AMD and Intel Duke It Out for Back-to-School

At the high end of the PC market, Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) has had a performance, power, and market-share lead over smaller competitor Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ: AMD  ) for years. However, in the low end of the market, Intel's competitive positioning hasn't been as good, with AMD offering products superior to Intel's in many key ways. With its latest Bay Trail architecture, Intel has been aggressive in trying to win back lost share at the low end of the PC market and has leveraged its learning from mobile to do so at a good cost structure. 

With both AMD and Intel refreshing their respective product lines ahead of the all-important back-to-school season, investors should keep a close tab on the upcoming battle for design wins and customer dollars. 

AMD is much more competitive here -- Intel can't afford to rest
AMD is quite competitive in the low end of the PC market with its "Cat" core based products (the latest core is known as Puma and the latest PC SoC implementation is known as Beema). Indeed, AMD's had historically offered much better CPU and GPU performance than the prior-generation Atoms that Intel released into this market, and a more elegant solution relative to the disabled, relatively expensive-to-build Core-based Celeron and Pentium products.

That said, while Intel has more than fixed its cost structure problem at the low end by bringing to bear its newly designed Atom architecture (and, as the recent quarterly numbers show, it is fixing its low-end market share problem), it can't afford to rest. The initial crop of Bay Trail-M processors had to compete with AMD's Kabini last year, but this year AMD has stepped it up with Beema. 

AMD's Beema significantly improves on Kabini; Bay Trail-M improves, too
AMD's Beema for notebooks improves upon its predecessor pretty nicely. The top bin model (the A6-6310) clocks the CPU in at 2.4GHz, up a cool 20% from the Kabini equivalent. Graphics clock speeds are also up nicely from 600 MHz to 800 MHz in that top SKU. These improvements trickle down across the lineup, but for the purposes of this discussion, comparing the best from each camp is enough. Oh, and for good measure, AMD rates the Thermal Design Power of that part at 15 watts.

Intel's Bay Trail-M gets a bump, too. The highest-end Silvermont-based (that's the low-power Atom core) Pentium N3540 gets a top CPU clock speed bboost from 2.4GHz to 2.66 GHz, and a graphics frequency increase from 854 MHz to 896 MHz. The boost isn't anywhere near as dramatic as the improvement that AMD did for its top-end SKU, but it's important to note that Intel lists the Max TDP of this part at 7.5 watts, which means that, in theory, the Intel part should require less aggressive cooling solutions. 

Watch the revenue numbers for back-to-school
These launches are both timed to make it into systems for the back-to-school selling season, meaning that these systems will be on the shelves in the July/August timeframe. It will be interesting to keep an eye on what designs Intel and AMD both win for this important selling season, but sell-through of those designs is ultimately what matters. The tale will be written over the next several quarters, and once those numbers are in, we'll have a pretty good sense of how the market share dynamic played out at the low end of the PC market for both companies and what next year could look like, as both Intel and AMD advance their designs to 14-nanometer and 20-nanometer manufacturing technologies, respectively. 

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On May 27, 2014, at 12:32 AM, ta152h wrote:

    You seem to be talking purely mobile. That's fine, but it's not the entire market.

    Bay Trail really didn't compete with Jaguar last year on the desktop, since AMD in their stupidity didn't make any effort there. It took me months to even find a motherboard and processor for Jaguar, and it was a piece of junk by ECS.

    Now if you look for the AM1 platform motherboards, there are many, from MSI, to ASRock, to Asus, to Gigabyte.

    This, and the fact that Jaguar is a much better design, and performs better in desktop platforms, makes me believe they should have no trouble with the failed Bay Trail design.

    And that's the problem for Intel, they are using a failed design. It's the same problem AMD has had with Bulldozer/Piledriver/Steamroller. Both can try to slap lipstick on their pigs, but it's just not working, and won't.

    Bay Trail is a non-competitive part in anything above tablets. AMD's 2.05 GHz Jaguar destroyed the significantly higher clocked J1900 in benchmarks. The new Puma will have an easy time with anything Intel can come up with based on Bay Trail. Of course, we're talking above tablet wattages. The A6-6310 will a offer significantly better experience in laptops, or desktops, while still be rated 10 watts less than the lower clocked Jaguar was.

    But, Bay Trail isn't the problem for AMD. Intel is killing their Celeron and Pentium brand by putting inferior Bay Trail parts in them, but the Haswell based Celerons are very competent chips. It's not clear to me AMD delivers a better experience with even the A6-6310, compared to say a Pentium 3556U. If they're even close to the same cost, I have to go with the Pentium. Or even the Celeron 2980u.

    But, the public isn't that savvy, and often think four slower cores are better than two faster ones, so maybe that will carry the day. Also, pricing might favor AMD, and I would rather have a A6-6310 over a Pentium if I get a significantly better screen, for example, and they cost the same.

    I expect AMD to do better, overall. They have improved their products far more significantly, are now marketing their successful designs more aggressive, instead of the miserable Kaveri, and already have much greater support from OEMs than they did with Jaguar last year. Even so, I'm not expecting more than a 2% swing, as I don't see Kaveri gaining anything, and very possibly losing even more.

  • Report this Comment On May 27, 2014, at 8:59 AM, romeras wrote:

    Intel’s ‘Paradise Lost’

    Very important article by VR Zone

    As I wrote in April, this big bet on contra revenue and China has its inherent dangers. Manufacturers could simply use Intel’s deeply discounted chips to launch their mobile business, then switch to a competitor like Qualcomm, MediaTek, or Allwinner once their mobile business gets going.

    It looks like this has happened with Asus and the Zenfone. Earlier this month reports came out that Asus was mulling a switch away from Intel for the 4G LTE version of the Zenfone, and a leak from an Asus meeting that came via our sister site VR-Zone Chinese confirmed this and more.

    Full article here:

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Ashraf Eassa

Ashraf Eassa is a technology specialist with The Motley Fool. He writes mostly about technology stocks, but is especially interested in anything related to chips -- the semiconductor kind, that is. Follow him on Twitter:

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