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x86 chips squeeze out a growth in Q4

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The PC market might have stalled as 2011 came to an end, but chip makers peddling x86 chips for PCs, workstations, and servers still managed to eke out some growth in the fourth quarter and for the full year, according to the latest stats from market-watcher IDC.

The chip counters at IDC believe that worldwide microprocessor sales for those three classes of machines based on the x86 architecture rose by 1.8 per cent sequentially in the final quarter of last year and were up year-on-year by 14.2 per cent to hit $10.9bn.

Shane Rau, director of PC semiconductor research at IDC, said in a statement that average selling prices PC processors – no doubt buoyed by the integration of GPUs into the CPU packages on Intel's Sandy Bridge Core and Advanced Micro Devices' Fusion APU designs – rose more than 9 per cent. That was the second year in a row that PC chip ASPs jumped, according to Rau.

For the full year, x86 processors, which are dominated by shipments into PCs, accounted for more than $41bn in revenues for Intel, AMD, and VIA Technologies, up 13.2 per cent for the year. Microprocessor unit shipments across all categories up only rose by 3.6 per cent. (IDC did not give out the actual number of x86 chips sold into the market for either the quarter or the year.) Mobile PC chip ships were up 3.9 per cent, desktop chips rose 9 per cent, and servers were up 9 per cent.

In the fourth quarter, based on shipment stats (not revenue figures), AMD actually made some gains in the x86 server segment, with 5.7 per cent share of shipments, up eight-tens of a point. But Intel still had a commanding 94.3 per cent share, and now with the Sandy Bridge Xeon E5-2600s shipping here in 2012 and two more variants for smaller and larger servers in the works for this year, Intel will very likely be able to regain that share unless AMD does something dramatic to boost the adoption of Opteron processors among server OEMs.

Intel had an 82.3 per cent slice of x86 processor shipments for mobile PCs in Q4 and AMD had a 17.6 per cent slice, which was unchanged from the third quarter of the year. Intel gained three-tenths of a point of shipment share in desktop PCs in Q4, with 76.1 per cent of all x86 chips shipped, compared to AMD's 23.8 per cent.

Tiny VIA Technologies had one-tenth of a point of the overall x86 microprocessor shipments in Q4, thanks to its Micro-ITX and Nano-ITX small form factor PC and embedded systems boards. VIA has been losing share in both the mobile and desktop PC segments.

Looking ahead to this year, IDC said that it expects for x86 microprocessor shipments – which it irritatingly calls PC microprocessor shipments even though it includes x86 workstations and x86 servers, too – will increase by 5.1 per cent.

IDC says that the disk shortages in the wake of flooding in Thailand last year, where about a quarter of the world's disk drives are made, are waning and will not be a significant factor this year in terms of crimping x86 chip ships. IDC says that with the US economy showing job growth and the Eurozone debt crisis stabilizing, it may modestly raise its x86 chip shipment and revenue projections for 2012 after the first quarter comes to a close in two weeks. ®

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