Industry Update - Q4-2004: AMD adds SSE3 Support, Intel's 925/915 not selling and moreby Anand Lal Shimpi on November 3, 2004 1:00 AM EST
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AMD vs. Intel
The heated AMD vs. Intel debates of the web weren't present in Taiwan. Most motherboard manufacturers were actually surprised to hear that more users appear to be buying AMD today, simply because their shipments are still predominantly Intel based. As far as percentages go, the motherboard manufacturers unanimously agree that the number of AMD motherboard shipments today are higher than the overall 80/20 market split between AMD and Intel.
The advantage is still in Intel's corner, with the highest percentage we were quoted being that only 30% of all motherboard shipments were for AMD platforms. More than anything this is a testament to Intel's strength. While AMD has been performing very well and chipping away at Intel since the release of the first Athlon, it's going to take a lot more than AMD doing well to dethrone Intel.
The server end of things is also looking very strong for AMD, arguably even stronger than on the desktop side. This month will see the first public demonstrations of 8-way Opteron servers, which will be a first for AMD. The Opteron has not only given AMD the ability to compete in the 4P (soon to be 4 Socket) space, but now stepping into the 8P realm, Opteron is the biggest threat to Intel it has ever been. With the Opteron available in 8P configurations, AMD will have brought 8P processing power down to the affordability of a 4P system. Looking at CPU costs alone, a single Opteron 850 currently sells for around $1500, a single 3GHz Xeon MP (4MB L3) sells for $4000 on average. Multiply that by 8 and you've got a $20K difference in CPU costs alone. We've compared the performance of 4-way versions of the Opteron 8xx vs. the 3GHz Xeon MP and already seen that the Opteron is the better performer of the two thanks to the better scalability of its architecture. While we're still waiting for a review sample of an 8-way server, we'd venture to guess that the superior scalability of the Opteron architecture will only be amplified in an 8-way scenario.
It takes time to develop CPUs and platforms, especially for the enterprise market, so Intel can't respond with product to AMD's threat - at least not today. Instead, Intel is offering motherboard makers much more support to develop some of the next-generation Intel server platforms. From what we heard in Taiwan, Intel is being much more cooperative with the manufacturers in making sure that their next-generation (2005 and 2006) server and workstation platforms come along quite well. Intel has also expressed a great deal of concern about Opteron to the motherboard manufacturers we talked to, although you'd never get them to publicly admit that.
AMD has also put dual core Opterons in the hands of the motherboard vendors. While we couldn't get a confirmation of clock speeds, the motherboard manufacturers we talked to could not say the same for Intel. It seems that AMD is truly ahead of Intel when it comes to dual core.
On the notebook side of things, as we've reported in a recent Insider Story Intel wants to kill the "Transportable" (aka "Desktop Replacement") market segment. The goal being a Pentium-M and Celeron-M dominated notebook world, and also conveniently forcing AMD into a tight spot. The motherboard manufacturers we talked to who also happen to do OEM notebooks asked us more than once whether we thought the DTR segment was truly dead. Maybe Yonah in 2006 will change things, but today the DTR market is definitely alive and well. In fact, many of the Taiwanese manufacturers were confused as to why DTRs sold so well in the U.S., with ultra portable designs selling much better in Japan; after all, who wants to lug around a 10+ lbs laptop? Many of the DTRs today are so heavy that they are more like PC-iMacs instead of notebooks. Needless to say, Intel pulling out of the Transportable/DTR market opens that avenue up to AMD, which is what most of the manufacturers we talked to seem to think as well.
There is also a lot of talk about dual core among the motherboard makers; most of them are wondering whether dual core will be interesting enough to force an upgrade cycle on users. For years, Taiwan has depended on higher clocked CPUs and new cores to sell the latest motherboards, but for the first time in recent history, they aren't being given a higher clocked CPU to count on. The fear is that there won't be any tangible performance increase from dual core CPUs to desktop users and thus the next generation of Glenwood/Lakeport based motherboards (the first boards with dual core support) will see dismal sales much like today's 915. Given Intel's recent track record to these folks, with promises of a quick transition to PCI Express platforms, the caution and concern in the eyes of the motherboard manufacturers is easily understandable.