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2020 is AMD's moment to shine, but they still have challenges from Intel

Hp Envy X360 13 Amd Flat
Hp Envy X360 13 Amd Flat (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

This week we saw the (expected) positive earnings from AMD – a company that has seen its stock go to an all-time high of nearly $78 a share. There is no doubt that the company has earned its reputation back in the desktop space, and its new Ryzen Mobile 4000 chips for laptops are impressive.

But AMD is still not there yet. Here are five things AMD needs to figure out before it can topple Intel in the premium laptop space.

Intel still has the marketing dollars

Intel Core i9-10900K review

Source: Harish Jonnalagadda / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Harish Jonnalagadda / Windows Central)

Intel's market cap is a staggering 204 billion dollars, which dwarfs AMD's $78 billion value. Intel smartly uses that money for marketing and support. Not a day goes by I don't see Intel running ads on TV, usually in the prime-time slot on major networks. Those ad campaigns often feature prominent partners like Dell, and its outstanding XPS 13 takes center stage.

Intel is also very good at long-term support to companies and its OEM partners. It has the human and financial scale to beat AMD in every area here, which is a problem for AMD.

AMD is yet to reach that plateau. While we can joke that Intel spends more money bragging about its chips than improving them, it is hard to deny it has the mindshare. For now.

Intel co-designs many laptops

Dell XPS 13 9300

Source: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central)

One of the untold stories in the premium laptop space, usually off-the-record, is how much of a role Intel plays in designing laptops and hardware. This strategy gives Intel a lot of leverage over AMD.

Intel is now more transparent with this, often featuring its prototypes at trade shows, especially around the forthcoming dual-screen and foldable PCs or even the Yoga Book C930.

Many of the top premium Ultrabooks (an Intel marketing term) have Intel's fingerprints all over them. Companies take Intel's offer to help subsidize its research and development (R&D), while also gaining an engineering edge. After all, if you want to maximize your laptop's performance and battery life, why not work with Intel's engineers directly?

This is one reason why laptop makers don't always "swap out" Intel for AMD - it's hard to do when Intel helped you make that laptop.

We see this marketing spin more prominently now, e.g. "Project Athena." Such ventures help make the entire industry better, but it's also so Intel becomes more than a supplier of chips. Intel wants to be partners with PC makers, which then makes those OEMs more reliable on Intel. This relationship (and the financial incentives it brings) will be hard for laptop makers just to give up if AMD can't somehow make up for it.

Price Wars: Intel is ruthless

Intel 10th Gen CPU

Source: Intel (Image credit: Source: Intel)

The running joke in the microprocessor space is how much Intel charges for its chips. You can't blame them, especially on laptops, as the company has effectively had free reign for nearly a decade. Their obligation is to its shareholders to maximize profit.

But Intel can take that same market power and kneecap AMD. Intel often sells PC makers its chips at bulk discounts, but each deal is unique. While AMD's chips are more affordable, Intel can swallow its pride and drive down costs where it makes sense.

Intel still dominates in enterprise

vPro

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

While often unsexy to talk about, the enterprise PC market is massive. There's a reason why HP (EliteBook), Lenovo (ThinkPad), and Dell (Latitude) all compete heavily in this space. Why sell a person one laptop when you can sell hundreds (sometimes thousands) at once with long-term service contracts?

Intel vPRO, specifically Intel Active Management Technology (Intel AMT), BitLocker with a Trusted Platform Module (TPM), Trusted Execution Technology (Intel TXT), virtualization, and more are all vital to businesses managing thousands of connected PCs.

AMD is trying to make inroads with its "Ryzen Pro" series announced two years ago. And HP is dipping its toe in the water with the forthcoming EliteBook 805-series (which are AMD variants of the EliteBook 800s) to see if companies are interested.

While it's great to see AMD compete here, it's a huge hill to climb against Intel.

Thunderbolt 3, Wi-Fi 6, and proprietary tech

Thunderbolt 3

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Intel co-developed Thunderbolt technology with Apple many years ago. That standard lives on at Thunderbolt 3 today, and soon (the somewhat dubious) Thunderbolt 4. Intel has dropped licensing costs for Thunderbolt 3 with its chips, but companies like AMD need to pay up to play.

The truth is, AMD chips can work fine with Thunderbolt 3 (see desktops), but it becomes an added expense that requires certification, which somewhat negates the cost-savings AMD has over Intel.

Intel is also the chief supplier of Wi-Fi 6 mobile chips these days. Those Wi-Fi chips work fine with AMD, but Intel likely bundles it with its CPUs at a sweet deal for OEMs.

While I'd argue both technologies are not "must-haves" for most people, it's hard to deny that Intel has an advantage here, one it will exploit as much as it can. Luckily, USB 4 should help with some of this.

The same can be said with 4G and 5G support, where AMD has yet to make a dent. Likewise, for competing against Qualcomm and its ARM push into always-connected PCs.

AMD could (and should) dethrone Intel

Asus Rog Zephyrus G14 Hero

Source: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central)

None of this is to suggest that AMD won't find success in laptops. Instead, it is merely pointing out that Intel's grasp on the laptop market will take years to undo.

AMD has two things going for it right now that are hard to deny:

  1. Intel is tripping over itself, failing to deliver 7nm, while charging more. The company is finally making changes.
  2. AMD's latest mobile chips are incredibly good. They are not leapfrogging Intel, but they make a value proposition to OEMs that have been missing for a long time. Next-gen Ryzen Mobile could blow past Intel, much like in the desktop space.

AMD's strength with more power at a lower cost is obvious. The company is adding features, while Intel seems to be taking them away (especially on desktop). It's also clear that AMD has execution down, which is where Intel has been significantly hurt in the last few years.

Right now, AMD is mostly filling in the gaps where Intel always lagged, e.g., budget and mid-range laptops. I want to see AMD processors get into the premium, high-end laptop space. That is going to take some time, and as outlined here, AMD has quite a few hurdles to overcome.

But if there was an opportunity for AMD to put Intel in a corner, it is now.

Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

19 Comments
  • I have the M3 Surface Go 2. The chip is two years old but it doesn't feel two years. In fact, I'm happier using the Go 2 over my (recently sold) i3 Surface Pro 7; mainly because of the form factor and the power difference is negligible in day to day use. And yet, it breaks my heart that there's not a Go 2 competitor running on AMD. The 10"-12" form factor needs more dogs in this race. ARM has an app compatibility problem. Intel has a lack of competition problem. And AMD has a no mobile chip problem. But if all three were fighting for tablet dominance, I think we'd get some really good Windows tablets at competitive prices.
  • Yeah, I'd love to see AMD go south even more to lower-end, or at least smaller devices that are fanless. They may get there. Two years ago, they told me they only cared about gaming desktops, servers, and high-end stuff. Ryzen Mobile 4000 changed that, so I'd like to believe they'll go to the other extreme of the computing market. Surface Go is one of those rumored co-Intel devices, which is why it's not ARM or something else.
  • I want to see an AMD Go. Would make a lot of sense as eg a Steam/Gog tablet, considering recent igpu's were already quite close to mx150 performance. And there is a surprising amount of games on those platforms that can either be played by touch and/or pen.
  • Thunderbolt 3 is the big one, especially for business laptops. The business world has consolidated around Thunderbolt 3 docking stations. It's all I see at my company's offices, as well as my customer's. AMD is at a huge disadvantage here. Now that Thunderbolt 3 is open source, I'm hoping more laptop manufacturers add it to their AMD lineup. As an aside, that is why you don't see Surface in business. No standard docking support is a real sore point.
  • I do see some surfaces in business. Anyway in many cases recent usb c docking is good enough (even for multiple monitor features etc). And as soon as the next version for usb c will be launched, thunderbolt will become useless (with the exception for some niches like egpu's etc).
  • "that is why you don't see Surface in business"
    The lack of vPro and TB3 is not helpful to Surface in enterprise, but seeing as Microsoft has a separate website to sell businesses "Pro" versions of all its Surface devices, including Go2, it's not a death knell either. Microsoft sees its Surface Dock 2 as equivalent to TB3 docks for features. When companies buy into all that the need for TB3 lessens.
  • What about asking their lawyers to kindly ask OEMs to break the deals with intel only and start to provide high end models (eg: spectre, yoga 9xx, zebnbook, xps...), 4k display options and gpu > 2060?
  • Actually the Renoir mobile parts had leapfrogged Intel's 10th-gen comparable parts. The 4500U can be seen outperforming i7-10710U, which is supposedly a tier above and double the price. The 4300U is matching the latest Ice Lake i5-1035G7 while being cheaper by over $200. And speaking of Ice Lake, this is proof how AMD had leapfrogged Intel in mobile space, by forcing Intel to release what is supposedly an 11th-gen parts less than three months after the 10th and confuse everyone and themselves in the process.
  • Yes, performance is better, but not thermals, nor are there any AI features, or anything new that pushes mobile computing forward. It's literally "just slightly faster." That's good, but not exactly ground-shaking in this industry. When you factor in they're only found in mid-range laptops, lack TB3, often Wi-Fi 6, the difference between AMD and Intel is nice, but not what's needed for them to overtake Intel.
  • That's the next step when AMD manages to sustain leadership, which they haven't done yet. For now, we should not downplay their significant inroads not just by adding their own market share, but also giving customers high performing parts for much lower price. Something you will not get if Intel has no competition. We can see now how the sub $1,000 market is saturated with high performing ultra books, to the delight of the masses. For the masses, slightly faster is definitely golden, especially since they can get it for half the price. I hope more builders spec up their AMD-based models with TB3, higher-end screens and webcam, because it's perfectly possible and the price will still be cheaper than Intel's. Unless, as common knowledge in the industry, Intel vetoes their 'long time' partners to deliberately cripple their AMD's models just so they can keep 'market leadership'.
  • Thermals are also much better on AMD, a 35W R9 4900HS performs better than a 90W i9 9880H
  • My experience in laptop reviews does not reflect that. The ROG Zep G14 peaked at nearly 125F (52C) on the bottom. That's burn-levels. The ENVY x360 with AMD throttle heavily after about 10 minutes, dropping significantly in performance.
  • That's unfortunate Daniel. I'm not trying to be rude, or aggressive but your two cases of anecdotal evidence doesn't negate the fact that AMD does indeed have better thermals. In the mobile space, AMD has indeed leapfrogged Intel, for the time being at least.
  • technically they have leapfrogged. In terms of being generally faster (I think intel probably still has fastest mobile CPU but at higher power). You won't really notice in most use cases. Intel still has good battery life, still has good performance. Still has compelling laptops. They suck on price and thats about it.
  • Amd also has the edge in igpu's generally, I hope they will further get more market share so entry Nvidia (and amd ironically) dgpu's will stop lagging around too (mx series etc). That area really lacked competition until just a ~year ago.
  • I guess this would fall under the "laptop design" category of your article, but one glaring omission for AMD is laptops with nice, premium screens. The cream of the crop runs Intel machines, and while Lenovo and HP do have some decent FHD AMD laptops, a lot of people say they're not good for content creation. Seeing an AMD chipset in the Dell XPS or HP's Spectre line would be another major step forward for AMD because, as far as I'm concerned as a consumer, AMD's new Ryzen 4000 series is more than enough computing goodness for me as a user with an unbeatable value proposition, and I don't mind foregoing vPro and Thunderbolt (HP has some AMD Envy laptops with Wi-Fi 6 chips) to give my money to a worthy competitor instead of that monopolist Intel.
  • Yeah, I was going to mention that as it was something I thought was true, but didn't look hard enough to validate. But that is the feeling, there really aren't any 4K, OLED, or IGZO displays with these...just full HD as you mention.
  • Interesting read. The potential Intel strategy of cutting prices to hold market share assumes that they can hold market share in the future without cutthroat pricing, and that's debatable. The fact is that big companies using aggressive pricing to thwart threats to their market share is more myth than reality in the historical record. (Again, it assumes the threat of competition goes away at some point. The more common pattern is either uniquely good efficiency (think Amazon) or government protection. This is what the lefty Democrats in Congress don't get.) Also, there are risks to funding research. Intel is already behind on the 7nm stuff. Surely they don't want to fall further behind ...
  • I want my new Surface Pro 8 to come with the AMD 15W 8 core, 16-thread CPU. And it'll probably have a better GPU as well. I've owned the Surface Pro 2, the Surface Pro 4, the Surface Pro 2017, and the Surface Pro 7. The Surface Pro 4 had the most problems because it was pretty much the first PC with Skylake and all its problems (remember, Skylake was part of the reason why Apple decided to go away from Intel). I used the Surface Pro 6 and felt that it was a better machine in many ways than the Surface Pro 7. I love my Surface Pro 7 but it wasn't the step over the Surface Pro 6 that I thought it would be.