AMD and Intel both had banner years in 2020. The two firms racked up revenue and shipment records, thanks to incredibly strong demand for PCs during the course of the year. While both firms have made money hand over fist for the past 12 months, there’ve been a few market share shifts over that time — and two of them favor Intel.
Intel has gained market share in both mobile and desktop PCs, while AMD continued small improvements in server, with share rising 0.5 percentage points. AMD now holds 7.1 percent of the server market as measured by Mercury Research (AMD sometimes reports higher figures for itself, based on its own method of measuring the server market space).
The shifts are modest. Intel picked up 1.2 percentage points of share in mobile and 0.8 percent in desktop. Server share according to Mercury dipped from 93.4 percent to 92.9 percent.
We Expected Intel to Eventually Take Back Share
Back in 2019, Intel was suffering a prolonged silicon shortage of its own. At the time, Intel had been hit by multiple problems simultaneously. Ramping 10nm production reduced the number of 14nm chips Intel could build. Intel had increased the number of CPU cores in its products between 2015 – 2018, which reduced the number of CPUs it could build per wafer. As a result, Intel was meaningfully capacity-constrained during 2018 – 2019. It chose to focus on manufacturing its high-end server CPUs and upper-end desktop chips and manufactured fewer low-end chips during this time period. This gave AMD an opportunity to seize market share in the nascent Chromebook market, and the company did so.
At the time, Gartner expected AMD’s mobile share to peak in Q2 2019. That didn’t happen, but now the shoe is somewhat on the other foot. [Does it…not fit correctly? -Ed.] AMD is now the company facing capacity constraints. There have been reports that AMD is actually TSMC’s largest 7nm customer at the moment, between Zen 2, Zen 3, RDNA, RDNA2, the PlayStation 5, and the Xbox Series S|X. AMD is currently selling every 7nm CPU it can manufacture.
During last week’s Q4 2020 conference call, Lisa Su spoke directly to the constraint problem:
We saw a strong revenue ramp in our business as well as across some of our peers. It’s fair to say that the overall demand exceeded our planning. And as a result, we did have some supply constraints as we ended the year. Those were primarily, I would say, in the PC market, the low end of the PC market and in the gaming markets.
While there’s a little ambiguity in her phrasing, I read Su’s statement as applying to the general PC market, the low-end of the PC market specifically, and to gaming on both console and PC. RDNA, RDNA2, and both consoles would all be part of “gaming markets.” The one market she doesn’t mention is servers, and server is where AMD picked up 0.5 percent additional share.
Intel likely regained share in desktop and mobile partly because AMD opted to emphasize Epyc shipments in a supply-constrained environment. It would be surprising if Microsoft and Sony didn’t have agreements with AMD requiring the CPU designer to make every effort possible to deliver their own SoCs, and AMD is aggressively trying to build its server market share.
This year, we’ll see Ice Lake SP go up against AMD’s next-generation Milan servers. Milan is expected to deliver the 1.19x IPC uplift AMD picked up from Zen 3, while Ice Lake-SP will offer a similar-sized IPC upgrade to Xeon processors. Intel will finally get the benefit of a die shrink for this comparison, while AMD’s Milan, like Rome, is built on a 7nm process.
In mobile, it’ll be Ryzen 5000 and 4000 against Tiger Lake now, with Alder Lake and its hybrid CPU configuration dropping late this year. AMD’s Ryzen 5000 series will hold down the desktop, even though these parts technically launched in 2019. Rocket Lake, Intel’s ICL backport to 14nm, drops in late March. This will be an interesting year for CPU comparisons: Intel will introduce 10nm servers for the first time, debut a new microarchitecture on the desktop for the first time in over five years, and launch its first hybrid CPUs for mainstream power envelopes and workloads.
Feature image by Fritzchens Fritz, CC0 1.0.