AMD’s Market Share Surges on Steam and in Servers, Shrinks Overall

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Some interesting AMD market share data has emerged over the past few days. A new Mercury Research report indicated AMD lost an additional point of the x86 market for laptops and desktops in Q1 2021. This is the second time AMD has lost market share relative to Intel.

AMD doesn’t appear to have a demand problem; the company is selling every chip it can make. The problem is that TSMC can’t keep enough chips in-market to feed demand. This allowed Intel to claw back a point of market share, raising it to 79.3 percent. AMD’s market share has increased 5.9 percentage points since Q2 2020.

Steam, however, tells a different story. The Steam Hardware Survey is an imperfect metric. If you install Steam on three computers but only use one of them for your primary gaming rig, all three of them are (supposedly) counted in the final tally. This means that an awful lot of machines that might only have Steam on them for a few very low-end titles are also included in these figures. The SHS is an interesting data point, but not the definitive word on anything.

AMD’s market share has grown year-on-year, even if it shrank quarter-on-quarter. In April 2020, AMD commanded 21.71 percent of the market against Intel’s 78.28 percent. Today, AMD holds 29.48 percent of the market, compared with Intel’s 70.51 percent. That’s a larger gap than we see in the overall market, and AMD has continued to grow its share on Steam even as its desktop and laptop market share has dipped slightly for both of the past two quarters. The fact that we have two distinctly different trends suggests the SHS does capture a different group of users compared with non-Steam users.

This is also not the first time we have seen significant gaps between Steam and non-Steam users. Windows 10 was more popular with Steam players than the general public. We can’t say exactly what the SHS captures, because Valve refuses to explain its metrics or policies, but it appears to show us something about what gamers are buying these days.

Interesting fact: The number of high-clock Intel CPUs went down from 2020, from 5.31 percent to 4.98 percent. Desktop sales fell sharply in 2020, while laptop sales boomed. This shift likely reflects proportionally higher sales of Intel laptop CPUs with somewhat lower clock speeds compared with their desktop counterparts.

The number of AMD CPUs at 3.7GHz or above increased, from 4.15 percent to 6.07 percent. This suggests that AMD has performed well in the retail-enthusiast channel over the past 12 months, which matches other reports of excellent AMD desktop CPU sales.

We’re also seeing some interesting movement in core counts. The number of “two CPU” systems (this presumably means physical cores) has dropped sharply, from 19.67 percent to 12.9 percent of the market. The implication here is that a number of people who were previously using older dual-core Intel mobile chips upgraded last year.

Surprisingly, however, the number of quad-core chips also went down. Quad-cores still hold the largest market share by volume, at 40.98 percent, but that’s down from 48.89 percent in April 2020. Some of these shifts likely represent new systems that were built in 2020, not just people upgrading, but that’s a large pair of shifts in just a year.

The big winners? Six-core chips are up 8 percent and eight-core chips grew six percent. We can see the impact of the Comet Lake launch, as 10-core CPU market share increased from 0.08 percent in April 2020 to 0.61 percent in April 2021. In addition, 12-core adoption surged, from 0.33 percent of the market to 0.96 percent. AMD grew its market share by a larger margin (0.63 percent versus 0.53 percent) and captured more buyers overall. Some enthusiasts moved to AMD on desktop and it’s clear a lot of Intel laptop owners upgraded.

Only 1.86 percent of gamers have more than eight CPU cores according to the Steam Hardware Survey, but 45 percent of gamers now play on six or more CPU cores. If players continue to upgrade at the present rate, it won’t be long before developers will be able to treat six cores as a realistic minimum for gaming. Now that consoles support up to 8C/16T operation, increasing the minimum number of threads developers can expect on PCs helps simplify development.

One other place where AMD bucked the overall x86 trend was the server market. AMD’s market share grew 3.8 percent in servers, the largest quarterly jump for AMD in that market since 2006. In the past, Intel has referred to periodic dips in its server revenue as ongoing “digestion,” meaning orders had dipped while companies focused on installing the equipment they’d been purchasing already. Given AMD’s large gains in this market, Intel’s problem looks more like a spot of indigestion. We’ll see if the glacial waters of Ice Lake-SP rehydrate things now that the chip is shipping in volume.

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