Something AMD Has Done Well

It's not a secret that Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD  ) has had a turbulent couple of years, particularly as its position in the already-weakening PC market has eroded and its competitive position as a second-source to Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) in the server market has been reduced to little more than a footnote. However, after a management transition several years ago, the company has made some important strides toward a recovery -- even if it still has a long way to go.

Cutting the fat and tacitly narrowing focus
Several years ago, AMD tried to have a comparable offering to its much larger and better-capitalized rival, Intel, in both PCs and servers. This spanned everything from multi-socket high-end servers to the lowest end of the PC market. To some extent, AMD still plays in pretty much all of these markets today, but -- particularly in high-end servers -- it is clear that AMD is getting as much mileage as it can out of existing designs before apparently exiting those segments.

Today, AMD's chief focus seems to be on its "small-core" processors, which have proven useful in a variety of markets, spanning from game consoles such as the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 to low-power tablet/convertible oriented chips. Of course, big-cores are useful in the more premium segment of the PC market, but they are more expensive to build, and Intel's investment there (and manufacturing lead) is pretty hard to match.

AMD's latest low-power SoCs look compelling
While last year's Kabini/Temash are still the latest low-power, low-cost products from AMD available in systems on the market today, AMD did announce a refresh of these products known as Beema/Mullins. While the micro-architecture of these chips seems fundamentally unchanged, AMD has put quite a lot of work into more aggressively pushing the "turbo" capabilities of these chips, allowing Mullins -- the tablet and 2-in-1 successor to Temash -- to post some pretty impressive benchmark numbers while in AMD's 11.6" reference design.

Now, keep in mind, AMD didn't offer reviewers any measured power consumption numbers, or even any way to measure battery life, so it's too early to draw any meaningful competitive conclusions from the performance numbers alone. In fact, while the power draw of the CPU core at the higher performance levels is probably higher (can't break the laws of physics), the system is likely managing those frequencies better, ultimately delivering a significantly improved user experience over AMD's prior tablet-oriented efforts. Progress matters, and AMD is making it. 

We now need to see some design wins
Last year's Kabini product was a solid low-power chip for budget notebooks (although Temash definitely needed some work), but the problem was that AMD still managed to lose market share despite these offerings. That being said, while Kabini/Temash were largely uncompetitive against Intel's Bay Trail-M/D and Bay Trail-T, respectively, as far as performance/power goes, Beema/Mullins look like a solid improvement. At the same time, Intel next "big" refresh of its low-power, low-cost oriented tablet and PC products -- known as Cherry Trail-T for tablets and Braswell for PCs -- won't appear until 2015, giving AMD a window of opportunity.

Of course, it's not safe to assume that because AMD could potentially have the better product (power consumption, delivered performance in real products, bill of materials cost, etc., are all factors outside of the benchmarks that go into this) that it will automatically win designs. However, if what AMD has on its hands is legitimate, and if it can offer these parts at competitive prices to the OEMs, then AMD has a shot at winning back share in this space during the back half of the year.

Foolish bottom line
AMD's decision to slim down and focus on a narrower set of products is looking like the right one. While AMD's recovery is not a "slam dunk, home run," the competitive picture -- if the early Beema/Mullins numbers turn out to be legitimate -- is starting to turn up for the company. Keep a close eye on design wins in the PC and Windows tablet space, as these are ultimately what will drive the company's computing solutions group. 

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  • Report this Comment On April 30, 2014, at 10:31 PM, ta152h wrote:

    "In fact, while the power draw of the CPU core at the higher performance levels is probably higher (can't break the laws of physics), the system is likely managing those frequencies better, ultimately delivering a significantly improved user experience over AMD's prior tablet-oriented efforts"

    This is patently false. In order for it to be true, you'd be making the assumption that the process AMD was using at TSMC was as efficient as physically possible for power use and clock speed. You'd also be making the equally remote assumption that AMD's design was 100% efficient for power use for the clock speed.

    We both know that's not true. Therefore, the statement is absurd, and patently incorrect.

    In fact, AMD uses a different process for Puma, and it's from a different foundry partner. They were pretty clear in saying the leakage for the CPU was 19% less.

    So, it's almost a certainty they are using less power for the same clock speed, as they were not battling the law of physics, but rather were relying on both fabrication process improvements, and design tweaks to make that possible. Both of which are not only common, but often expected.

  • Report this Comment On April 30, 2014, at 10:42 PM, TMFAeassa wrote:

    ta152h

    Are you implying that at 2.2GHz a Puma consumes the same power as a Temash at 1GHz?

    A 19% reduction in leakage (at what frequencies/operating points?) wouldn't get you there. Further, it's hard to imagine that on a similar 28nm process (I realize it's GloFo/Common Platform 28nm v.s. TSMC 28nm, but I wouldn't expect radically different performance levels) and with what appear to be minor micro-architectural tweaks for AMD to get a Puma to run at 2.2GHz and consume the same power as a Jaguar at 1GHz.

  • Report this Comment On April 30, 2014, at 10:44 PM, TMFAeassa wrote:

    ta152h

    Puma+ appears to turbo to 2.2GHz in Mullins. Are you implying that a 2.2GHz Puma+ consumes the same power as a 1GHz Jaguar?

    This seems extremely unrealistic.

  • Report this Comment On April 30, 2014, at 11:23 PM, ta152h wrote:

    Ashraf,

    You've change the argument somewhat.

    No, I am not implying that it uses less power at 2.2 GHz, than at 1 GHz. That's too much.

    I am implying that the CPU could run at higher clock speeds before, without using more power.

    Maybe it's the wording I misunderstood, and we effectively agree. But, it is very possible, almost certain, for example, the processor is using less power at 2 GHz, than it was. And probably uses less power at 2.2 GHz than it did at 2 GHz.

  • Report this Comment On May 01, 2014, at 8:25 AM, raghu78 wrote:

    Ashraf

    "To some extent, AMD still plays in pretty much all of these markets today, but -- particularly in high-end servers -- it is clear that AMD is getting as much mileage as it can out of existing designs before apparently exiting those segments."

    You are back to doing what you do best, which is spreading FUD. AMD is working on a new high end core architecture. AMD will use its resources diligently till they have that core ready. I expect AMD to wait for a 16/14 FINFET process to deliver their next AMD Opteron 2P/4P at the high end. That will give AMD the best opportunity to compete with the Broadwell Xeons. So I put the timeline around late 2015/early 2016.

    Excavator is the last of the Bulldozer family and AMD is hard at work on a new microarchitecture . Jim Keller who designed the K8 Athlon 64 and the Apple Ax SOCs including the Cyclone core is leading the development of AMD's CPU cores. He returned in Aug 2012 from Apple. In an interview last year he stated AMD is going to deliver on a competitive high end core.

    http://www.rage3d.com/articles/hardware/amd_worldcast/

    "AMD are on track to catch up on high performance cores"

    - Jim Keller, Corporate Vice President and Chief Architect of AMD's Microprocessor Cores

    "The best part of interview came in a nice little tidbit about core performance while discussing how much market and application awareness plays a role in core design. Many things are incremental, one of which is legacy performance on new designs. Jim confidently stated AMD are on track to catch up on high performance core, a function of design improvements. We couldn't pin down a timeline for this, but with a time scale of two years core design and one year build and test, it's not going to be immediate. My expectation is 2015."

    AMD must have known from when Bulldozer launched in Sep 2011 that they needed a new design to compete at the high end. It takes 3 - 4 years to bring a new microarchitecture to market.

    So late 2015/early 2016 is a realistic estimate.

    So no matter how much you want AMD to give up its not going to happen. btw Mullins A10 Micro 6700T on a 28nm planar GF process beats Baytrail Z3770 built on a Intel 22nm FINFET process at comparable TDP/SDP (4.5w/2.8w) .

    Mullins crushes Baytrail in GPU performance and outperforms every ARM SOC out there including A7 and S800. It would require a A8 or Tegra K1 to match Mullins. This is what you call class leading performance.

    http://hothardware.com/Reviews/AMD-Beema-and-Mullins-Mainstr...

    http://www.techspot.com/article/810-amd-beema-and-mullins-pr...

    http://techreport.com/review/26377/a-first-look-at-amd-mulli...

    btw this is a 4.5W TDP constrained Mullins on AAA PC titles. Imagine what the A6-6310 Beema with a CPU speed of 2 Ghz base / 2.4 Ghz turbo and 800 mhz GPU turbo can do to Baytrail-M. Beema will provide 720p gaming on AAA titles at low-medium settings. I would not be surprised if BF4 Mantle at 720p is going to be finally playable.

    What I said would happen did happen. Do not underestimate AMD. The high end is going to see the same competition in 2016 and going forward.

  • Report this Comment On May 01, 2014, at 11:29 AM, H2323 wrote:

    This is about investments and you have missed substantial gains in AMD that are non-existent in the stocks you promote. Unfortunately it's possible that you have guided others to miss out on some gains as well. This is about a turn around, Intels market share is known. That is precisely why AMD is a good investment to look at. Growth Ashraf, you don't get it.

    I would advise you to stop talking about this stock if you are unable to do adequate research, you're harming investors not helping. Plenty of forums to go write in that are not investment related.

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