Intel is experiencing a CPU shortage related to its delayed 10nm ramp, with total PC sales estimated to fall by as much as 7 percent this year according to JP Morgan. It’s a nasty blow to an industry that has endured multiple heavy hits in the past seven years as consumer buying habits have changed and overall PC sales have declined roughly 30 percent. But with Intel struggling to meet demand, there’s a simple question to ask that’s far more pertinent today than it would have been two years ago: Can AMD move to meet demand where Intel can’t?
In 2016, this would’ve been a non-question. AMD had largely frozen its CPU development program since 2012, with no architectural updates to its FX family and only modest improvements aimed more at improving CPU efficiency and power consumption than competing on raw performance in mobile. Today, the situation is vastly different. Ryzen competes effectively with Intel in desktop PCs, Ryzen Mobile is ramping in laptops, and Epyc is winning attention from various server partners and some cloud providers. AMD is, in a word, competitive. And that means it should be able to buffer the market from some of the impact here.
But exactly how much and where will turn on questions we don’t know the answers to. If Intel’s issue is related to its overall manufacturing capacity as opposed to being a yield problem, the company will likely prioritize its most valuable parts and sell the equipment it can manufacture most profitably. But there’s a lot we don’t know. We don’t know which factories are specifically having issues (Intel has said that it intends to upgrade Fab 28 for 10nm but has said nothing about which fabs are having problems). And the PC market is divided among desktops (23.1 percent of the market), notebooks and mobile workstations (38.2 percent), detachable tablets (5.2 percent), and slate tablets (33.5 percent). AMD competes in each of these spaces differently. It’s strongest in desktops and notebooks, with relatively few plays in detachable systems and no slate systems or penetration in this market that I’m aware of.
The OEM Question
If AMD has a suitable drop-in part, how long should it take OEMs to roll out alternatives? Again, this is more easily answered in some markets than others. In cases where a company offers both an AMD and Intel version of a laptopSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce
, it’ll obviously be easier to move towards promoting a SKU from one vendor over the other. When an equivalent version of the same system doesn’t exist it can take time to create one. AMD’s decision to introduce new higher-power laptop chips at 45W earlier this month could be read as the company quietly maneuvering to be in a better position to take some business from Intel if the opportunity presents itself. If you don’t have a part in a given price or power band, after all, you aren’t going to be able to compete for it.
But the other major question to answer, and the one we really can’t predict, is whether customers are themselves willing to accept AMD CPUs as a substitute for Intel. Again, this is likely to vary by market. AMD’s desktop play is currently strong, but we’ve seen few Ryzen Mobile gaming systems. Alienware and Origin PC have no AMD gaming laptops. HP’s Omen line has zero listed on its front page. In fact, it’s startling just how bad the OEM promotions on AMD hardware actually are. Acer showed a Nitro 5 with Ryzen Mobile at CES 2018, but out of 15 Nitro 5 models offered for sale, just one is based on Ryzen.
Edit: Best Buy has a Nitro 5 from Acer with an RX 560 and Ryzen 5 CPU. So you can buy an AMD Ryzen Mobile system with a dGPU, albeit a low-end one.
HP has an entire webpage dedicated to AMD products, which looks great when you first surf in. But check out the hardware that’s actually in the systems: