It is well-known that Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) has gained substantial share in the market for processors that power personal computers over the last several years. According to the company at its most recent investor meeting, Intel has gained about 10 points of market share since 2010.
I believe Intel will continue to gain share in this market during 2016 as its product portfolio continues to strengthen relative to that from the competition.
Skylake desktop chips can all now be overclocked
Ever since Intel launched processors based on its Sandy Bridge architecture, PC buyers have needed to purchase special "unlocked" processors in order to be able to "overclock" their processors.
However, Intel's latest processors -- based on its Skylake architecture -- can be overclocked even without an unlocked multiplier. This is due to the fact that the architecture supports modification of what is known as the base clock frequency (a chip's frequency can be thought of as the product of the base clock and the multiplier).
At launch, the only processors that users could modify the base clocks on were the unlocked chips. However, motherboard makers have recently released firmware updates to boards based on Intel's premium Z170 chipset to enable base clock modification even on lower-end, locked Skylake processors.
Thus far, the results that I've seen in the PC hardware community have been encouraging. Tech Spot, for example, was able to get a $130 dual-core Core i3 6100 -- which ships at 3.7GHz out of the box -- to run at 4.7GHz (a whopping 27% increase).
With Intel's lower-cost Skylake processors now gaining the ability to be overclocked, I suspect that gamers on a budget that may have been enticed by Advanced Micro Devices' (NASDAQ:AMD) lower cost unlocked offerings (both the FX processors as well as the A-series APUs) are now more likely to choose Intel's Skylake processors.
Skylake pulls ahead in laptops and all-in-ones
Intel's market share in notebooks, small form factor PCs, and all-in-one desktops was already quite high during the Haswell and Broadwell generations, and I suspect that with Skylake Intel will pull even further ahead.
With Skylake, Intel improved CPU performance (an area where Intel has traditionally held a healthy lead) and has also made substantial improvements to both 3D graphics performance as well as media capabilities.
For example, AMD touted that its Carrizo laptop processors featured dedicated hardware to decode HEVC video streams -- something that Intel's older Haswell/Broadwell chips did not have. However, with Skylake, Intel not only added the ability to decode HEVC video streams but the ability to encode them as well.
Additionally, from a platform perspective, Intel's Skylake pulls further ahead of AMD's latest in a number of key ways. For example, the low-power Skylake chips integrate an image signal processor right onto the CPU die, which should improve the quality of images/videos taken with a camera.
Skylake also integrates a low-power sensor hub into the accompanying "platform controller hub" or "PCH" chip that accompanies the main processor, which I believe will be quite useful for 2-in-1 detachable PCs.
When all is said and done, I believe that Skylake maintains/extends Intel's traditional strengths over AMD processors in notebooks and all-in-one PCs, while integrating additional functionality that further enhances the value proposition of the Intel platforms over the AMD platforms.
What about AMD's Zen?
As my fellow Foolish colleague Tim Green points out, AMD is expected to release its next generation "Zen" architecture, which could help it regain competitive footing against Intel beginning in 2016.
Even if we assume that Zen-based products are competitive (and given AMD's and Intel's respective track records, I don't think this is by any stretch of the imagination a given), the first Zen products -- aimed at high-end desktops -- aren't expected to arrive until the fourth quarter of 2016.
Products based on Zen suitable for the mainstream PC market (i.e., APUs with integrated graphics) won't show up in the market until 2017, according to various leaks.
Perhaps AMD will regain PC share beginning in 2017 once the Zen-based products are out in full force, but it's hard to imagine that Intel won't improve its products during that time frame as well, potentially serving to block AMD's attempts to regain share.