discussed on this forum many times, Intel needs to succeed with Atom and its other off the shelf chips.
>> But I would worry that these custom projects could make Intel take it's eye off the ball.
Very curious to know what the ball is here. The future of our industry is all about customization and individualism. From medical device to chips, that is where the world is going. There is no reason wht eBay and Shell will need the same type of server. If Intel can offer them unique products, I think that is a good strategy.
Intel can decide to pack chips inside a processor and then decide to activate the one that will work based on how much a customer pays. With the cost of the transistor minimal, there is no reason they cannot do this.