AMD's CPU share skyrocketed in 2020 along with low-end PC sales

Solving its manufacturing issues freed Intel up for a dogfight in low-end PCs, which exploded in terms of sales volume.

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AMD had a very good year in 2020, further proven Wednesday when an analyst firm confirmed the company grabbed more than 6 percentage points of CPU market share away from rival Intel, skyrocketing from 15.1 percent to 21.7 percent year over year.

Mercury Research analyst Dean McCarron said that massive growth in the cheaper processor segments (think low-cost and educational PCs) drove record highs in PC processor shipments. Although McCarron had already confirmed Monday that Intel regained market share against  AMD during the fourth quarter, for 2020 as a whole, AMD gained ground across the board, in server, desktop, and mobile processors.

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Overall x86 CPU share for 2020, including server, mobile, and desktop.

The fourth quarter was an absolutely massive period for the PC market. New record highs for total processor revenues were set for both the fourth quarter and 2020 overall, McCarron wrote in an email. The fourth quarter set a new record high for unit shipments, at more than 125 million.

“A very large portion of growth in the quarter for both mobile CPUs and overall shipments was due to a massive increase in entry-level processors such as Intel’s Celeron and AMD’s “Stoney Ridge” A4 and A6 series, both often used in Chromebooks and low-cost PCs,” McCarron explained. “Many of these are believed to be shipping into the educational PC market.” Mobile processors are up nearly 60 percent year-over-year, he added.

overall mobile x86 share 2020 mercury research large Mercury Research

AMD stole a small slice of mobile market share from Intel in 2020.

McCarron attributed much of the growth to the pandemic, which drove a huge chunk of the population to work or study from home, usually on laptop computers. “The demand that is absorbing all these new mobile processors is presumed to be due to COVID-19 related acceleration of the desktop to notebook transition that has been going on for the past few years, combined with an entry-level mobile CPU market that has been under-served for more than year and is believed to have a created a large backlog of demand for low-cost CPUs waiting to be filled,” McCarron added.

As suspected, Intel’s resurgence—and Intel’s success during the fourth quarter— was driven in part by the company’s ability to move past its former manufacturing problems. Previously, Intel’s capacity constraints forced it to prioritize pricey “large core” products at the higher end of the market. Once Intel regained manufacturing capacity, the company was able to go back to selling its Pentium and Celeron “small core” processors, too.

overall desktop x86 share 2020 mercury research large Mercury Research

Intel largely held its own in desktop CPU sales, but AMD nipped at its heels.

Though Intel gained share in the desktop space during the fourth quarter, McCarron singled out the recent launch of AMD's Ryzen 5000 desktop processor. According to McCarron’s research, Ryzen 5000 doubled the sales volume of AMD’s previous best processor, shipping close to a million units and helping AMD raise its average selling price. AMD reported record revenues for the fourth quarter of 2020.

As usual, Via Technologies, along with its partner Zhaoxin, continues to hold a sliver-thin presence in the desktop market. AMD gained 2.6 percentage points in the server market for all of 2020, including 0.5 points during the fourth quarter, McCarron said.

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