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Intel Regains PC Market Share Against AMD AS CPU Capacity Expands

The semiconductor giant’s improved capacity for lower-end CPUs helped it regain share against AMD in PCs, even as AMD continued to grow fast. ‘This is an Indy 500 race, where both cars are going over 200 miles an hour, and one’s going a little faster,’ Mercury Research’s Dean McCarron says.

After ceding market share to AMD in PCs for several quarters, Intel regained some territory in the fourth quarter last year thanks to improving CPU capacity, even as its x86 rival continued to grow.

Intel’s market share growth was largely due to the chipmaker increasing manufacturing capacity for lower-end processors such as Celeron and Pentium, though growing sales of Core i5 and Core i7 processors also played a role on the desktop side, according to Dean McCarron of Mercury Research, a Prescott, Ariz.-based firm that produces a quarterly x86 CPU market share report based on shipments.

[Related: Intel Is Changing The Way It Forecasts PC Growth To Meet Demand]

This allowed Intel’s share in laptops to grow 1.2 points to 81 percent against AMD while its desktop share grew 0.8 points to 80.7 percent, according to Mercury Research’s report for the fourth quarter of 2020. The result is that Intel grew market share for x86 CPUs overall by 0.7 points, bringing it to 78.3 percent. (The report does include sales from Via, a much smaller chipmaker, but its share in the market rounds to zero in all segments but desktop, McCarron said).

McCarron said Intel’s increased sales of lower-end processors — or “small core” products, as Intel sometimes calls them — corresponds with the chipmaker bringing on new manufacturing capacity in the second half of last year to address CPU shortages in that area. Prior to the expansion, Intel had prioritized higher-end processors, like the Core and Xeon families, which created backlogs in demand for laptops and PCs with lower performance requirements.

However, McCarron said, Intel would have likely been able to sell even more small core products if its manufacturing capacity was even higher.

“If they had more product to sell, they could have sold it,” he said. “I have no doubt that some of that backlog did get worked off.”

Erik Stromquist, president of CTL, a Portland, Ore.-based Intel partner that sells Chromebooks, which relies on small core processors, said he’s noticed an improvement in CPU supply after telling CRN last fall that he didn’t “see any light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Our volume’s high enough where we’re getting what we need, but not too high where we’re getting short,” he said, adding that fellow members on Intel’s Channel Board of Advisors have been pretty quiet about supply issues recently.

However, Stromquist said, he’s hearing new concern from his ODM partners.

“The calls I got the last couple nights gave me a cause for concern, but we’re digging into it and seeing where we stand,” he said. “But so far, Intel’s done a good job.”

This surge in lower-end products translated into a 15 percent year-over-year decrease in Intel’s average selling price for laptop processors, which grew 30 percent in revenue for the fourth quarter, according to the company’s latest earnings results. Desktop processors, on the other hand, saw a 1 percent increase in average selling price while revenue was down 6 percent.

Kent Tibbils, vice president of marketing at ASI, a Fremont, Calif.-based Intel distributor that also sells AMD products, said while Intel has seen a shift to greater sales of lower-end products, his company has seen the opposite, with the distributor’s wide base of channel partners selling higher-end processors and systems, both for desktops and laptops.

Whereas Intel’s Core i5 was ASI’s best-selling Intel desktop product in 2019, it was the Core i7 that topped sales in 2020, he said. For laptops, he also noted a shift to more gaming and premium designs. Both trends were related to many people continuing to work from home while also seeking better entertainment options as a result of the pandemic, according to Tibbils.

“They’re working from home, they’re doing play from home, they’re doing all kinds of things, so they need more capability out of those systems in their house,” he said.

But the latest market share numbers didn’t necessarily mean bad news for AMD. While Intel stunted AMD’s share growth story in PCs, the chipmaker ended 2020 with a 6.2-point increase in overall x86 market share against Intel over the previous year, bringing its share to 21.7 percent.

AMD did see sequential market growth in one area, netting an additional 0.5 points in servers, bringing its share to 7.1 percent in that market, thanks to the new EPYC Milan processors and previous-generation EPYC Rome processors, according to McCarron. (AMD claimed that it reached double-digit server market share last year, but the claim is based on a smaller market calculated by IDC that only includes traditional single-socket and dual-socket servers and not servers for network and storage.)

While AMD lost some market share to Intel in PCs sequentially, the company still saw a lot of growth in desktops and laptops, according to McCarron, just not as much as Intel.

“This is an Indy 500 race, where both cars are going over 200 miles an hour, and one’s going a little faster,” he said.

Case in point: McCarron called Ryzen 5000 desktop processors, which came out last fall, the company’s biggest launch in the category and said they out-shipped the previous-generation Ryzen 3000 CPUs by more than two times, resulting in close to a million units shipped in the fourth quarter.

“The Ryzen 5000 ramp was absolutely breathtaking,” he said. “It’s not only a record ramp. It’s unprecedented in AMD’s history.”

Wallace Santos, CEO of Maingear, a Kenilsworth, N.J.-based PC builder for the enthusiast market, said while he saw record sales for Intel-based systems in 2020 — driven in part by the company’s new Intel-based gaming laptop — AMD’s share of sales continued to grow in the fourth quarter, which is the result of his company’s focus on premium computers.

“We sell a lot of high-end systems, and towards the end of the year, AMD had a really compelling solution, so that’s why you saw that shift,” he said.

In contrast to Intel, AMD saw its desktop and laptop CPU revenues in the fourth quarter increase both sequentially and year-over-year, according to its latest earnings. However, while strong Ryzen desktop processor sales drove the average selling price for processors higher sequentially, laptop processor sales dragged it down in comparison to the same period in 2019.

McCarron said AMD saw growth in lower-end processors like Intel, which was the result of the chipmaker increasing capacity in that area. The processors driving growth in the low end were AMD’s A4 and A6 CPUs, code-named Stoney Ridge, and its Athlon CPU, code-named Dali, which grew in shipments by more than 25 percent.

However, AMD CEO Lisa Su recently admitted that the company did see some supply constraints, primarily for entry-level processors, which prevented AMD from growing faster than it already did in what was a record-setting fourth quarter. In AMD’s most recent earnings call, Su said she expected the shortage to continue through the first half of 2021 as manufacturing partners build more capacity.

“It’s fair to say that the overall demand exceeded our planning, and as a result, we did have some supply constraints as we ended the year,” she said.

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