An article from Intel’s internal employee-only portal called “Circuit News” has been shared on Reddit by user “scv_good_to_go”. The article is titled “AMD competitive profile: Where we go toe-to-toe, why they are resurgent, which chips of ours beat theirs” and talks about the recent history of AMD and how the company has achieved growth recently. Intel also talks about their biggest challenges with AMD’s new products and what Intel’s “secret sauce” is to fight against these products. You can find the full article below…
We are now entering the latest chapter of the tech industry’s single longest-running business rivalry. Intel and AMD have been competing for many of the same chip customers for more than 50 years.
Both firms were launched within just a few miles and a few months of each other in Silicon Valley in July 1968 (Intel) and May 1969 (AMD).
Although over the last five decades Intel has grown to more than 10 times the size of AMD – $70.1 billion versus $6.48 billion in the most recently reported annual revenues – the two companies are now competing fiercely across several market segments.
By most accounts, the competitive threat to Intel from AMD is the greatest it has been in years.
At the same time, CEO Bob Swan reminded employees just last week that “our ambitions are as big as they’ve ever been.” In his June One Take video, Bob said that that our transformation to a “customer obsessed” company will serve us especially well as we “deliver the best partnerships” in the industry to confront a variety competitive threats.
This is the context in which the latest AMD vs Intel struggle is playing out.
Following AMD’s recent product announcements at Computex and the E3 gaming conference, this profile – the latest in a Circuit News series on Intel’s major competitors such as TSMC – examines AMD and the challenges that company is posing to some of our businesses.
Why AMD is now a formidable competitor
AMD is getting bigger. The company’s most recent annual report notes that 2018 marked the firm’s “second straight year of greater than 20% annual revenue growth,” in large part due to its newest Ryzen products for desktop, and EPYC for enterprise, cloud, and datacenter.
As Intel’s major CPU competitor focuses on Intel’s enviable share across several market segments, AMD is attracting increasing interest on Wall Street. It was the best-performing stock on the S&P 500 in 2018, and to date this year the stock price has risen significantly.
What accounts for AMD’s resurgence as a formidable Intel competitor? In part, it may be the company’s strategic re-focus on premium high-performance products for the desktop, datacenter, and server market segments. (Dive deeper on this and related questions in the Q&A below with Intel competitive expert Steve Collins.)
Key AMD competitive threats are from high-end products
At a high level, the experts on Intel’s Performance, Power and Competitive Analysis team say that the competitive threats that AMD poses to Intel can be summarized as follows:
- AMD offers high performance CPUs, posing direct competition to Intel in both our core client and datacenter CPU businesses. With our announced ambitions to bring new discrete graphics to market, we are bringing new competition to both AMD’s and NVIDIA’s graphics businesses.
- AMD has recently been gaining some traction in winning public cloud offerings. And competition from AMD is shaping up to be especially tough in high performance computing. HPC performance is usually driven by the number of cores and the number of memory channels (or memory bandwidth). Intel is challenged on both fronts.
- AMD’s upcoming next-generation Zen-core products, codenamed Rome for servers and Matisse for desktop, will intensify our desktop and especially server competition. The latter is likely to be the most intense in about a decade. At Computex, AMD announced that Matisse, the company’s 3rd Gen Ryzen 3000 series processors, would be available starting July 7. (See “Related links” section below for details on Intel’s Computex news relating to our gaming and client competitiveness.)
- Outside of desktop and servers, Intel’s competitive position in notebooks and business PCs is stronger as customers value specific aspects such as productivity performance, battery life, and overall manageability where Intel has clear advantages versus the competition.
- By leveraging TSMC’s 7nm manufacturing – AMD no longer manufactures its own chips – AMD can drive higher core counts and higher performance than it could previously with Global Foundries as its in-house manufacturer. These 7nm products will amplify the near-term competitive challenge from AMD. At Computex, Intel launched our own 10nm “Ice Lake” products – 10th Gen Intel Core – to strongly positive reviews.
Challenging period ahead
What is Intel’s positioning regarding these multiple competitive threats? Today and into the near future, says Intel’s AMD competitive expert Steve Collins, “we will be facing tough competitive challenges.”
These are a few key points on how Intel’s products compare to AMD’s, points that Intel will be underscoring in the challenging period ahead.
- Intel 9th Gen Core processors are likely to lead AMD’s Ryzen-based products on lightly threaded productivity benchmarks as well as many gaming benchmarks. For multi-threaded workloads, such as heavy content creation workloads, AMD’s Matisse is expected to lead.
- In the longstanding industry debate over benchmarks – whose to use? – Cinebench is often used by AMD, since it favors high core/thread count and represents one of the best-case benchmarks for AMD. Intel believes that Cinebench is not a representative benchmark for general platform evaluations and real life workloads. Intel continues to work with press on using real applications for evaluating performance, to produce pieces such as this one from PCPerspective.
- In general, Intel’s mainstream Xeon server products will be challenged on throughput-oriented benchmarks that scale well with core count. Architecturally, AMD’s Rome product for servers is improved over 1st generation EPYC, but Xeon is still expected to have cache and memory latency advantages. For this reason, Intel still expects Xeon to be competitive on applications that require fast response times and are sensitive to memory latencies like database, analytics, web serving, and so on.
Intel’s secret sauce
Intel’s secret sauce is not a single ingredient. Rather, it is the six pillars of innovation – process, architecture, memory, interconnect, security, and software – that the company laid out at last year’s Intel Architecture Day. Intel is uniquely positioned, given our assets, to to deliver leadership products leveraging these six pillars.
Our competitive experts believe that Intel’s ambition to achieve long-term leadership will hinge on successful execution to these six pillars.
Software, one of the six pillars, has long been an unheralded Intel advantage. A key piece of our company’s competitive strategy is to highlight our software smarts vis-à-vis AMD. Intel-designed software or software code contributions – which can touch everything from the Linux kernel to Adobe Lightroom – can capitalize on unique features in Intel architecture.
These often under-the-hood software assets differentiate Intel from AMD and can deliver a better experience to end users and customers. One metric of Intel’s software strength: Our company’s 15,000 software developers. That number is more than all of AMD’s employees.
A final but essential point that Intel’s competitive team underscores is that Intel versus AMD is not just a chip-to-chip matchup. Intel’s unique strengths lie in the unequalled breadth of our overall portfolio across business, mobile, desktop, gaming-as well as platform advantages including Optane memory, WiFi, Thunderbolt, Turbo Boost 2.0, and other technologies.
A high-profile example of Intel’s focus on platforms is Project Athena, a multi-year innovation program that aims to deliver a new class of advanced laptops. Another key Intel advantage is all the built-in acceleration for emerging workloads such as networking and AI. Features like Intel Deep Learning Boost, along with all the software and framework optimizations, create clear differentiation versus AMD.
Steve Collins Q&A: Why AMD is resurgent, and what we must do next
To provide additional color and context on the Intel-AMD competitive environment, we talked recently with Steven Collins. He is the Director of the Data-centric Competitive Assessment group on our company’s Performance, Power and Competitive Analysis team.
Q. Why does it matter that AMD is going to TSMC for manufacturing?
- It means that they have the flexibility to use whatever process technology they want, whatever process is best for their products. TSMC offers an advantage in terms of process node advancements. [See the Circuit News competitive profile on TSMC.] They’re using their 7 nm process, and with that they get a per-core frequency bump and lower power, which means they can scale to more cores per processor.
- On top of that, AMD made improvements in their 2nd generation Zen core and their disaggregated chiplet-based architecture scales cores efficiently. Therefore, on workloads that are heavily threaded, including heavy content creation and most server workloads, they’ll get great performance results. And on price, we expect their pricing to be significantly below ours. So they’ll likely get good performance-per-dollar. That’s what they’re going to compete on, and that’s the risk to Intel.
Q. So that raises the obvious point: How do we respond when people say “Wow, AMD is charging a lot less for their products than Intel.”
- It’s not well understood that Intel actually offers the market a larger selection of product pricing. While the press often likes to focus on Intel’s top price points being higher than AMD’s top price, few people recognize that Intel also offers lower entry pricing than AMD. So Intel offers more price point choices to our customers.
- Additionally, I would say users don’t buy a chip. They buy a system. They buy a whole solution that includes software enabling, vendor enabling, validation, technical support, manageability, out-of-box experience, supplier sustained consistency, and more. So, yes, while an OEM or ODM might buy a chip, the end user doesn’t generally buy only a chip. We believe that our product pricing vis-à-vis AMD reflects the great deal of added value that specifically comes from buying Intel with our decades of unmatched investments in validation, software, and security.
- Especially for enterprise customers, acquisition cost is just one part of the total cost of ownership. Customers using an alternative solution may need additional validation, optimization, debugging, and certifications – all normal cost adders when introducing a new solution in an IT environment. Additionally, some software is licensed per core and therefore more cores from the AMD solution results in higher licensing costs.
- Performance challenges absolutely exist, but we will continue to position our value and our advantages. Some innovations we bring to the table that deliver customer value may not always result in higher performance benchmark scores, or the value of the innovation goes beyond standard benchmark results. We price to what our customers value.
- Intel is a premium brand. At times, and on some workloads, we might dip below on performance, like the second half of this year. At other times, and on other workloads, we are 3x or more the performance. Our pricing will continue to reflect the value we deliver to our customers.
Q. What accounts for AMD’s competitive resurgence? Did TSMC turn AMD into our biggest competitor, or is it AMD’s focus on higher-end desktop and server parts?
- From 2006 to 2017, AMD had positive net income only three of the twelve years. I’m not sure we can point to a single thing that turned AMD around. But I do think it’s was absolutely rooted in the strategic changes AMD initiated in 2015/2016 that narrowed and simplified their focus. AMD shifted to focus on higher margin or premium segments, specifically high-end client, datacenter, graphics for gaming. And they continued their investment in their semi-custom and console business.
- Rather than going after lower-margin, low-end products, they refocused on how to win higher-margin business. AMD added much-needed clarity since they were previously distracted by markets that didn’t align with their strengths. They simplified their investments and roadmap and started leveraging best-in-class foundries. Most importantly, they executed to that strategy. Having a clear focus and direction helps enable great execution.
- I also believe AMD’s comeback was a result of being very product-centric. A top priority for AMD was building great products – high-performance compute and graphics solutions – from definition to development to delivery.
Q. How do you think we should be looking overall at the Intel-AMD competitive picture right now?
- Well, first, it’s clearly a challenging time. We have significant competitive challenges to navigate. That said, I think we have a great strategy and a great roadmap.
- While it has been a number of years since we’ve faced a similar competitive environment (in the early 2000s with 1 GHz barrier, integrated memory controller, 64-bit, and so on) Intel has risen to every situation and almost always emerged better and stronger.
- Our focus needs to be on getting our execution in shape as soon as possible. We’re in a competitive time partly because of our execution issues, whether that’s related to our process technology node, or to our products that intercept those nodes. So I think that execution to our roadmap and strategy will help tremendously.
- Beyond product execution, we need to lean on our software expertise and strength and amplify our software differentiation – now more than ever.
- Finally, in competitive times, overall marketing, ensuring our customers understand our differentiated value proposition, along with customer obsession, are critical. Now more than ever, we need to lean into our sales and marketing teams to help carry us through these product challenges.
Q. And your last point touches on our cultural transformation, too.
- Yes. AMD’s next gen 7nm-based products amplify our competitive challenges. While it has been a number of years since we’ve faced similar competition, Intel has risen to every situation and almost always emerged better and stronger. Are we acting as One Intel or are we stepping on each other’s toes? Are we facing our challenges with truth and transparency?
- Are we listening to our customers and designing the right things in the first place? I think it all goes back to these things. As we succeed at these cultural transformations, I believe our overall competitiveness will improve too.
- I’d encourage all employees to browse the Intel resources at the bottom of this story, especially competition.intel.com. This is where, for example, we will publish data on AMD’s upcoming Zen 2-based systems.
- Finally, I would say that even in the face of strong competitive challenges, when all 107,000 of us behave as One Intel, as CEO Bob Swan has said, we are unstoppable.
Many Intel employees are commenting on this article in the internal forum, which provides interesting insights into the state of the company and how people truly feel. Find some of them below.
The “secret sauce” section of this article (personally) makes me cringe. There isn’t one piece of evidence that makes me hopeful for Intel in the short term when it comes to competing vs. AMD – no numerics at all, except for how big our former SSG [editor: Software and Services Group] is. Having more SW engineers than AMD? Not convincing. Technology portfolio? Not convincing, esp. given that AMD has much more Graphics/Gaming technology expertise AI/DL expertise? It’s pretty clear that we are following in this regard as well. AMD is on fire, esp. given it’s size. They continually squeak out new products with less people, and have leap-frogged our HW several times in the past. They have a competitive product with FAR more cores/threads — which is a huge marketing ploy, and has been what our customers have been asking for. There’s no excuse for why we didn’t do the same, and now we’re in a race to catch up at a time where we are hemorrhaging talent, while also feeling the consequences of the past 5-8 years of mgmt decisions in the way we manage our CPU teams, and the priorities of that mgmt.
Steve, thanks for the insightful Q&A. There is a lot of trade news showing Ryzen mobile and desktop CPU skews [editor: SKUs] are better for power efficiency and graphics rendering. Power use is also a consideration for large Cloud customers, and Intel has lost some server/high compute designs to AMD. Given this competition, how is Intel responding? Will silicon design take a schedule hit to redesign fresh cells that use a common low voltage? Also, each generation the complexity and number of CPU voltage inputs increases, which really makes server designs challenging for our customers to be successful. Is there a plan to address this?
Troy, responding to Dave
Thanks for the comments Dave. I’m on P2CA [editor: Power & Computing Analysis] team supporting our DCG [editor: Datacenter Group] business. As with other segments, competing for cloud business centers on delivering products to best meet customer needs … a multivariable challenge. Increasingly, our ability to optimize our SKUs for specific workloads is a great way to differentiate and compete. An example is an off roadmap high frequency SKU we’ve developed for Amazon that is optimized for an instance targeting relational databases and EDA workloads. Our Server product roadmap has also undergone some changes recently to make it more competitive in terms of power efficiency to address some of the challenges from AMD. ICX was added back to the roadmap which takes advantage of 10nm and our new Sunny Cove uARCH to improve our Perf/ W, and we continue to push on SPR and GNR to improve our power efficiency through process and design improvements.
Great article overall. “We believe that our product pricing vis-a-vis AMD reflects the great deal of added value that specifically comes from buying Intel with our decades of unmatched investments in validation, software, and security.” I feel like we are going to have a hard time selling product validation and security vs AMD considering the number of vulnerabilities we’ve had exposed in recent
years. We’ve become a running joke in a lot of enthusiast communities and there have been a lot of complaints about the amount of performance systems have lost in the patches.
Brian, responding to Ben
I’m on P2CA team supporting our DCG business. I can’t speak knowledgeably about our perception in the client enthusiast world. In the data center we’re perceived positively as taking security seriously. Second Generation Xeon Scalable processors include hardware fixes for existing side-channel vulnerabilities. And based on my experience working on the L1TF response, we have a world class team in IPAS [editor: Intel Product Assurance and Security] that proactively works with customers ahead of citing disclosures to ensure they understand the situation and have a viable mitigation strategy.
Thank you for the insight. I have been following microchip industry for years before joining Intel as a engineering student and tech enthusiast. Ever since Ryzen lauched AMD had the multithreaded advantage, but we had a good single threaded and gaming advantage due to our better IPC and higher frequency. With the new gen of Ryzen it seems that (at least according to AMD benchmark) that have closed that gap and gain more advantage in multi-threaded workloads. AMD product is already more popular in DIY desktop space, but we still had an advantage in gaming. If AMD performance claims are true we are looking bad even from that angle. Tech influencers already recommending AMD processors over ours expect for high end gaming. If we lose this it would be bad for our image.
Andre, responding to Nizar
I agree. Intel is an ongoing meme among Reddit users. Regardless how you feel about an online forum, those are our product users. Many of them aren’t willing to pay our premium with the current state of the market especially with Zen 2 coming. Will be interesting to see if that effects pricing in the near future.
Eric, responding to Andre
Yes, I’ve been reading posts on /r/buildapc on Reddit (particularly since I just built a new desktop PC recently), and it seems a lot of people there are buying and recommending AMD. AMD seems to be viewed as having a much better cost/performance ratio right