AMD Reenters High End Markets with Threadripper and Vega, Taking Aim at Intel and NVIDIA

The weekend before one of the largest graphics and development conferences starts, AMD CEO Lisa Su stood on stage at LA Live to announce the official release of two new product families that reinsert AMD into the world of high-end consumer, prosumer, and content creation markets. Both the Ryzen Threadripper processor and the Radeon RX Vega graphics chip offer significant performance increases over the previous AMD product portfolio for markets that are high margin and high ASP. With these new offerings shipping in August, AMD is poised to have a significant increase in product movement late this summer and into the fall.

The AMD Ryzen Threadripper processor offers higher core and thread counts, which equates to more capability and performance than any other consumer level processor for high end compute functionality. By doubling the core count found in the Ryzen chip that launched late in Q1, AMD can address different markets that requires higher levels of performance including video editing, rendering, software development, and others. AMD even paints this chip as being able to handle “mega-tasking”, the ability to run two complex workloads (video transcoding and gaming, for example) without the same kind of performance drop you would find on other processor solutions.

Leveraging the architecture design of the enterprise and data center AMD EPYC processor announced last month, AMD can easily and efficiently build the Threadripper family. It can utilize many of the platform, software, system, and partner technologies to roll this out for high-end consumers without much in the way of additional development cost, making it a win-win for the company’s portfolio.

This also marks AMD’s first foray into a field that Intel has previously dominated with its own family of Core i7 and Core i9 processors. Intel is limited to 10-core options today and AMD’s Ryzen Threadripper will ship as high as 16-core. The AMD event also marked the first-time consumers and media were shown a lower-core count option of Threadripper, 8-cores, that enables a lower cost of entry to a platform that has the ability to connect to many external devices like graphics cards, fast storage solutions, and more.

Coming from a position of near zero market share, the Threadripper product gives AMD the ability to grow its product breadth with minimal risk. The average selling price of processors in this market is around twice that of the mainstream consumer, giving a financial boost to AMD that it has not enjoyed in nearly a decade on the CPU space.

AMD RTG (Radeon Technologies Group) lead Raja Koduri used the event to showcase the new Radeon RX Vega, marking the company’s first high-end consumer gaming product to be released in more than two years. The market for graphics cards priced over $350 sells at more than a million units a quarter so it is critical that AMD return to this segment to ensure long term profitability and R&D for the Radeon group.

Two new products were announced, the Radeon RX Vega 64 and RX Vega 56, competing at the $499 and $399 price points respectively. AMD will target them against the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 products that have had near 100% market share without competition from Radeon. Early performance and pricing indicates that though AMD might have a disadvantage in power efficiency, RX Vega will be competitive in performance per dollar, the key metric that gamers and system builders use to decide on component selection.

AMD can succeed with RX Vega without winning across the board against NVIDIA. As noted with Threadripper above, any market share gain that Radeon sees from this launch is going to improve the landscape for them immediately. RX Vega will sell to eager gamers looking for performance upgrades that are currently wading through a tough availability market thanks in part to wide scale cryptocurrency mining.

Radeon Technologies Group leadership has created a plan to attempt to curb the siphoning of products from the gaming market to mining. AMD built Radeon Packs will give gamers that purchase RX Vega products the ability to bundle complementary hardware including high-end gaming monitors, AMD Ryzen processors, and PC games with discounts as high as $400. The inclusion of that hardware is optional but the price of the card itself increases $100 to help dissuade the greedy mining market from absorbing all the RX Vega inventory. It also gives incentive to the retailers to save hardware for gamers that will be buying higher margin items like displays with them.

Even though selling products to coin miners can boost sales in the near term, AMD understands that creating and maintaining a consumer base that will buy into the larger range of associated gaming solutions, is critical for its long-term success. It is a risk that many in the market continue to ignore. Radeon Packs is an attempt to foster that PC gaming audience by raising prices to the miners that only want GPU hardware but offsetting that cost increase with discounts on other components for gamers. Time will tell if this initiative is enough to have any impact, but AMD is the first to offer a potential solution.

By the end of August AMD will find itself competitive in two high-end markets that it has been absent from for years. The Threadripper processor will attack Intel in a vulnerable location where it has left the door open with higher pricing and lower core/thread count solutions. I expect the content creation and developer community to buy-in to this new platform aggressively as it has the best workloads to match the capabilities of the platform. AMD is much more recently removed from the high graphics market, but the Radeon RX Vega jumps into a space that NVIDIA has had to itself for nearly 18 months and will surely have an impact on the unit share over the next quarter and beyond.