September 27, 2023
How did AMD become a chip giant, outpacing Intel after catching up?

advanced micro devices made historical past this 12 months info for market worth first time. Intel has lengthy held the lead within the laptop processor market, however AMD’s rise is because of the firm’s growth into fully new industries.

In one of many largest semiconductor acquisitions in historical past, AMD acquired adaptive chip firm Xilinx for $49 billion in February. Now, AMD chips are cut up into two tesla fashions, NASA’s Mars Perseverance land automobile, 5G cell towers and the world’s quickest supercomputer.

“AMD is outperforming Intel in all of the metrics that issues, and they’re going to proceed to take action till Intel fixes manufacturing, finds a brand new strategy to construct issues,” mentioned Jay Goldberg, semiconductor marketing consultant at D2D Advisory.

However a decade in the past, analysts took a really totally different view of AMD.

“It was virtually a joke, wasn’t it? As a result of they’ve had unimaginable efficiency points for many years,” Goldberg mentioned. “And that has modified.”

CNBC met with AMD CEO Lisa Su to listen to about her firm’s phenomenal comeback and massive bets on new chip sorts within the face of the PC crash, new restrictions on exports to China, and altering trade tendencies.

‘Actual males have wonders’

AMD was based in 1969 by eight folks, together with Jerry Sanders. The well-known shade advertising and marketing government not too long ago left Fairchild Semiconductor, which had a stake within the invention of the built-in circuit.

“It was among the best sellers Silicon Valley has ever seen,” mentioned Stacy Rasgon, semiconductor analyst at Bernstein Analysis. “There are tales of the lavish events they will throw. And there is a story about him and his spouse coming down the tower stairs in matching fur coats on the get together.

AMD Co-Founder Jerry Sanders poses at Superior Micro Units’, or AMD’s authentic headquarters in Sunnyvale, California, 1969.


He additionally coined the infamous phrase about chip fabrication factories, or fabs.

“Jerry Sanders was very well-known for saying, ‘Actual males have wonders,’ a remark that’s clearly problematic on a number of ranges and has been largely refuted by historical past,” Goldberg mentioned.

As know-how superior, it grew to become very costly to make chips. It now takes billions of {dollars} and several other years to construct a manufacturing unit. AMD now designs and exams chips and there’s no fabrication.

“When you concentrate on what it takes to be world class and design, that is a sure set of abilities,” Su mentioned. “So what do it is advisable do to be world-class in manufacturing? It is a totally different ability set and a special enterprise mannequin, a special capital mannequin.”

Again within the ’70s, AMD was making laptop chips. It was a second provider to Intel within the 80s. After AMD and Intel parted methods, AMD reversed Intel’s chips to make their very own merchandise appropriate with Intel’s breakthrough x86 software program. Intel sued AMD, however a 1995 deal gave AMD the precise to proceed designing x86 chips, making PC pricing extra aggressive for finish customers.

In 2006, AMD acquired main fabrication chip firm ATI. $5.4 billion. Later in 2009, AMD minimize its manufacturing arm utterly, Global Foundries.

“That is when their executions actually began to rise, as a result of they not needed to fear in regards to the foundry aspect of issues,” Goldberg mentioned.

World Foundries Opened to the public It stays the highest maker of much less superior chips in 2021 and located in easier parts like a automobile’s anti-lock brakes or a head-up show. However in 2018 it stopped making leading edge chips. AMD turned to those. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing makes all of AMD’s most superior chips.

Catching Intel

AMD solely competes closely with two different corporations relating to designing probably the most superior microprocessors: Nvidia graphics processing models, GPUs and information in central processing models, CPUs.

Whereas AMD controls a lot much less GPU and CPU market share than Nvidia and Intel, respectively, it has made exceptional progress since shifting away from manufacturing and lowering capital expenditures.

In the meantime, Intel has dedicated to doubling manufacturing final 12 months. $20 billion for new factories in Arizona and Up to $100 billion in Ohio, would be the world’s largest chip-making advanced for what it says. However tasks are nonetheless years away from coming on-line.

“Intel is not shifting quick sufficient,” Goldberg mentioned. “They mentioned they anticipate to proceed shedding share over the subsequent 12 months, and I believe we will see that on the shopper aspect. This has helped AMD loads on the information middle aspect.”

AMD’s Zen CPU lineup, first launched in 2017, is commonly seen as the important thing to the corporate’s current success. Su instructed CNBC that that is her favourite product. It additionally practically saved AMD from chapter, analysts say.

“Actually, they had been most likely like six months away from the border and by some means bought out of it,” Rasgon mentioned. “There’s this Hail Mary on this new product design that they nonetheless promote like immediately’s later generations, they name it Zen, that is their title for it. And it labored. It had a vastly improved efficiency and allowed them to cease their inventory losses and ultimately reverse them.

AMD CEO Lisa Su demonstrates the corporate’s newly launched Genoa CPU, the corporate’s 4th technology EPYC processor, to CNBC’s Katie Tarasov at AMD’s headquarters in Santa Clara, California, on November 8, 2022.

Jeniece Pettitt

Amongst Zen merchandise, AMD’s EPYC household of CPUs has made super strides on the information middle aspect. Final Genoa, published earlier this month. AMD’s information middle clients embody: Amazon community providers, Google Cloudy, prophecy, IBM and Microsoft Azure.

“Should you have a look at our enterprise 5 years in the past, we had been most likely over 80% to 90% within the shopper markets, and we had been fairly computer-centric and gaming-centric,” Su mentioned. “After I thought of what we wished for the corporate’s technique, we actually believed the information middle was probably the most strategic a part of the enterprise for high-performance computing.”

AMD’s income greater than tripled between 2017 and 2021, rising from $5.3 billion to over $16 billion. On high of that, Intel’s annual income grew by about 25%, from practically $63 billion in 2017 to $79 billion final 12 months.

Geopolitical issues and PC decline

AMD’s success in catching up with Intel’s technological advances is one thing many attribute to Su, who took over as CEO in 2014. AMD has greater than tripled its headcount since then. it was Luck2nd Enterprise Individual of the 12 months in 2020 and Winner of three of the semiconductor industry’s top awards. He additionally presides Joe Biden‘s Technology Science Advisory Councilhave been struggling currently Adoption of the CHIPS Act. It allocates $52 billion for US corporations to fabricate chips domestically quite than abroad.

“It is a recognition of how vital semiconductors are to each financial prosperity and nationwide safety in the US,” mentioned Su.

With all the world’s most superior semiconductors at present manufactured in Asia, the chip scarcity has highlighted abroad dependency points, notably amid ongoing tensions between China and Taiwan. Now, TSMC is building a $12 billion 5-nanometer chip factory exterior of Phoenix.

“We’re proud of the growth in Arizona. We expect it is an ideal factor and we need to see it broaden additional,” mentioned Su.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration handed laws. major new bans on semiconductor exports to China. AMD has roughly 3,000 workers in China and 25% of its sales were made to China final 12 months. However Su says the revenue impact is “very small.”

“Wanting on the newest rules, it would not considerably have an effect on our enterprise. It does have an effect on a few of our top-of-the-line chips utilized in AI purposes. And we weren’t promoting them to China,” Su mentioned.

What’s lowering AMD’s income, no less than for now, computer crash. AMD in its third-quarter earnings report earlier this month unanswered expectationsShortly after Intel warned soft fourth quarter. PC shipments about 20% decrease within the third quarter, the steepest drop in over 20 years.

“Possibly it dropped somewhat greater than we anticipated,” Su mentioned. “There is a correction cycle that occurs every so often, however we’re very targeted on the long-term roadmap.”

going personal

It isn’t simply laptop gross sales which are slowing down. The essence of progress in laptop chip know-how is altering. An trade rule known as Moore’s Legislation has lengthy dictated that the variety of transistors on a chip ought to double each two years.

“The method we name Moore’s Legislation has no less than one other decade to go, but it surely’s positively slowing down,” Goldberg mentioned. “All people used CPUs for every little thing, normal objective computing, but it surely all bought slower. And now unexpectedly it is sensible to make extra custom-made options.”

Former Xilinx CEO Victor Peng and AMD CEO Lisa Su on stage in Munich, Germany


That is why AMD acquired Xilinx, which is understood for its adaptive chips known as Subject Programmable Gate Arrays, or FPGAs. Earlier this 12 months, AMD additionally cloud startup acquires Pensando 1.9 billion {dollars}.

“We are able to argue in regards to the value they pay for a few of these and what the returns will probably be,” mentioned Goldberg, including that the acquisitions had been in the end a superb resolution. “They’re beginning a devoted computing enterprise to assist their clients design their very own chips. I believe it is a very, very good technique.”

Increasingly more giant corporations are designing their very own proprietary chips. Amazon’s personal graviton processors for AWS. Google designs its personal AI chips for the Pixel telephone and Dedicated video chip for YouTube. Equal John Deere is dating his own chips for autonomous tractors.

“Should you actually have a look at what’s been happening within the chip trade within the final 5 years, everyone wants extra chips and also you see them in all places, proper?” Su mentioned. 5 years. Which means when you will have a really excessive quantity improve in chips, you’ll want to do extra customization.”

Even the core chip structure is at a crossroads. AMD and Intel chips are primarily based on the five-decade x86 structure. Now ARM structure chips growing popularitywith corporations like Nvidia and Ampere making Big promises in developing Arm CPUsand apple keying From Intel to self-designed ARM processors.

“In my opinion, this is not actually a dialogue between x86 and Arm,” Su mentioned. “You are principally going to seek out that these two are an important architectures in the marketplace. What we’re seeing is de facto about what you are doing with computing.”

For now, analysts say AMD is in a robust place because it diversifies alongside its core enterprise of x86 computing chips.

“AMD ought to be in significantly better form in 2023 as soon as we get out of the loop, when efficiency features in opposition to Intel begin to change into obvious and a few of these new companies begin to develop,” Goldberg mentioned.

Intel didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.

Correction: “And we weren’t promoting these to China,” mentioned Lisa Su, CEO of AMD. The excerpt has been up to date to replicate a typo in an earlier model of this text. An trade rule known as Moore’s Legislation has lengthy dictated that the variety of transistors on a chip ought to double each two years. A earlier model worded the rule incorrectly.

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