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MPU: Where a 1% Share Loss Signals Crisis

Sometimes even a stalemate qualifies for a hearty toast. So, cheers to microprocessor rivals {complink 103|Advanced Micro Devices} and {complink 2657|Intel Corp.} for not yielding much ground in their battle for market share during the third quarter.

Sales of microprocessors surged 23 percent on a year-over-year basis in the quarter, but neither of the two biggest suppliers budged much, with both No. 1 global supplier Intel and closest rival AMD holding tightly to their market shares, according to research firm {complink 7427|iSuppli Corp.} The researcher said Intel “accounted for 80.1 percent of global revenue for microprocessors, up a slight 0.1 of a percentage point from the year-ago figure of 80.0 percent share, but was down 0.3 of a percentage point sequentially from 80.4 percent in the second quarter.” iSuppli added:

    AMD lost market share on both sequential and year-over comparisons, but the decrease amounted to less than 1 percentage point. The company accounted for 11.3 percent of worldwide microprocessor revenue during the period, down from 11.5 percent in the second quarter and down from 12.1 percent in the third quarter a year ago.

This is not trivial news. A major gain or loss in microprocessor market share during a particular quarter has significant implications for the two leading suppliers and is subject to extensive interpretations by market watchers, analysts, investors, EMS and OEM companies, and nerdy consumers. It may also have boomerang effects for future demand and supply agreements with the potential to hurt or pump up margins.

Let me explain. Loss of face, which is what share decline amounts to, is as important to AMD's and Intel's management as the strength of their products. Why? Market share gain or loss tell a lot about the product offering, the strength of manufacturing processes, customer adoption — current and future — of products, and where a supplier is in the introduction of next-generation technologies and processes.

Also, in PC procurement circles, OEM supply chain executives have been known to switch suppliers in a heartbeat in response to shorter design cycles. In this environment, even the slightest advantage offered by a supplier, such as shorter delivery time, faster and more powerful chipsets, or, of course, cheaper and yet comparable parts, can deliver great savings and margin improvement to the OEM. The perception therefore that one of the two major MPU suppliers could be weaker than the other could intensify pressure on that vendor to offer price concessions it might not have otherwise considered.

“In reality, the share changes in the third quarter from the two incumbents were extremely small and not at all significant,” says Matthew Wilkins, principal analyst for computer platforms at iSuppli. “What is significant, however, is that neither company has been able to take any sizeable share away from the other. One reason is that each company offers well matched competitive product portfolios. Another reason is that end markets are not undergoing significant changes in market share of product lineup that would impact microprocessor market share.”

iSuppli warned that sometime over the next few months the market could see some dramatic share change as AMD debuts its “Fusion” products, which could see strong uptake at OEMs. Still, my view is that any dent on Intel will be slight and probably quickly erased.

One can understand and empathize with AMD — a one percentage point decline in market share spells major trouble — but for Intel, which controls four-fifths of the market, to scurry around for the tiniest sale may seem unseemly. That is, until you realize a one percentage point loss could easily snowball into two or more, creating the image of a lead-footed giant. Let the race go on.

9 comments on “MPU: Where a 1% Share Loss Signals Crisis

  1. elctrnx_lyf
    December 16, 2010

    The MPU market looks simple and plain. But this may not be the same after 2 quarterd from now. AMD will be coming out with big plans with the fusion to actually get into the designs of many OEM's as possible. It is really important for the OEM's to actually have AMD beside Intel to make any price negotiation with Intel. But at the same time Intel is heavily investing in the ATOM series and the recently launched sandy bridge processors.

  2. SP
    December 16, 2010

    When the competition is from someone like Intel, undoubtedly it would be tough for AMD. It would be interesting to know more about Fusion products from AMD. I am curious to know.

  3. Barbara Jorgensen
    December 16, 2010

    Excellent point, Bolaji. The MPU market is so big but so closely held by the two majors–AMD and Intel–that the slightest tremor can trigger a tsunami. From the consumer standpoint, the AMD vs Intel battle may not mean much–although the “Intel Inside” campaign is a brilliant strategy. It's the components and software that are behind the MPU that make the difference. So definitely, that 1% has much bigger implications than many in the market might think.

  4. Parser
    December 16, 2010

    I am curious what is the margin of error? The problem for AMD might be larger. On the other hand AMD products are always cheaper than equivalent ones from Intel. Yes, in some case they cannot use the same software code, but still it is a bargain.  

  5. mfbertozzi
    December 17, 2010

    Maybe the advent of uIP could change once again market share picture in the near future; sensor networks especially to support green and healthcare applications are in deployment and few innovative operating systems to embed IP and microRF services are in trial.

  6. bolaji ojo
    December 17, 2010

    AMD has always had to struggle not to fall too far behind Intel in the technology [and manufacturing] race. It partially got rid of the manufacturing problem by spinning off GlobalFoundries. Now it must stay close to its rival in the technology area. The company has in the past managed to even surpass Intel with some cutting edge products but because of its big pockets, Intel has always easily caught up with AMD.

    It would be wrong, still, to think Intel is never under pressure. Everyone expects the Intel juggernaut to win all the time so it can be pretty shocking and embarrassing for Intel when it trips up and David ends up thumping Goliath!

  7. Anna Young
    December 17, 2010

    I am sorry but this sounds like a nightmare kind of situation. These two companies have fought to a draw but cannot even declare some a truce and go do other stuff. The situation you described is true: neither Advanced Micro Devices nor Intel can afford to lose a few points of market share without the market tagging them “losers.”

    AMD is, of course, both better off and worse off in this situation. If it wins additional market share from Intel that would be good for its business — but it would also tick off Intel even more, which could mean a long price war. On the other hand, if it loses any more market share, it might as well give up. Intel, meanwhile, cannot really afford to gain more market share for fear of being condemned and accused of being a monopoly. If it also loses market share, it stands the risk of being seen as “lead-footed”.

    I have a solution for these two companies. They need to broaden out into other markets. Enough of the processor war. Let's see how well they can play in other segments of the semiconductor market.

  8. hwong
    December 19, 2010

    While expanding AMD's product line may sound like a solution to regaining their lost market share, AMD does not have much as much expertise outside of microprocessor or capital to invest in other technology.  It used to make flash products but was spun off as a separate company Spansion. The only way that AMD can win is to analyze what market segments they can target. Perhaps they should consider focus more working with open source to target the cloud computing market.

  9. Hawk
    December 20, 2010

    Your analysis is spot on. But if indeed AMD has limited resources to spend on a new market and lacks the wherewithal to take on Intel in the principal microprocessor market, what kind of future awaits the company five to ten years from now? Perhaps looking that far out may not even be worth it. Who knows whether PCs would still be relevant 10 years from now!

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