The European Commission has asked four European Union countries to justify why they favour Intel processors in computers for public authorities.
The commission has asked France, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden for information on why invitations for tenders to supply computers for public authorities specified they should contain Intel or equivalent microprocessors, or processors using a specific clock rate.
A brand name can only be specified in invitations for tender if it is otherwise impossible to describe the product sufficiently, and merely specifying the clock rate is not sufficient to indicate the required performance of a computer, the commission said.
The commission is the executive branch of the 25 nation EU.
Intel's largest competitor, Advanced Micro Devices, stopped quoting clock rate as an indicator of chip performance a few years ago, claiming that other criteria were a better indicator and that focus on clock rate tended to favour Intel.
AMD Europe spokesman Jens Drews said that the company was "very pleased with the action. We see it as a sign that the commission is very serious about taking care that there is a level playing field in the procurement process across Europe".
"This is really a matter between the staff members of the European Commission and the individual countries as to how they specify products," said Chuck Mulloy, an Intel spokesman. Intel has complied with several commission requests for information, he added.
The commission said there had been about a dozen invitations to tender in France that had made the request for Intel or equivalent processors or processors with a clock rate above a specified minium which, it said, would favour Intel.
In the case of the Netherlands, the Municipality of Amsterdam submitted an invitation to tender for the supply of computers, notebooks and monitors and related services and an invitation to tender for the supply of hardware by a consortium of contracting authorities. In both cases, the provision of Intel microprocessors was specified.
In Finland three universities published invitations for supply of computers specifying Intel processors and in Sweden the commission was concerned about invitations by a municipality, a university, the national police authority and a regional authority. The police invitation stipulated the use of Intel Centrino or equivalent microprocessors.
The move is the first step in a legal process which could see the four member states taken to the European Court of Justice. The countries have two months to reply to the commission. If the commission is unsatisfied with their response, they will be required to make changes to their invitations to tender.
The commission asked Italy and Germany for the same information in the first half of this year.
Germany replied in June and Italy in July and the commission is still studying their responses before deciding what further action to take.
Simon Taylor writes for IDG News Service