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CPU Market Q1 2021: AMD's Fastest Growth in Servers Against Intel in 15 Years

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AMD Market Share

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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AMD Market Share

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

The Mercury Research CPU market share results are in for the first quarter of 2021, which finds AMD scoring its highest single-quarter market share increase in the server market since 2006, leading to record revenue as it steals more sockets from Intel. Those share gains are isolated, though, as AMD lost share in the notebook segment and overall market share while remaining flat in desktop PC chips. Those regressions might not be as problematic as they appear on the surface, though, due to AMD's shift to producing pricier chips that generate more profit. (We have the full breakdown for each segment at the end of the article).

"While we don't often discuss average selling prices, we note that this quarter saw unusually strong price moves for AMD -- as AMD shipped fewer low-end parts and more high-end parts, as well as shipping many more server parts, the company's average selling price increased significantly," said Dean McCarron of Mercury Research.

It's clear that AMD has prioritized its highest-end desktop PC models and its server chips during the pandemic-induced supply chain shortages. These moves come as the CPU market continues to move at a record pace: Last quarter marked the second-highest CPU shipment volume in history, second only to the prior quarter. Also, the first quarter usually suffers from lower sales volume as we exit the holiday season, but the first quarter of 2021 set yet another record - the 41% on-year gain was the highest for the CPU market in 25 years.

These developments benefit both companies, but AMD has clearly suffered more than Intel from the crushing combination of supply shortages and overwhelming demand. AMD actually recently lost share to Intel in both notebooks and desktop PCs for the first time in three years, but it reminded at a flat 19.3% of the desktop PC market during the quarter, meaning it stopped the slide despite supply challenges.

However, Intel's Rocket Lake processors landed right at the end of the quarter, and they're particularly competitive against AMD's Ryzen 5000 in the lower end that tends to move the most volume. Additionally, these chips are widely available at retail at very competitive pricing while AMD's chips are still a rarity on shelves at anywhere near the suggested selling price. That will make the results of the next quarter all the more interesting.

Both Intel and AMD set records for the number of units shipped and revenue during the quarter for mobile chips. AMD couldn't stop the slide in notebook PC chips, but as McCarron points out, the company has prioritized higher-priced Ryzen "Renoir" 5 and 7 models while Intel has grown in its lower-margin and lower-priced Celeron chips. AMD slipped 1 percentage point to 18% of the notebook PC unit share.

Most concerning for Intel? It lost a significant amount of share to AMD in the profitable server market. AMD notched its highest single-quarter gain in server CPU share since 2016 at a growth of 1.8 percentage points, bringing the company to 8.9% (a few caveats apply, listed below).

While a 1.8 percentage point decline doesn't sound too severe, it is concerning given the typically small changes we see in server market share. Intel's data center revenue absolutely plummeted in the first quarter of the year, dropping 20% YoY while units shipped drop 13%, but Intel chalked that up to its customers pausing orders while 'digesting' their existing inventory. However, AMD's financial results, in which the company's server and semi-custom revenue jumped 286%, imply that Intel's customers were actually digesting AMD's chips instead. 

AMD's strong gains in server CPU share during the quarter occurred before its newest AMD EPYC Milan chips and Intel's newest Ice Lake chips had their official launch, but both companies began shipping chips to their biggest customers early this year/late last year. Additionally, samples of these chips are in customers' hands long before general availability, so large volume purchases are often decided long before server CPUs hit the shelves.

AMD's big supercomputer wins with its EPYC Milan chips foretold strong buy-in from those seeking the highest performance possible, and it appears that momentum has carried over to the broader server CPU market. Given that most of these customers already know which company they'll use for their long-term deployments, it is rational to expect that AMD's server charge could continue into the next quarter.

Finally, AMD lost 1 percentage point in the overall x86 CPU market share, receding to 20.7%. Again, this comes as the company struggles from pandemic-induced supply chain shortages that it is minimizing by prioritizing high end chips. Meanwhile, Intel is leveraging its production scale to flood the lower-end of the market and gain share, but that comes at the expense of profitability. 

Below you'll find the specific numbers for each segment, complete with historical data. 

AMD vs. Intel Desktop PC Market Share Q1 2021 

1Q214Q203Q202Q201Q204Q193Q192Q191Q20194Q183Q182Q181Q184Q173Q172Q171Q174Q163Q16
AMD Desktop Unit Share19.3%19.3%20.1%19.2%18.6%18.3%18%17.1%17.1%15.8%13%12.3%12.2%12.0%10.9%11.1%11.4%9.9%9.1%
Quarter over Quarter / Year over Year (pp)+0.1 / +0.7-0.8 / +1.0+0.9 / +2.1+0.6 / +2.1+0.3 / +1.5+0.3 / +2.4+0.9 / +5Flat / +4.8+1.3 / +4.9+2.8 / +3.8+0.7 / +2.1+0.1 / +1.2+0.2 / +0.8+1.1 / +2.1-0.2 / +1.8-0.3 / -+1.5 / -+0.8 / --

AMD vs. Intel Notebook / Mobile Market Share Q1 2021

1Q214Q203Q202Q201Q20Q4193Q192Q191Q20194Q183Q182Q18
AMD Mobile Unit Share18.0%19%20.2%19.9%17.1%16.2%14.7%14.1%13.1%12.2%10.9%8.8%
Quarter over Quarter / Year over Year (pp)-1.0 / +1.1-1.2 / +2.8 +0.3 / +5.5+2.9 / +5.8+0.9 / +3.2+1.5 / +4.0+0.7 / +3.8+1.0 / +5.3+0.9 / ?

AMD vs. Intel Server Unit Market Share Q1 2021

AMD bases its server share projections on IDC's forecasts but only accounts for the single- and dual-socket market, which eliminates four-socket (and beyond) servers, networking infrastructure and Xeon D's (edge). As such, Mercury's numbers differ from the numbers cited by AMD, which predict a higher market share. Here is AMD's comment on the matter: "Mercury Research captures all x86 server-class processors in their server unit estimate, regardless of device (server, network or storage), whereas the estimated 1P [single-socket] and 2P [two-socket] TAM [Total Addressable Market] provided by IDC only includes traditional servers."

1Q214Q203Q202Q201Q204Q193Q192Q191Q20194Q183Q182Q184Q17
AMD Server Unit Share8.9%7.1%6.6%5.8%5.1%4.5%4.3%3.4%2.9%3.2%1.6%1.4%0.8%
Quarter over Quarter / Year over Year (pp)+1.8 / +3.8+0.5 / +2.6 +0.8 / +2.3+0.7 / +2.4+0.6 / 2.2+0.2 / +1.4+0.9 / +2.7+0.5 / +2.0-0.3 / -+1.6 / 2.4+0.2 / -

AMD vs. Intel Total Market Share Q1 2021

4Q203Q202Q201Q204Q193Q192Q194Q183Q18
AMD Overall x8620.7%21.7%22.4%18.3%14.8%15.1%14.6%13.9%12.3%10.6%
Overall PP Change QoQ / YoY-1.0 / +6.0 -0.7 / +6.2+4.1 / +6.6+3.5 / +1.2 (+3.7?)-0.7 / ?+0.9 / +3.2+0.7 / +4??-
Paul Alcorn

Paul Alcorn is the Deputy Managing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He writes news and reviews on CPUs, storage and enterprise hardware.

  • waltc3
    Intel is so "smart" it is publicly talking about Apple and Arm as it's competitors, while remaining mum as AMD continues to stomp all over them...;) Same-old Intel--the company brass doesn't like talking in public about being raped by AMD, again...;) If these guys don't smarten up AMD is going to walk off with everything. It's just like it was when AMD walked off with the desktop with the k7/A64/Opteron when Intel was trying to peddle Itanium/RDRAM (both of which went over like a lead balloon--in the end Itanium was so poorly received Intel couldn't even bundle free RDRAM with it to sell it!) Intel better learn that products, not hyperbolic advertising and dumb propaganda, will always win the day. AMD has always defeated Intel with it products--simply better products. There's a huge blind spot at the top of Intel management, imo. And digging Gelsinger up out of retirement (because nobody else in Intel in all of these years still knows what to do about AMD aside from emulating them) doesn't seem to bring the competitive, innovative push that Intel desperately needs.
    Reply
  • thGe17
    Did I miss something? The server share is below 9 %, meaning that Intel still provides almost all x86 servers and AMDs mobile share has dropped and their desktop share hasn't changed at all but is also lower, than it already was two quaters before.
    Right now only the server market shows a solid grow (but absolute shares are still low) and desktop and mobile shares are stagnating.
    Reply
  • Groveling_Wyrm
    waltc3 said:
    Intel is so "smart" it is publicly talking about Apple and Arm as it's competitors, while remaining mum as AMD continues to stomp all over them...;) Same-old Intel--the company brass doesn't like talking in public about being raped by AMD, again...;) If these guys don't smarten up AMD is going to walk off with everything. It's just like it was when AMD walked off with the desktop with the k7/A64/Opteron when Intel was trying to peddle Itanium/RDRAM (both of which went over like a lead balloon--in the end Itanium was so poorly received Intel couldn't even bundle free RDRAM with it to sell it!) Intel better learn that products, not hyperbolic advertising and dumb propaganda, will always win the day. AMD has always defeated Intel with it products--simply better products. There's a huge blind spot at the top of Intel management, imo. And digging Gelsinger up out of retirement (because nobody else in Intel in all of these years still knows what to do about AMD aside from emulating them) doesn't seem to bring the competitive, innovative push that Intel desperately needs.

    Sales and profits win the day. Intel and AMD are businesses. Their goal is to make a product and sell it. Both companies are doing that right now, with no end in sight. Say what you want about Intel, but the fact is that they are selling every product that comes out of their fabs, just like AMD is doing with their products. Intel still has a huge majority in market share in almost every category, even with the fiasco that has been the last 5 years, so I can not see where you say that AMD is killing them, in any category.

    The bigger picture is that TSMC can not manufacture enough processors, even with the next upgrades to their fabs, to help AMD match Intel in production. They are FAR from that capability. TSMC has other customers, other products they make, and has already contracted out all their manufacturing for the near, and middle future., and that means that AMD can not gain a large amount of fab production and produce more products. AMD does not have much room to grow, but, they are where they need to be....growing, and earning more profit.

    On the flip side, the accusations against Intel about being a monopoly are now dispelled, much to Intel's delight, and quite possibly to AMD's chagrin.

    Here is a conspiracy theory for you. What if Intel saw that AMD was flagging and did things to help them become stronger over the years, such as a money injection, somehow? How about some accidental releases of important research, that could help AMD? Research that.

    In the future, if AMD were to gain a bigger foothold in the server and workstation market, they will need to invest massive amounts of money in their software support. AMD's support is just downright horrible compared to Intel's, and that is very important to businesses. No matter how powerful your processor is, if it doesn't work, people won't buy it.
    Reply
  • JayNor
    Intel CFO during q1 cc "... we're going to see growth in all three of the major areas in data center, but the standout grower in Q2 is going to be cloud."

    They don't seem concerned about the strength of their Ice Lake Server program.
    Reply
  • watzupken
    thGe17 said:
    Did I miss something? The server share is below 9 %, meaning that Intel still provides almost all x86 servers and AMDs mobile share has dropped and their desktop share hasn't changed at all but is also lower, than it already was two quaters before.
    Right now only the server market shows a solid grow (but absolute shares are still low) and desktop and mobile shares are stagnating.
    While it doesn't sound like much, but an increasing market share and consequently increasing data center profit from AMD don't bold well for Intel, especially when their DC sales plunged. It also means that AMD is gaining acceptance by more companies which also means Intel's stranglehold in this segment is weakening and we should expect to see more loss in market share and sales over time, unless AMD messed things up.

    To me, the biggest Intel competitor in the DC space is more ARM than AMD, with more big companies moving to custom ARM chips to power their data center.
    Reply
  • watzupken
    Groveling_Wyrm said:
    Sales and profits win the day. Intel and AMD are businesses. Their goal is to make a product and sell it. Both companies are doing that right now, with no end in sight. Say what you want about Intel, but the fact is that they are selling every product that comes out of their fabs, just like AMD is doing with their products. Intel still has a huge majority in market share in almost every category, even with the fiasco that has been the last 5 years, so I can not see where you say that AMD is killing them, in any category.

    The bigger picture is that TSMC can not manufacture enough processors, even with the next upgrades to their fabs, to help AMD match Intel in production. They are FAR from that capability. TSMC has other customers, other products they make, and has already contracted out all their manufacturing for the near, and middle future., and that means that AMD can not gain a large amount of fab production and produce more products. AMD does not have much room to grow, but, they are where they need to be....growing, and earning more profit.

    On the flip side, the accusations against Intel about being a monopoly are now dispelled, much to Intel's delight, and quite possibly to AMD's chagrin.

    Here is a conspiracy theory for you. What if Intel saw that AMD was flagging and did things to help them become stronger over the years, such as a money injection, somehow? How about some accidental releases of important research, that could help AMD? Research that.

    In the future, if AMD were to gain a bigger foothold in the server and workstation market, they will need to invest massive amounts of money in their software support. AMD's support is just downright horrible compared to Intel's, and that is very important to businesses. No matter how powerful your processor is, if it doesn't work, people won't buy it.
    Companies will not migrate their entire DC from Intel to AMD or ARM at one go. Any move is going to be in baby steps to make sure things improve and not get worst. Even when the dust settles, Intel will still be pretty much in the game, but they will have to live with the new norm of reduced revenue and profit, on top of very tight competition from both ARM and AMD. In my opinion, ARM is a stronger competitor in the DC space assuming Nvidia don't come in and mess things up. Companies are investing money to develop custom ARM chips that suit their needs, as oppose to a CPU that they buy from AMD and Intel that tries to be jack of all trades. But ultimately, Intel is losing out the most due to security issues over the years and also high prices.

    https://www.anandtech.com/show/16640/arm-announces-neoverse-v1-n2-platforms-cpus-cmn700-mesh
    Reply
  • egda23
    The 1Q 2021 results simply and logically reflect availability and pricing for most people
    Reply
  • digitalgriffin
    thGe17 said:
    Did I miss something? The server share is below 9 %, meaning that Intel still provides almost all x86 servers and AMDs mobile share has dropped and their desktop share hasn't changed at all but is also lower, than it already was two quaters before.
    Right now only the server market shows a solid grow (but absolute shares are still low) and desktop and mobile shares are stagnating.

    That's because there's long lead qualifying times (where companies test out small batches)

    But most servers are only swapped out after 6+ years. So you really won't see a dramatic shift. The % market share in sales however tells the momentum is gaining however. Corporate server share move at a glaciers pace, but any gain is still massive.
    Reply
  • digitalgriffin
    JayNor said:
    Intel CFO during q1 cc "... we're going to see growth in all three of the major areas in data center, but the standout grower in Q2 is going to be cloud."

    They don't seem concerned about the strength of their Ice Lake Server program.

    The key factorsof getting into cloud space is
    1: TCO. This includes maintenance, initial outlay, and performance/watt (you have to pay the electricity bill and cool it off. And trust me the cooling bill ain't cheap)
    2: Reliability
    3: (In rare cases: speed for extreme number crunching: ie AI, data mining)

    Intel is aiming at #1 by reducing the electricity bill during lower peak demand.
    Reply
  • ceomrman2
    It's interesting that Intel's "nerd mind share" is so much lower than its overall market share. AMD is indeed slaughtering Intel in the "DIY/Enthusiast" CPU market. AMD is deservedly crushing it at retail. They have almost matched Intel's profitability. AMD's growth rate has exceeded Intel's lately, expanding 10% per year since 2014. That's all great news for us nerds. The fact is, though, that Intel is still eight times larger than AMD. With 8% revenue growth since 2014, Intel is expanding nearly as fast as AMD, despite starting with a much larger footprint. They are even more profitable than AMD, percentage-wise. Intel spent seven times more on R&D last year, so they're not standing still. That performance has all come despite Intel's embarrassing 10nm challenges. At 41% of Intel, I think AMD's market valuation is optimistic. AMD's pace of progress must slow at least somewhat in the coming years. One must assume Intel will eventually stop tripping over their own feet. If both those happen, Intel will again be able to squeeze AMD on those high-profit CPUs. It should be good for us, though. Bring on $10/core!
    Reply