Where does Intel's Haswell leave AMD?

Is there still room for a second player in the processor market? Actually, there is, especially if AMD is willing to leverage its considerable background in GPUs.

Intel's new Haswell processors have been dominating the tech news for the past few days. The new silicon changes the playing field by integrating the CPU and GPU into an energy-efficient package that allows OEMs to build notebooks, tablets, and ultrabooks that will offer consumers better battery life .

But where does the Haswell refresh leave AMD? Is there still room for a second player in the processor market?

First, let's examine what Haswell brings to the table. According to Intel, Haswell's unique selling point is lower power consumption. This improvement benefits the PC landscape across the board:

  • It allows desktops to run cooler and more efficiently, reducing power bills and increasing reliability.

  • It means a lower cooling bill and increased reliability for servers (Intel launched one Haswell processor aimed at servers; the 13W TDP, 1.1GHz Xeon E3-1220LV3.

  • It offers increased battery life for portable devices.

While all three are important, it is the increased battery life that Intel is pushing hardest. After all, PC sales are in the gutter as people choose to spend their money on post-PC devices.

This is where Intel feels the money is.

So, more performance for less power consumption. That sounds like a massive win for Intel and game over for AMD, right?

Not really.

The problem with Haswell is that while it is streets ahead of anything that AMD has to offer, this next-generation silicon comes with a considerable price tag attached. As I reported yesterday , Haswell processors are expensive.

The Core i7-4650U (2.9GHz base, 3.3GHz turbo, 4MB cache) and the Core i5-4350U (2.6GHz base, 2.9GHz turbo, 3MB cache) are priced at $454 and $342, respectively, for a tray of 1,000 processors. Compare these to the equivalent previous-generation Ivy Bridge parts, the Core i7-3687U and the Core i5-3437U, which are priced at $346 and $250, respectively.

It's clear that Intel is milking the battery benefits for all they are worth, and perhaps beyond.

So as far as piece goes, AMD has an advantage over Intel.

But AMD has another advantage, and that's in the form of gaming.

Gamers on the whole seem unimpressed by the Haswell update, because it focuses too much on power saving and not enough on power. Also, the new processors need a new socket, which means anyone upgrading needs to swap out their CPU and motherboard. Hardcore gamers are waiting patiently — and hopefully — for AMD to release its Steamroller CPUs, which are due out later this year.

So that's another score for AMD.

AMD has, since it acquired ATI back in 2006, considerable in-house GPU know-how. Intel, on the other hand, has been promising great things from its GPUs for a long time now, but has always ended up over-promising and under-delivering.

While Intel is making promising noises with respect to the GPU built into Haswell silicon, it's too early to say whether it delivers the goods. AMD, on the other hand, has a good track record when it comes to delivering good GPU power.

So that's another win for AMD.

Then there being inside the PS4, Xbox One , and Nindendo Wii U.

Three wins in one.

So, while things are certainly not good for AMD right now — and haven’t been for some time — there's still plenty of room in the processor ecosystem.