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amd processorsBack in late 1999, I built my first computer. It used an AMD Athlon processor clocked at 500 MHz which was quick enough to play most games at the time, and also a better value than what Intel offered. I also liked supporting the underdog.

During the early years of Athlon, it seemed as if AMD has a legitimate chance against Intel. Yet, as the years moved forward, the momentum disappeared. Now it appears to be time to start foretelling the fall of AMD – and here’s why.

The Processors Are Slow

amd processors

AMD’s downfall began with Phenom. Released in 2007, this microarchitecture was supposed to bring AMD back into the race with Intel, who was starting to win with its Core 2 products. Yet Phenom ended up being a bit of a disappointment, as it was unable to defeat Intel’s best. The architecture was salvaged somewhat by low pricing, but the performance difference only increased in Intel’s favor over time.

Bulldozer, the new architecture, was hoped to be more competitive. Instead, it proved not only be slower than Intel’s Core processors in most benchmarks, but sometimes slower than previous Phenom II processors as well. In other words, it is a failure.

That’s a massive blow. A new architecture takes years to develop. The company was banking on Bulldozer, and now that it has proved uncompetitive, they have no way to quickly follow up.

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The Processors Are Power-Hungry

amd processor vs intel

While AMD processors lack performance, there is one thing they excel at – using power. Phenom was less power efficient than Intel’s processors from day one, and the situation has only become worse over time.

The new Bulldozer-based FX-8150, for example, uses slightly less power at idle (about 10-15 watts in most reviews. However, at load, the processor uses about 65 watts more than an Intel Core i7-2600K, which is over 40% more.

Because of this, AMD processor-based systems actually lose much of their value equation over time, as they cost slightly more to run. But the bigger problem for AMD is that this high power draw requires larger power supplies and larger heat sinks What Is Thermal Design Power? [Technology Explained] What Is Thermal Design Power? [Technology Explained] Acronyms are not uncommon in the world of computer hardware. Most people know what a CPU is but others are more obscure. One example is TDP, which stands for Thermal Design Power. This specification is... Read More . Among OEM manufacturers like Dell and HP, this means an increase in total system cost. It also means high-end AMD processors are unsuitable for small systems.

Discrete Graphics Doesn’t Make Money

amd processor vs intel

Though the company is slipping in the processor space, it is still a strong competitor in the market for discrete graphics cards. AMD and Nvidia are neck-and-neck right now, and there have been several times in recent history that saw AMD’s products offer superior value.

Yet in the second quarter of 2011, though AMD managed a profit, the company specifically stated that the GPU division had lost $7 million. But what is perhaps more shocking is that in the second quarter of 2010, when the GPU division was making money, it only made $33 million. That’s peanuts.

The outlook is grim. Discrete graphics The 5 Best New Desktop Video Cards The 5 Best New Desktop Video Cards If you want to play games on your PC there is no single component that's more important than the video card. Fortunately, video cards are widely available and not difficult to install. The most difficult... Read More shipments are expected to decrease while integrated graphics become more capable. AMD does have an edge in integrated graphics, but it has no good processors to pair with.

Lack Of Advanced Fab Technology

amd processors

AMD is a fabless company. In 2009, AMD spun its fabs off into a separate company called Global Foundries in order to decrease overhead.

It is not uncommon for a chip company to be fabless. Both Nvidia and ARM are popular examples. But neither of these companies are direct competitors to Intel, which owns fabs and aggressively pursues new production technology.

As a result, Intel has an edge because it can introduce processors based on a new fabrication technology sooner than AMD processors, which is part of the reason why Intel so often has an edge in performance-per-watt.

Intel also has much tighter control over its production. It’s easier to ramp up production to meet demand when you own the facilities. Production constraints are plaguing Bulldozer, which has been out of stock frequently . That’s not a good thing – it means AMD could be selling more, but can’t because there aren’t enough available.

The Company Is Changing Direction

There’s been a few times in AMD’s life where the company was massively profitable. This seems to be taking a toll on the company. Earlier in 2011, the company’s board of directors forced CEO Dirk Meyer to step down. His replacement, Rory Read, wasted no time – he recently cut 1,400 employees from AMD, which translates to 12% of the company’s entire workforce.

Layoffs have hit the company before, but what’s interesting about this one is that almost all of AMD’s marketing staff was axed. This suggests that the company no longer is interested in marketing itself to consumers or enticing enthusiasts. In addition, AMD’s new CEO has stated that he sees the company’s focus to be in “low power, cloud, [and] emerging markets” rather than the desktop or even server realm.

I see this as an admission of defeat. The new CEO does not believe the company can compete with Intel, so the new plan may be to not compete at all. As the saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures, and changing AMD’s focus from the market it’s competed in for over a decade is desperate indeed.

Conclusion: Being The Underdog Sucks

Writing this does not make me happy. I like AMD and its processors as a matter of principle. There was a time during which AMD was competitive with Intel, but that was squashed by the use of business practices that were found illegal by both the European Union and South Korea (Intel settled in the United States).

None of this changes the fact that AMD is in a terrible position. It can’t compete with Intel, and it can’t rely on discrete graphics for profits. In this sense, a sudden change in focus is logical – but it’s a difficult task, and I doubt the company will survive as an independent entity.

Image Credit: The Tech Report

  1. PABHI
    October 4, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    Fast forward to 2016. Sadly Discrete Graphics shipment did not decrease, instead there was an increase with the introduction of 4k gaming. Lot has changed since then AMD is introducing lot of things Discrete Graphics, Desktop CPUs. Sure integrated graphics was a thing sometime back, but once we got a taste for 4k and VR we are never going back to those medium settings and low resolutions.

  2. JOS
    January 9, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    Intel guys always talking, my knowledge is as a pc system builder by 11 years. I switch to AMDs for better performance than intel processor. Better multitasking performance, better graphics capacity. AMDs developers think outside the box.

    They created 64 bit computing, all cores in a single die cast, cpu + gpu chips, ARM + Amd CPU + RGPUs, all the gaming consoles are AMD ships, Nintendo, Playstation and Xbox One, better prices, my A8 toshiba laptop boot from bios to windows 8 in 21 seconds with a platinum hardisk, less models to choose by performance vs the Intel (psycho offers of more than 10 different processors that performs like the same), Amd offers for clients Mantle software that boost your GPU efficiency (programmers for the first time in the world can do some programming assigning the load to a specific processor).

    My Asus i7 with Nvidia dual graphics boot in 1.42 seconds vs my toshiba Amd 21 seconds, intel graphics run with artifacts more faster useless framerates but the Nvidia runs free of artifacts but slower frame rate. The i7 cost me $1,199.99 the AMD A8 $449.99. Whatever, a normal person can realize that Intel is pushing to many processors in the market without a plan. By the way, why my AMD laptop last 8+ hours and my Intel i7 no more than 3 hours of battery? Intel is a hungry power processor doesn't matter what Cinebench benchmark says. I think Intel is building processors for trick the benchmark but in real performance they are tricking the clients selling their junk.

  3. K Hill
    December 4, 2015 at 11:46 pm

    Your arguments are idiotic.

    You say:

    "The Processors Are Slow"

    I say Intel is doomed because:

    "Their processors are too expensive."

    I'm JUST as correct as you are. So I'm right that Intel is doomed.

  4. Smokey
    April 27, 2012 at 9:54 am

    I recently bought the fx-1820 after something terrible happend with my phenom x4 965 BE,it fell and all pins were flat,broken :(. SO i actually didnt wanted an upgrade since my 965 was still kicking ass and eating every game or app i throw at it with no problem.But i decided to go with new tech instead of getting another 965.So i took the fx 1820 and man was i dissapointed at first...My games were running slower then before,had an awefull lag and it just felt like i did a downgrade instead of an upgrade..after googling my bulldozers perf,alot of people said it will start to shine when you oc it to 4.0 or above.So i did,and now im at 4.0 stable and my system is finally fast again,faster then my 965,much better scores in 3dmark and my fps in games is now smooth again.IMO the fx 8120 stock speed is too low,it can handle MUCH more then the 3.1 ghz stock.If you own an fx espec the 8120,get a nice cooler for your cpu and oc it as high as you can,and you will see what this cpu is capable of.

  5. AMD FX
    February 5, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    my amd fx with ssd people say it is fast and not slow :) xox

  6. AMD FX
    February 5, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    I have amd FX 8-core my friend a I7 ,  he like to play battlefield on my pc he see no difrrent he say is totally the same :)

    amd is not bad and cheap :) ubuntu linux  is not bad samsung phones tablet are not bad etc xox

  7. Mykalcook
    January 31, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    Phenom started in 2005. I have a Phenom x4 9950 BE and on the chip it says 2005.

  8. Mike
    January 20, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    For your first reason, i would like to say one thing. it's an utter fail. The cell processor was in a similar state when the Ps3 was first released...it was completely different from most CPUs at the time. Look at what we're doing with the cell now. Amazing things. Even though the Cell looked like a flop at the time. Same with bulldozer. It may look like a flop, but AMD took a different route. now it's time for software to take advantage of the new architecture. Admit it. No OS is designed for bulldozer - just like most games at the time for Ps3 weren't designed for Ps3...and they did poorly compared to Xbox and PC.   

    • Mike
      January 20, 2012 at 10:21 pm

       btw, i wasn't saying in the 2nd sentence that Bulldozer is a fail.

    • M.S. Smith
      January 21, 2012 at 1:59 am

      Please explain why Bulldozer is such an advanced processor. I'm going to be really disappointed if it boils down to "well, it can have 8 cores."

      • Mike
        January 21, 2012 at 3:59 am

         I never said it was advanced, but come on. It hasn't been out that long. it's a new CPU. Give it a chance. It may be a fail, but dont be so quick to judge based on current benchmarks. Give it some time. If it doesn't do any better in the next few months, then i will admit i was wrong about it.

  9. TerminusEst
    December 8, 2011 at 4:23 am

    Hey Smith, why don't you go over Phoronix and see the benchmarks of Bulldozer running Linux? Linux right now has much better support for the unique architecture of Bulldozer, and it shows its power clearly there. I'm eager to get one...

    • M.S. Smith
      December 8, 2011 at 3:27 pm

      Because Linux is largely irrelevant.

      • D. Baker
        December 9, 2011 at 6:41 am

        I find it very interesting that for the most part all of the comments disagree with the article. The fact that Mr. Smith has degenerated from using supporting evidence to flat refusal without anything to back it up such as the above comment or turning smartass with the reply to Ari has guaranteed that I will actively avoid any other articles he has authored. Don't bother repling because I won't see it.

        • M.S. Smith
          December 9, 2011 at 10:45 am

          That's not a smartass remark. Linux -is- largely irrelevant, particularly when it comes to computer hardware sales. Bulldozer could be AWESOME on Linux, and what would it mean for AMD's viability? Nothing.

          I did find and read the Phoronix article, btw, though Terminus didn't do me the courtesy of linking to it. Its conclusion was that Bulldozer's top-end 8-core processor does well in some heavily multi-threaded applications, but its per-clock performance is "disappointing."
          They also commented that the price point is terrible:

          "Besides the poor performance with single-thread tasks, another disadvantage of the FX-8150 is the price. The launch price of the FX-8150 retail (without water cooling) is $279 USD. This is roughly $60 USD more than the Intel Core i5 2500K "Sandy Bridge", which frequently was faster under Ubuntu Linux."

          Which are the same conclusions as most Windows reviews. How was this supposed to change my mind?

        • SirRoman
          December 10, 2011 at 6:40 am

          The smartass remark isn't the reply to TerminusEst...

          ...

          If I can suggest something for you, take your time before commenting/posting some thing.

          Oh! Also, confirm your references and hypertext when writing an article.

          Good luck for you with your writing. Best of wishes.

        • M.S. Smith
          December 12, 2011 at 12:39 pm

          I have no idea what you're referring to when you say "confirm your references and hypertext." 

          If I can suggest something for you, it's to be more specific. 

        • SirRoman
          December 13, 2011 at 8:24 am

          Read my first post here. It's there.

  10. When I'm 64 (bit)
    December 7, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    Does Intel do 64-bit? Apologies if this sounds n00bish but I have an HP laptop with an AMD processor that runs 64-bit Windows. 32-bit obviously doesn't handle anything over ~4G of RAM. My only experience of Intel has been with 32-bit, their "IA64" products being reserved for high-end gamers and/or business/corporate consumers. But then, this was back in 2004 when I first bought a laptop for college, and 32-bit XP was "it" for the general market. I would hope things have changed since then. :)

    • SirRoman
      December 8, 2011 at 6:43 am

      Yes. For quite some time now Intel supports "AMD64" ISA which is what you are looking for.

      IA64 is Itanium AFAIK. That's dead. =P

  11. Ari
    December 7, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Nothing can beat AMD in Price Vs Performance

    • M.S. Smith
      December 7, 2011 at 3:42 pm

      Hi, 2008. This is 2011 calling. We'd like you to join us.

  12. Anonymous
    December 6, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    I just want their APUs

  13. RayInLV
    December 6, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    I really don't know if "most" people need an 8 processor system.   I am running dual core at 2.6ghz (several generations old) and it is fast.  

    With windows 7 offloading video rendering to the GPU, I have a relatively inexpensive Radeon HD5770.    I can play a 1080p video on my TV through HDMI with only 7% CPU leaving plenty of power to edit Videos and even play online poker at the same time..

    Yet I do understand that in a few years all this might not be sufficient to browse the internet... (have to laugh at that one)

  14. Robin Ashe
    December 6, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    This is where VIA went around 2000, they're still around now, but they're much less relevant.

    The thing that's going to potentially kill AMD is ARM. It used to be Intel vs AMD, and AMD could be the alternate value proposition after VIA, Centaur and Cyrix bowed out. Now there's Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, nVidia, Samsung, and more. nVidia's always been strong and have a good lead in the tablet space. Samsung's going to be ridiculously hard to compete with. Qualcomm's firmly entrenched in mobile technology. I'm not sure off hand what TI's inherent advantage is, but they're doing more than well right now. That's to say nothing of Rockchip and the like who are targetting the ultra-value market segment, and ARMv8 being introduced to cover servers.

    Hell, even Intel needs to worry, and could be forced to lower prices to compete. If Intel's threatened, that's really not good for AMD.

    Of course AMD does have the option of going ARM as well. They might be latecomers, but they know how to make chips, and they can leverage the Radeon side of their business the way nVidia leverages GeForce for Tegra.

    • M.S. Smith
      December 9, 2011 at 10:39 am

      Was VIA ever as large a company as AMD, though? 

      Anyway, yea, ARM is the big potential upset in this field. Thing is, AMD hasn't actually shown any skill in making ARM processors yet. I have a hard time believing that going ARM will be magic dust for them until they actually make a great processor. Then I will change my tune.

  15. Smayonak
    December 6, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Great article Matt.

    I've heard that the biggest Bulldozer shortcoming is its dependency on programs being written to take advantage of its unique multi-APU architecture. According to the internets, currently, Windows 7 doesn't effectively utilize BD's design which may have impacted the benchmarks. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing whether or not BD is ever going to get full support from developers.

    I think a lot of people buying Bulldozer only know that they're getting a gaming platform for cheap and could care less about raw performance or power consumption. Right now a $500 core i5 rig does about the same thing that a $350-400 system with Bulldozer does.

    It doesn't help Intel that they seem obsessed with sticking it to consumers - with schemes such as charging for firmware upgrades; offering gimped spec CPUs with the potential for buying upgrades. Poorly designed heatsink-fan combos with inferior quality thermal compound. 

    • M.S. Smith
      December 6, 2011 at 10:19 am

      Thanks!

      We do have a way of knowing if Bulldozer will receive full support. Look at the market share. It's very low, so no, it will never receive much support.

      There are claims that Windows 8 will make Bulldozer faster by 5 to 15% - but the problem is that Bulldozer is so far behind that such an improvement still puts Bulldozer way behind Intel.

      I don't know where you're getting your gaming information. Every benchmark I've seen says that in gaming performance is one of Bulldozer's greatest flaws. (http://www.anandtech.com/show/4955/the-bulldozer-review-amd-fx8150-tested/8) Granted, in 1080p gaming the CPU may not really have much impact on your performance, but that being the case, why would you buy an expensive Bulldozer processor rather than a $120 Core i3?

      I agree that Intel is sticking it to consumers. They seem to have effectively decided that consumers need to buy a new chipset every time they upgrade their processor. But considering Intel's market dominance, they can easily get away with that.

      • Smayonak
        December 6, 2011 at 11:06 am

        What I meant: Bulldozer plays Skyrim (or any modern game). Which is what consumers are looking for. When it comes down to the nitty gritty of things like "FPS" my eyes glaze over and I get drool streaks down my chin. Even so, doesn't BD play most modern games without issue? I don't know, since I'm not a gamer and have only read what gamers have said about APUs (they appear to love Llano at least. BD should be similar).

        It was my impression that APU systems are selling like hotcakes. That's what I've been hearing at least (it's implied in your article).

        http://www.maximumpc.com/article/news/strong_apu_sales_helped_amd_catch_fire_and_stay_black

        Core i3 is a good example of a Intel's gimped performance pricing paradigm: the cheapest system is deceptively designed to appear comparable in clock cycles to the mid and high range - but has been intentionally crippled in oblique ways. The bench in the article IIRC uses only Core i7 and i5 - the Core i3, which is almost as cheap as the cheapest Bulldozer, doesn't offer Turbo. There were several other features that were taken out - whereas it appears that the cheapest BD is about as feature rich as the most expensive.

        But I'm getting most of my information from your article and from sources related to it.

        • M.S. Smith
          December 9, 2011 at 10:35 am

          Bulldozer does play Skyrim...but it doesn't play it as well as Intel processors. The Core i3 (though you don't seem to like it) actually provides better performance in a lot of games than Bulldozer. Unless a game is great about mutli-thread optimization (most aren't) Bulldozer's 8 cores isn't much help. Gamers who prefer Intel have the same issue - there's no reason to buy anything more than a Core i5 2500K for gaming because games don't use more cores/threads.

        • Smayonak
          December 10, 2011 at 12:32 pm

          I think the 8-core is designed for the server market. But you're right, in gaming, anything over 4 cores is generally superfluous and inefficient - particularly considering the diminishing returns of each core above the first.

          However, the market has responded favorably to Bulldozer. So far it appears that BDZ is running Skyrim just fine. According to one person on YouTube, the upper midrange models are slightly better than the 2500k Core i5 at Skyrim.

          After watching the videos, it looks like they're pretty much identical though. I can't tell the difference. Most consumers, apparently, can't either.

  16. SirRoman
    December 6, 2011 at 8:39 am

    AMD already stated server will remain a strong focus in their future.  IF AMD officially steps out of the server market (which is something I don't believe), THEN I would say it is a huge mistake. 

    BDZ is designed for addressing server workloads and it seems it holds himself in that space EVEN with some design mistakes.

    It was widely discussed that BDZ isn't achieving the planned clock, to do that it needs too much voltage. That is addressable in next iterations (even if it's a problem in design or on manufacturing, which the latter being most probable) AND explain both the increased power consumption and the perceivable lack in performance (even taking into account design mistakes like cache latency and size).

    You can't take a quarter to explain how well is a division going. This doesn't counter your argument but show that it needs more digging.

    AMD's APUs are selling pretty well. Like, a lot. So they are strong there and better support that is a good decision. To me it doesn't look as something as sudden as some people are saying, but I'll wait for more info to be disclosed about their strategy.

    Also, PLEASE, look at the links you are hypertexting your article. When talking about BDZ you point to a question about ARM??

    • M.S. Smith
      December 6, 2011 at 10:24 am

      By the time Bulldozer is due for its next iteration, Ivy Bridge will be out. Unless Intel makes its biggest blunder since the P4, it's going to smear roll over Bulldozer like, well, an even bigger Bulldozer. 

      As far as server performance goes, we'll, I'll let Ars Technica say it for me. AMD's Bulldozer server benchmarks are here, and they're a catastrophe (http://arstechnica.com/business/news/2011/11/bulldozer-server-benchmarks-are-here-and-theyre-a-catastrophe.ars/3)

      • SirRoman
        December 6, 2011 at 7:13 pm

        1) You do realize that your first point doesn't change anything, right?

        2) You do realize that the article you included was written in a way to actually complain about "32% increased performance with 33% increased core count" ? You do know that there isn't a thing called "perfect scaling" in real life, right?

        Besides, I said: "BDZ is designed for addressing server workloads and it seems it holds himself in that space EVEN with some design mistakes." Your post doesn't negate anything about that. BDZ has implementation mistakes and I don't negate that. But it's not as you seem to put it.

        AMD is finally back in black, if they didn't die before 2011 they won't after it.

        • M.S. Smith
          December 9, 2011 at 10:34 am

          I'm not following most of your arguments here, so perhaps we can agree to disagree. 

          AMD has been in the black before, and then gone back into the red, and back into the black. I think they'll just be bought out at some point within the next few years unless they suddenly because the master of ARM processors. Which is not impossible, but also not likely.

        • SirRoman
          December 10, 2011 at 6:34 am

          Whatever, man...

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