By nearly any measure, 2017 was a banner year for AMD. The company was able to return not only to relevancy but transformed itself into an entity with technological advantages over rivals that had previously towered over them. CEO Dr. Lisa Su has realigned the corporate warship, pushing execution in key markets and product segments where its technology can flourish, rather than hap-hazard attempts in areas in does not posses a chance of success.
At the company’s event in Taipei, Taiwan during the annual Computex technology trade show, Su and other key executives trumpeted up past and current successes before describing the future of its roadmap for consumer and enterprise products for 2018 and 2019. A combination of 2018 chip launches and advanced process technology integrations for 2019 show an AMD that appears to be smelling blood in the water.
Consumers are winning
Though Intel showed off a chip design during its event yesterday targeting high-end consumers and workstation class users with 28-cores (a core is part of a processor that can handle compute instructions) running at an insanely high speed, it turns out it required an expensive and difficult to implement cooling apparatus to do so. Intel said such a part would be available in 2018 though I have serious doubts the company will be able to deliver the performance it showed in anything close to a standard user environment.
AMD on the other hand, announced and demonstrated a 32-core chip that will be the next iteration of the wildly popular Ryzen Threadripper family, targeting that same high-end workstation consumer. AMD was able to do so using only standard air cooling. Specific performance numbers weren’t called out as they were with Intel, as anything less than the benchmarks Intel showed would be a loss. But the demo that AMD ran illustrates a better understanding of the consumer space and sets more realistic expectations.
The competition that AMD has suddenly hoisted upon the top tier of the PC market has created a tectonic shift in how new designs are being created. Intel had been settling for lower performance options in its chips simply because there was no need to innovate with AMD so far behind in the race. AMD’s Ryzen family and its adjacent implementations have stirred the sleeping giant, pushing the market to a return of a back-and-forth iteration that will benefit all consumers for the long term.
AMD sees profits with the data center
Su gave press an update on AMD’s data center and enterprise server product, EPYC. There are several significant partner deployments being rolled out including a deal with Cisco, a new design with HPE, and even availability of EPYC-based servers with Chinese cloud computing giant Tencent. Momentum is building for AMD in the server space, but it has more planned.
Hot on the heels of Intel’s public struggles with its move to 10nm process technology, Su held up the first 7nm-based processor using the updated Zen 2 architecture. The process technology allows a chip designer more flexibility to improve performance and increase power efficiency when things are working properly. While Intel has delayed its 10nm designs a few times, AMD is working with external foundry partners and will be shipping even more advanced designs in 2019. AMD has early Zen 2 chips up and running in its labs today.
Better manufacturing technology does not guarantee a better product is delivered, but it gives AMD yet another advantage at a time when Intel is desperately attempting to hold off attackers from multiple markets.
AMD is targeting a 5% share of a $20B market by the end of 2018. There is a good chance AMD can not only hit that but double it by the end of 2019 if the product roadmaps we see today remain.
A more difficult graphics story
The graphics space is a complex one, made even more so by the waxing and waning of the cryptocurrency market that drove a good portion of revenue for both AMD and NVIDIA in 2017. AMD has gained back some share in the gaming space, though without a new product line in 2018 to address it, NVIDIA has the chance to take that back again with its upcoming Turing product launch.
Where AMD made announcements this week was on GPUs used for data centers, particularly for AI and machine learning. This is a battle that NVIDIA has been fighting, and winning, for years, over all competitors. Even if AMD’s new Vega graphics chips are performance competitive, the significant lead in software support, developer integration, and market share that NVIDIA has is a large hurdle.
AMD hopes that a 7nm version of its current Vega chip, with some tweaks to improve performance of multiple GPUs in the same machine and new operations to accelerate deep learning, can help it win some battles. The company showed off a new version of this chip on stage this week, though with little detail on performance. These are sampling to customers now with an expected launch of 2H 2018.
NVIDIA will have access to this same 7nm technology, so any lead that AMD might appear to have is probably in announcement windows only. AMD continues to drive forward in the machine learning space, but it is going to take more than one swing at NVIDIA to knock it off balance here.
AMD continues its march of execution
It is undeniably interesting to watch the fortunes of AMD and Intel in the current market. AMD, still the small guy in this fight clearly, has the momentum and drive, with a renewed sense of execution and delivery behind it. Intel remains the biggest chip giant in PCs and servers, though once seemingly invincible, now needing to respond to its long-time rival. Intel is not going anywhere, and anyone that thinks its days are numbered doesn’t understand the strong wills inside leadership and engineering.
But that doesn’t diminish the success that AMD is showing partners and investors over the last 18 months. Every victory this company has is not by luck, and not by accident. It is the result of dedicated executives, engineers, and marketers with clear vision and the guts to outlast the doubters. Past successes are not a guarantee of future ones, but AMD has all the ingredients and the right situations in front of it to keep the train rolling.