Winning with the right chips

Chip giant Intel may benefit from a push in graphics, while rival AMD can gain from opportunities in low-cost notebook space, says Gartner analyst.

A push by Intel in graphics, and likewise for Advanced Micro Devices in low-cost notebooks, may win market shares for the respective vendors in the second half of 2008, according to research analyst Gartner.

Christian Heidarson, principal research analyst for semiconductors at Gartner, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that low-cost mobile PCs are currently a dominant growth market globally, and an opportunity in which AMD is well-positioned to benefit from with the release of its Puma platform. Gartner does not include small form factor mobile computing devices or mini-notebooks in the category of low-cost mobile PCs.

The Puma platform, he explained, offers "reasonable processor and graphics performance at low cost" and even though Intel may be able to flag comparable products with better processor performance, "a retail sales assistant will find it easier to demonstrate good graphics on a PC in the shop than it is to demonstrate processor performance".

"The battle between AMD and Intel in the second half will therefore pitch the value of Intel’s brand versus simple graphics demonstrations in the shop. Intel may well win that battle if they are able to work with their partners to communicate the value of processor performance," added Heidarson.

The Gartner analyst also suggested the two chipmakers have different strategies going forward. "In the long term, Intel is very concerned with expanding the total market.

"There is already lots of attention around MIDs (mobile Internet devices). We can expect Intel to focus a lot of energy on this and other potential markets where it would like to introduce the x86 architecture. We can therefore expect plenty of radical thinking from Intel," he said.

On the other hand, AMD is "less concerned with creating new markets, as there is plenty of opportunity to win share from Intel", said Heidarson. "AMD is more likely to focus its capability for innovation on optimizing processor architectures for any gaps Intel leaves in the existing market."

Reuben Tan, IDC's senior research manager for personal systems research, noted however that AMD is likely to enter the market for low-cost, small-form factor notebooks.

"We don't foresee them letting Intel capture the lion's share of emerging Netbook models," he said in a phone interview, adding that AMD is already said to be developing a competitor to Intel's Atom processor. "The margins [for this market] are not high but volumes are significant, and they do need volume share in order to remain competitive in the market."

Nick Jacobs, regional PR group manager for Intel Asia-Pacific, said in an e-mail Intel already has 35 MID design wins from more than 25 OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) globally. The company, he added, has already begun developing Moorestown, the successor to the Atom processor technology and a system-on-chip effort.

According to Gartner estimates for the first half of 2008, Intel commanded just over 78 percent market share of x86 processors in terms of shipments. AMD's share was 21 percent, while Via Technologies was a distant third at less than 1 percent.

Other 2H chip highlights
Intel is on track to roll out Nehalem, the second-generation 45-nanometer processor based on a new architecture.

In the server space, the chip giant will also release the six-core server processor codenamed Dunnington, and the next-generation quad-core Itanium processor codenamed Tukwila.

Among AMD launches for the second half of 2008, is the 45-nm version of its Barcelona chip codenamed Shanghai. The company in May revised its server roadmap, planting in a six-core processor and 12-core designs.

Bryan Low, AMD's vice president and managing director for South Asia, warned however, that a worsening of economic conditions "could affect AMD’s plans to develop, launch and ramp new products and technologies in the volumes and mix required by the market on a timely basis".