AMD is a rounding error on Intel's spreadsheet and that sucks for us all

Zen biz's only hope is to avoid Chipzilla's wrath, it seems

On Tuesday, Intel said it expects to bank in the final quarter of the year $15.7bn in sales, plus or minus $500m. That's a billion-dollar swing.

Two days later, on Thursday, AMD proudly revealed that its entire revenue for the three months to September 24 was $1.3bn. Just over a billion dollars. AMD is little more than statistical noise on Intel's balance book.

That's pretty bad for all of us: pretty bad for competition, pretty bad for prices, for innovation, and for AMD. It's not like AMD is doing a particularly bad job. Its x86 Zen processor engineers are talented; they know what they're doing, they have silicon shipping or about to ship.

It's just that Intel is pretty unstoppable at the moment. It's as if AMD is being kept around as a shield from anti-monopoly watchdogs – and if that's the case, these regulators seem to have no problem whatsoever with 99 per cent of the world's data center compute workloads being Intel-powered. No problem with that whatsoever, apparently.

For those of us who believe in the power and benefits of open and fair competition, it's a depressing situation. Sorry to bring your Friday down.

Speaking of which, AMD's stock price is down about six per cent to $6.56 apiece in after-hours trading after it published its Q3 2016 financial figures. A share in AMD costs about the same as a pint in central London, or large pumpkin spice latte in San Francisco.

Here's the summary for the quarter:

  • Net loss of $406m, twice as bad as the year-ago's $197m loss. In non-GAAP terms, AMD made a profit of $27m, up from a $136m loss this time last year, but as we all know: non-GAAP is the Enron of accounting. AMD had to cough up $340m to Global Foundries as part of its Wafer Supply Agreement with the chip fab giant, and it lost $61m on debt redemption – that's why it slammed into the red this quarter.
  • Revenues of $1.307bn, up 23 per cent year-on-year, and $90m better than analysts expected.
    • Computing and Graphics booked $472m in sales, up 11 per cent. AMD recently launched its 14nm FinFET Polaris GPUs, which is good, but shriveling sales of PCs are punching AMD in the gut. The division recorded an operating loss of $66m versus a $181m loss a year ago.
    • Enterprise, Embedded and Semi-Custom took in $835m, up 31 per cent. In particular, there is strong demand for enterprise and semi-custom (chips for games consoles), we're told. The division recorded an operating income of $136m versus $84m this time last year.
  • Sales in the final quarter of the year are projected to be down 18 per cent sequentially, which isn't as bad as it sounds: said drop would still be 12 per cent better than Q3 2015.

AMD is set to launch Zen-powered server processors in the first half of 2017, and has just sold a load of server-grade graphics processors to Chinese web giant Alibaba. And its FinFET chips are starring in the Xbox One S, the updated PlayStation 4, and the Sony PlayStation 4 Pro.

On the other hand, Tesla just announced self-driving hardware in its new cars, all powered by Nvidia GPUs, and Nintendo's Switch handheld console, launched this week, uses Nvidia and ARM technology, rather than AMD-designed silicon. Swings and roundabouts.

"We successfully passed several silicon and platform technical milestones in the quarter, and have secured multiple new designs across OEM, enterprise and cloud providers," said AMD CEO Lisa Su on a conference call with analysts.

"Just last week, we announced the collaboration with Alibaba cloud, China's largest cloud provider, to deploy Radeon Pro server GPUs across their data centers to expand the scale and services of their global cloud offering.

"We now have material server GPU engagements with multiple cloud datacenter providers, demonstrating that our strategy to grow our presence in this profitable market by delivering superior performance with Radeon Pro hardware in conjunction with industry standard programming tools and API’s is beginning to pay-off."

Analyst Patrick Moorhead, of Moor Insights & Strategy, was more upbeat than your humble El Reg hack on this latest quarter's figures.

"AMD and Intel aren't in the exact same markets anymore," Moorhead told us.

"In the short-term, AMD is really focused on gaming consoles and high-end discrete graphics. Intel doesn't play there. They do overlap today in notebooks and desktop PC and AMD is primarily at the low and mid-range while Intel dominates the high-end and owns most of the mid-range. AMD's best shot to challenge Intel in high-end and mid-range CPUs come with Zen in 2017."

Moorhead added: "AMD crushed Q3 revenue guidance by 9 per cent on the back of gaming consoles, Polaris-based notebook graphics and notebook processors. Microsoft and Sony very aggressively updated their gaming consoles, hence the positive AMD impact.

"Recently announced Bristol Ridge and Stoney Ridge processors drove AMD to their third straight improvement in mobile application processor units, which is a good sign if they can keep momentum into Zen.

"OEM customers I have talked to are very interested in Zen and now it's up to AMD to flawlessly execute a successful launch to set themselves up for a good 2017."

Zen will have to successfully duck under or over Intel's Kaby Lake CPUs. ®

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