I wrote earlier about my experience with AMD’s Ryzen PRO launch, but since then I’ve been thinking about the problem they had. Basically, AMD has had, for some time, the image of a second-class player about processors because Intel was massively dominant. The lack of competition caused Intel to shift resources and, as a result, CPU technology advancement slowed. This allowed AMD the opportunity to catch up and close the gap. With workstations, the massively multi-threaded processor Threadripper is now in a class in and of itself, but finding a workstation that uses it is a challenge.
Here are some semi-random take-aways from the event.
Desktops Don’t Have to Die
We’ve been talking about the death of desktop PCs since before we were talking about death of PCs in general, yet they remain the most common configuration sold in the world. In some markets, they represent 75 percent market share. Yet the belief that desktops are dead tends to focus marketing dollars, specifically demand generation, on laptop PCs and particularly all-in-ones. With all-in-ones, the OEMs report that less than 20 percent of users use them as tablets. So, doing the math, the industry puts almost all of its demand generation dollars into a segment, two-in-ones, that represent 10 percent of the market (20 percent of 50 percent). Wouldn’t it make more sense to fund demand generation where 50 percent to 75 percent of the market is currently buying?
Given that most people work station to station, in other words they work from the office or home, wouldn’t two desktop computers make more sense? A desktop computer is more secure, it is far less expensive, and it is far less likely to be stolen. Most correspondence is now done on a smartphone, which is where the apps and much of the web activity is.
I just think that rather than pounding on folks to get them to go mobile with their PC when their need to be mobile with that device has declined and, particularly with two-in-ones, which a very small fraction use, seems like a huge waste of money and could also help explain why the PC market had been in the dumps until recently.
Firms might get a bigger bump by convincing folks to cycle their desktop computer, given that is what most now have, for a fraction of the cost of moving to a laptop, which they seem to be resisting.
One of the OEMs said that only about 10 percent of their customers use the Pro features in anyone’s processors. If that is true, and they’d know their own base, why are Pro processors the default? In many cases, each OEM wraps its solution with a ton of its own security offerings, which is what sales people tend to push, making the Pro stuff somewhat redundant. Therefore, they looked at AMD’s parts as equivalent to Intel’s, even though, in some cases, AMD’s were better.
Maybe someone could tell me why, if you aren’t using a tool, you are specifying it by default? If you’re paying for it, turn it on, if you aren’t going to use it…
When I first saw Threadripper, I immediately thought this could be the workstation processor to end all workstation processors. It is significantly better than anything else out there. Yet we spoke of it as if it was for gamers. But games, with some exceptions, aren’t massively threaded. You are often lucky to light on two or four cores, let alone 32. But workstation apps, particularly those focused on creating images, are massively multi-threaded. Jellyfish, the firm that does the effects for many of the Star Wars movies, just went off on how much this part improved the efficiency of its production process, dropping rendering efforts from days to hours. So why did most of the OEMs have gaming Threadripper boxes but none had a Threadripper workstation? I get that gamers are a tad crazy and I love my own Threadripper box, but why wouldn’t you build where the more lucrative market is? There are a lot more engineers who would find a $5K Threadripper workstation affordable than there are gamers. Granted, the part would often have to be certified but users are demanding their vendors certify Threadripper so…
The OEMs all seemed to be looking to AMD to do the demand generation for its new class of processors, much like Intel does. However, AMD historically passes on a lower part cost instead of that ,which means it really doesn’t have the resources to do that. It doesn’t matter if you have a better part, even a massively better part, like Threadripper if the word doesn’t get out. (At least with engineers they do tend to spread the word.)
If the OEMs are looking to AMD to build demand and AMD is looking to the OEMs, who exactly will be funding demand generation efforts?
Wrapping Up: Intel Is Vulnerable, AMD Can Take Advantage
AMD has created a fascinating and very competitive line of desktop processors. But it is hampered by the perceptions that it is still a second-class player, and by a set of Intel practices that people think are industry standard but that AMD hasn’t adopted. Intel faces a competitive problem because it took the PC market for granted and likely thought, given everyone thought it was in decline, wasn’t worth the effort anymore.
So, Intel is vulnerable, largely because of foolish decisions in the past, but AMD still must effectively target Intel’s vulnerability. A big part of that will be convincing both OEMs and buyers that AMD isn’t the cheap Intel knock-off anymore.
Now, if you want to see workstation performance that’ll knock your socks off, look to Velocity Micro (ProMagix), Workstation Specialists. Something you’d think the major workstation vendors would be more concerned about. Engineers really chase performance. Just saying.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+