IDC: Intel's Sandy Bridge woes not helping AMD

With the delay of Llano, AMD lacks a true competitor to Intel's Sandy Bridge chips, IDC says

Slip-ups by a competitor are usually good for business, but Intel's recent problems with its Sandy Bridge chips won't help Advanced Micro Devices to steal market share from its bigger rival, according to IDC.

The delay of an upcoming AMD chip code-named "Llano," which was designed to compete with Sandy Bridge, has shut down AMD's window of opportunity to gain market share from Intel, said Shane Rau, a research director at IDC. The Llano chips, which were due early this year, have been delayed due to manufacturing issues and will not launch before the middle of this year.

Intel announced new Core i5 and i7 processors based on the Sandy Bridge architecture for high-end PCs in early January. But shipments hit a snag later that month when Intel found a design flaw in the 6-series chipset, code-named Cougar Point, that's used in PCs with Sandy Bridge processors. It halted shipments of the chipset, which prompted PC makers to delay systems and issue refunds. Intel fixed the issue and started shipping replacement chipsets on Feb. 14.

Looking to take advantage of Intel's chipset woes, AMD said Feb. 18 it would launch a new marketing campaign titled "Ready. Willing. And Stable." to promote its CPUs and graphics processors.

But such promotions won't make a difference to AMD's market share, Rau said.

AMD still has no equivalent to compete with Sandy Bridge microprocessors, which could ramp up to full shipments by early April, Rau said. AMD's current laptop and desktop chips compete with Intel's older Core i3, i5 and i7 chips, based on the Westmere architecture, which are still being shipped to PC makers. Most budget laptops in the market are still based on Intel's Westmere chips.

"I don't think there's going to be a whole lot of volume opportunity for AMD to steal," Rau said.

AMD lost market share to Intel in the fourth quarter last year, according to an IDC study due out Thursday. Intel had an 80.8 percent share of processors shippped, compared to 80.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009. AMD's market share shrank to 18.9 percent, from 19.5 percent the previous year. Overall microprocessor shipments in the fourth quarter stayed more or less flat, falling 0.21 percent from the year before.

Until the launch of Llano, AMD has an opportunity with its new low-power Fusion chips, shipments of which have been encouraging, Rau said. Fusion chips combine a CPU and graphics processor on a single chip, and are targeted at netbooks and low-end desktops.

Overall, IDC expects microprocessor shipments to grow by about 10.1 percent this year, compared to the 17.1 percent growth in 2010. The growth will be driven primarily by large and mid-sized corporations buying laptops, while consumer purchases could remain weak due to economic concerns and competition from tablets.

"Media tablets such as the iPad are working on the edges of the PC space" and hurting the shipment of devices such as netbooks, Rau said.

Most of the tablets available today, including Apple's iPad, come with ARM processors. AMD has no presence in the tablet market, and tablets based on Intel's Oak Trail chip won't ship until the end of this quarter.

ARM over time could threaten x86 processors in PCs, Rau said. ARM could enter the PC market when Windows 8 is released, which could be a few years out. A hardware and software stack, including drivers, also needs to be available so ARM PCs are functionally equivalent to x86 PCs, Rau said.

(IDC is owned by International Data Group, the parent company of IDG News Service.)

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