A well-known storyline in the PC processor market is that Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), the dominant player in what Advanced Micro Devices' (NASDAQ:AMD) former CEO once described as an "unhealthy duopoly," has been taking market segment share away from AMD for some time. According to Citigroup's Chris Danely (via Barron's), Intel continues to do so at the expense of its smaller rival.
The story so far
At the high end of the PC market, Intel's PC chips have done extremely well against AMD's offerings. However, AMD had for some time successfully deployed relatively quick, purpose-built, low-cost processors for the lower end of the market. These went up against the old Atom processors, but those Atom chips offered awful performance while AMD's comparable offerings were quite good. It's no surprise AMD did well.
In fact, AMD did so well that Intel executive, Kirk Skaugen, admitted at an investor conference last year that the company's share in the value portion of the PC market had dropped below 50%. At the time, Skaugen also expressed confidence that the company would win back share with the Bay Trail-M and Bay Trail-D processors launched in late 2013, particularly as those processors had more competitive cost structures than what Intel had used previously in that segment.
Given that Intel reported a 14% increase in its low-cost PC processor revenue during 2014, while AMD's PC-related revenues crumbled, it's a safe bet that Intel gained material share -- just as it had aimed to.
More of the same probably coming in 2015
I expect this trend to continue throughout 2015. In the midrange and high end of the PC market, Intel's products are extremely competitive, as has been the case for quite some time. And at the lower end of the market, I expect Intel's products to become even more competitive.
Keep in mind that Intel's Bay Trail-M/D chips, while offering very good power consumption and CPU performance, lacked raw graphics performance relative to the AMD parts. While AMD has not released the full specifications of its just-announced Carrizo-L chip, slated to hit the market in mid-2015, Intel is reportedly launching the 14-nanometer successors to Bay Trail-M/D, known as Braswell, in the third quarter of this year.
I believe these will offer better power efficiency than the AMD models, as Braswell will be a 14-nanometer part while Carrizo-L will remain on 28-nanometers. While it's possible, or even likely, that Carrizo-L will offer better raw graphics performance than the highest-end Braswell chips, I think it will require far more power to get that performance.
For low-cost thin, light, and fanless systems, I imagine Braswell will be a more attractive solution than the Carrizo-L part. As a result, I would not be surprised to see further share loss for AMD in the PC market this year.
2016 is the open question
While the market segment share trends outlined here seem reasonable based on what we know, it's too early to call any trends for 2016. Intel will, of course, compete quite fiercely with Skylake and its 10-nanometer Cannonlake part, but AMD also plans to launch its next-generation X86 architecture known as Zen.
AMD bulls are optimistic that Zen, which is the X86 counterpart to the clean-sheet K12 architecture, will improve AMD's competitiveness considerably on the CPU side of things. This part is also reportedly set to be built on a 14/16-nanometer foundry FinFET processes, which should narrow the very wide process gap that seems to exist between AMD's Carrizo/Carrizo-L (28-nanometer) and Intel's Broadwell/Skylake/Braswell (14-nanometer).