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OPINION: Has AMD missed its chance?

By Richard Swinburne. Posted

AMD has released its best products ever, but hardly any of them are on the shelves to buy.

Meanwhile, Intel has lit the figurative rocket to get its 11th-generation Intel Core processors out the door. New motherboards with its 500-series chipsets (Z590, H570, B560) were already in the shops months before its CPUs were available to fill the sockets. Current Intel 10th-gen CPUs can use these new boards, but I wouldn’t bother, as the 11th-gen CPUs are considerably better.

Were they worth the wait? Well, it’s not like you can buy an AMD Ryzen 9 5900X anyway. AMD’s latest CPUs are scoring all the benchmark wins, so you’d think the perpetual underdog would be seeing its best times ever, but what good are all the awards and repertoire if there’s nothing on the shelves to buy? For months there’s been backorders of Ryzen 9 5000- series CPUs (and Radeon RX 6000-series GPUs). Has AMD lost its chance to take a big chunk of market share?

Intel’s 11th-gen CPUs actually seem to hold up pretty well to AMD’s Ryzen 5000-series CPUs in single-threaded performance, despite being power-hungry 14nm chips compared with AMD’s power-efficient second-generation 7nm designs. While power efficiency, heat and noise are certainly factors weighing on buying decisions, there’s ongoing high demand for new PCs and upgrades right now – if there are only Intel chips to available buy, and their performance is just as good, then people will definitely buy them.

It seems that TSMC simply can’t make enough 7nm chips. AMD competes against several other companies for space on TSMC’s production lines, which I think is partly why Nvidia went to Samsung to fab its RTX 3000-series GPUs. Even when you consider the limitations resulting from the global pandemic, there’s nothing coming through to stores even months after launch. This considered, it seems Intel is (surprisingly) right to keep hold of its own fabs, regardless of the sting from falling behind leading-edge process technology.

Having something on the shelf is better than nothing, and – I almost can’t believe I’m writing this - Intel might actually be in a great position if supply of its 11th-gen CPUs hold up – it’s not as if most people need more than eight cores anyway.

The new motherboards featuring Intel 500-series chipsets are also consistently more expensive than those with the previous 400-series chipsets. That appears to be the price of enabling PCI-E 4, which we’ve seen with AMD’s B550 boards too. If you’re on a stricter budget and you’re not using a PCI-E 4 NVMe SSDs, you can still install an 11th-gen Intel CPU in a motherboard with a 400- series chipset with a BIOS update. However, with Intel unlocking memory overclocking on its non-Z chipsets for the first time, you might want to check around for B560 motherboard bargains first anyway. After all, even 3600MHz DDR4 memory isn’t that much more expensive than slower memory these days.

With motherboard makers enabling Ryzen 5000-series CPU support on (some of) their B450 motherboards, 2021 should make extremely fast six-core CPU systems more affordable all round, if you can forego PCI-E 4. Hopefully this year’s CPU competition will be great, and end up bringing us some competitive pricing, if only AMD can get some products on the shelves.

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