AMD & Intel // Competition and the Future of x86

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A look at the Past

Intel and AMD have had a truly symbiotic relationship over the past 20 years. Intel has always been the larger player, pushing more volume and getting far more revenue. AMD has always been a thorn in the side, constantly innovating and implementing small changes that push the market forward. AMD was the first to market with a 1GHz Processor, pushing the envelope in performance and efficiency. They introduced the first x86 64-bit processors, after Intel failed to push its Itanium line. They further innovated by creating true dual core, true quad core and an on-board memory controller. Intel was pushed to match these innovations, and to push their own architectures forward to maintain its dominance on the market. It has abandoned Itanium, and it uses AMD x86-64 bit extension. It has integrated its memory controllers and it has largely abandoned its previous trend of “gluing” two dies into one package to get more cores into one “cpu”. This game of tag has driven the market forward.

However, despite these innovations, AMD has continued to be the underdog. They have lost the performance race by a fair margin since the launch of Core 2 Duo, and have certainly lost the power efficiency argument with Zembezi. AMD has been  in some serious financial troubles over the past few years, ending with over 5 billion dollars in debt in 2007, forcing them to sell assets such as their manufacturing arm (now Global Foundries).

The State of Current Affairs

For the most part over the past 7 or so years, Intel has been largely dominating the high-efficiency low power and high-end  x86 markets while AMD has been subjugated to releasing a slew of generally high performance per dollar mid ranged parts. Unfortunately this has put a bit of a damper in on actual innovation in terms of actual CPU performance. With the release of Haswell in 2013, we expected a fairly significant bump in performance like we’ve seen from Intel’s “Tick-Tock” strategy in the past (also, here and here), but we saw a comparatively small improvement,  even when compared to the then 2 year old Sandybridge processors. While certainly some of this has to do with the limitations of smaller and smaller manufacturing processes, declining PC sales, a rough economy and other externalities, this author caulks most of it up to the lack of competition. Intel is literally competing with itself year-to-year, and AMD seems to be merely in the background of the x86 market.

Hope

There is hope for renewed competition from AMD, however.  With design wins for all of the major “next- gen” consoles, the launch of some very good APUs in Beema/Mullins in the mobile market and with Kaveri in Desktops and Laptops, things are on the up for AMD. Things like HSA and HUMA have the potential to be real game changers in the industry, and the announcement of  ambidextrous computing and an in house custom ARM processor, codenamed K12,  AMD is bringing some serious engineering to focus on stirring the pot and changing the market as we know it. But that is not all, AMD’s Jim Keller is back and he has the ability to set things on track. In addition to all of the cool innovative stuff AMD is working on, they are also working on developing a brand new 64-bit x86 processor, built from the ground up. Can AMD take back the performance crown it had in the Athlon 64 days & help push the market forward? Only time will tell, but I can assure you, Intel will not take it lying down this time.

Author

Nicholas Fusco

Nick Fusco is a young IT Consultant and "geek"! As a contributing author on GBD, he covers all things tech and writes reviews for a variety of products and services.

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1 Comment

  1. Tyler Murphy June 21, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    This is an extremely insightful article, thank you good sir.

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