Review Index:

AMD Q1 2012 Earnings Analysis: Looking Back and Looking Forward

Subject: Editorial
Manufacturer: AMD

Get Out the Microscope

AMD announced their Q1 2012 earnings last week, which turned out better than the previous numbers suggested. The bad news is that they posted a net loss of $590 million. That does sound pretty bad considering that their gross revenue was $1.59 billion, but there is more to the story than meets the eye. Of course, there are thoughts of “those spendthrift executives are burying AMD again”, but this is not the case. The loss lays squarely on the GLOBALFOUNDRIES equity and wafer agreements that have totally been retooled.

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To get a good idea of where AMD stands in Q1, and for the rest of this year, we need to see how all these numbers actually get sorted out. Gross revenue is down 6% from the quarter before, which is expected due to seasonal pressures. This is right in line with Intel’s seasonal downturn, and in ways AMD was affected slightly less than their larger competitor. They are down around 2% from last year’s quarter, and part of that can be attributed to the continuing hard drive shortage that continued to affect the previous quarter.

The biggest news of the quarter was that AMD is no longer constrained by 32 nm availability. GLOBALFOUNDRIES was able to produce as many 32 nm parts for AMD as needed with yields continuously improving over the past two quarters. AMD seems very comfortable about where they are at in terms of yields and availability for both Bulldozer and Llano based product lines. AMD has in fact been ramping production of the upcoming Trinity based processor and has been shipping finished products to customers since mid Q1. They have also started shipping Brazos 2.0 parts to customers, and both Trinity and Brazos will be launched in mid Q2 of this year.
The CPU/APU World According to AMD
The mobile area has been one of tremendous growth for AMD and Q1 saw 100% of all mobile shipments be APU products (both Llano and Brazos 1.0). AMD is very bullish about Trinity. They say that it offers around 50% more performance at the same TDP as the earlier Llano based processors. This 50% is a combination of both CPU and GPU performance, so do not expect massive jumps in CPU performance alone from current Llano based products at those TDPs. The big jump does appear to be in graphics, and AMD is certainly more than willing to hang their hat on that portion. With the latest Ivy Bridge IGPs still not able to match last year’s Llano, AMD feels that Trinity will truly leave Intel behind in terms of overall graphics performance. Trinity features a totally redesigned graphics portion which combines the VLIW4 architecture of the HD 6900 series with aspects of the new 7000 series of products.
Brazos 2.0 will still be based on 40 nm parts, but they apparently have been heavily redesigned to improve performance and power consumption. These new chips will be combined with a new Fusion Controller Hub (FCH) that will add more features to the mix. AMD was sparing with the actual details of this product, but they are really pushing them into the tablet and low end notebook space. For the past year we have seen a surprisingly robust selection of E-350 and E-450 parts in sub-$500 notebooks featuring large screens, big hard drives, and higher memory densities. Brazos 1.0 has been one of AMD’s most successful lines in recent history.
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AMD will not be charging obscene amounts of money for their Trinity based products, and they are hoping to really make a dent into what they consider to be the meat of the market; namely the area between $400 and $700 for notebooks. Trinity will offer TDPs down to 17 watts, which will allow it to be integrated into thin and light products, or what AMD refers to “Ultrathins”. This is the same style of chassis for which Intel is spending millions on promoting with their “Ultrabook” branding. AMD is hoping to be able to offer products that are around $200 to $300 less expensive than comparable Intel branded Ultrabooks. If AMD is able to achieve this with a strong enough chassis design, features, and heat dissipation then they will offer a tremendous value as compared to what Intel offers. Trinity will also feature aggressive power saving techniques and will also include the AMD Video Codec Engine, which in theory is competitive with Intel’s Quick Sync technology.
AMD claims that they have seen a record number of design wins for their Trinity and Brazos 2.0 parts. Demand is already very healthy, and we can see why AMD is bullish about these two products. AMD also claims that they have a significant number of design wins for the thin and light category, and we can assume that these will feature both Trinity and Brazos 2.0 APUs. Now, whether this matches the 26 design wins that Intel has so far for their Ultrabook category of parts is unknown. We can expect these designs to be unveiled quite soon though, and by soon I mean before June 1.
The mobile market has been incredibly important for AMD for the past four quarters, and now that they are no longer supply constrained on either 40 nm for Brazos or 32 nm for Llano and Trinity, they really hope to explode into the market. The desktop market, on the other hand, has been a mixed bag. Llano sales have been solid, but Bulldozer has been a pretty big disappointment. While AMD did not mention it in the conference call directly, we look at the numbers and see that the desktop Bulldozer is a costly product to make in terms of die size. AMD still offers 45 nm quad core products to take up much of the slack left by Bulldozer. Llano is also still selling strong on the desktop due to its still class leading integrated graphics performance. There will be no new Piledriver based CPUs for the AM3+ desktop market in Q2, but we can expect them in Q3. We can expect an aggressive push for FM2 and Trinity based desktop parts in June though.
One area that has been overlooked by most has been that of AMD’s server market share. They have seen three consecutive quarters of growth from this area, and a lot of it has been due to the much maligned Bulldozer architecture. While Bulldozer is not fantastic for the desktop, it achieves much better results in many enterprise class applications. While AMD’s product portfolio is nowhere near as strong as Intel’s, it has achieved sales growth that has not been seen since the original Opteron. The Interlagos products, which feature two Bulldozer dies together on one substrate, is a good combination of TDP, performance, and thread count for the single and dual socket market. Four socket Interlagos offers a compute density that is certainly hard to match for the price. AMD will update their server lineup with Piledriver based parts, but that again will not be until a Q3/Q4 timeframe.


April 25, 2012 | 08:07 PM - Posted by tbone (not verified)

good read josh ;)

id like to add the design wins for all next gen consoles will also be a big plus for AMD

looking forward to seeing Trinity in the ultrathin/laptop market, but I have to say Kaveri looks to be pretty cool on the 28nm process, should be a powerhouse!

April 26, 2012 | 10:45 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Those design wins are a big plus for AMD, but we have not seen any money from them yet (afaik). Also, production is still a bit in the future, but hopefully the WiiU money will start rolling in for AMD. Q1 though is typically a down time for console royalties, and I think they mentioned that in the conference call.

Vishera will give us a good idea where AMD will sit with a more IPC/performance optimized Bulldozer redesign. The first iteration of Piledriver in Trinity was more about fixing thermal issues and some latency problems in the design (from what I am hearing, and what the performance leaks are showing). Vishera is a much more aggressive redesign that is "supposed" to address more performance issues along with thermals. That particular product will likely have the same IPC characterstics of Kaveri.

There are still a lot of hurdles that AMD has to overcome to get CPU performance up there to reasonable levels against what Intel currently offers.

April 25, 2012 | 08:58 PM - Posted by Meh (not verified)

You paint an overly optimistic picture of AMD.

They have no control over their manufacturing and process anymore.
They have lost investor confidence.
Their entire marketing of Bulldozer and propaganda ahead of it and damage control after launched FAILED.
Parachute payments to execs, shareholder value eroded.

What is exactly that you see, other than regurgitating their propaganda and powerpoint slides?

April 25, 2012 | 10:04 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

There is a lot of upside to AMD, but as I believe I stated in the article, it still has a lot of hurdles in front of it before we can consider them successful against Intel. Then again, they are the only competitor to Intel and have lasted for some 40 years now.

Intel currently is the only semiconductor manufacturer (other than the memory guys, IBM, and Samsung) that has control over their manufacturing and process. NVIDIA, Qualcomm, Ti (who has closed down most of their fabs), Apple, Motorola, and countless other semi firms that all utilize foundries. I would say that we have definitely seen the shift to a fabless model for the vast majority of companies out there. With the capital behind GF, and the proven track record of TSMC and UMC, I don't see them falling all that much further behind Intel. Intel will always have better margins due to them owning their own fabs, but that does not mean that the other companies will not be able to pull a profit from that model.

Yes, investor confidence is down, and a lot of people have panicked with all of the upper management losses. Then again, look at the last two months and see how many upgrades the stock has received (from sell to hold, and hold to buy). There is a positive trend going there.

Bulldozer is bad. I have not seen any damage control from AMD other than they stopped sending out review products. I see a few basic ads, but it seems more like AMD is turning a blind eye to Bulldozer and focusing instead on Llano, Brazos, and the upcoming Trinity.

Shareholder value eroded... you mean share price going from $2.50 a share 9 months ago up to around $8 a share today? I would say the new management team has stopped the bleeding.

I see a lot of value in AMD's graphics technology. Bobcat is a very good architecture, and much more impressive than Intel's current Atom lineup. Trinity, while not a CPU powerhouse, looks to have fixed the power issues with Bulldozer and integrates the most powerful graphics processor on a CPU. If they can fix the TDP issues of Bulldozer, and improve the IPC further with Vishera (as they are rumored to have done... Vishera is another step above what they have done with Trinity), then we will see more competitive parts in the desktop and server space. Will they surpass Intel in performance? I really doubt it. Will it have good price/performance and a competitive TDP? I think they have a much better chance of pulling that off.

There is a lot of upside with AMD, and I don't feel that I am overly optimistic. Nowhere did I claim that AMD would retake the CPU performance crown, or that they would have a whole portfolio of products that will overturn Intel, but I did state that they have the best integrated GPU in the business from the low end to the midrange. They have very competitive products in the GPU market. Unlike NVIDIA, they are actually delivering a lot of products from top to bottom.

It really does look like AMD is reinvigorated, but again time will tell if this lasts. The foundation is there, they just need to execute and focus on smaller, more meaningful steps in terms of technology and architecture. Gone are the days of massive, sweeping changes in CPU architecture. We will see a lot of refinement in the CPU, but the biggest catalyst for growth will be the GPU. Even Intel sees that, and the jumps we have seen from them in the past 5 years in graphics has been impressive. They still have a lot to learn though, and that is an area that AMD can exploit.

April 26, 2012 | 02:36 AM - Posted by Matt Smith

I can't comment on the desktop space, but AMD's competitiveness in the mobile market has basically vanished.

Bobcat's actual processor performance is on par with Atom. The graphics portion is good for playing 1080p video and some older 3D games - and that's about it. It's obviously better than Atom's IGP in regards to 3D performance, but it's not much better than Atom + Ion.

In mainstream components, AMD's best mobile Fusion APU is well behind Intel HD 4000 in performance. And processor performance is so far behind Intel it's sad.

This is a poor state of affairs. I do not want to see Intel be a monopoly. But what hope is there? AMD could double processor performance tomorrow and still be in trouble.

April 26, 2012 | 03:17 AM - Posted by GettCouped (not verified)

Considering AMD's biggest success last year was in the mobile market with Brazos, and the fact that they have Brazos 2.0 and Trinity (which has a record number of design wins and will offer cheaper ultrabooks), I don't know how you can validate any of your statements

I am concerned about your agenda.

April 26, 2012 | 12:03 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

Rather than being concerned with my agenda, maybe you should spend time reading my reviews?

April 26, 2012 | 12:15 PM - Posted by tbone (not verified)

"AMD's best mobile Fusion APU is well behind Intel HD 4000 in performance."

really link me to a review that shows this? lol

April 26, 2012 | 04:35 AM - Posted by dragosmp (not verified)

To begin with I'd just like to say to say this is a nice overview. Maybe a bit optimistic, but if I didn't want AMD to recover maybe I wouldn't have been too interested in the article anyway. You can just see, actually is quite obvious, that Josh welcomes a possible AMD recovery, and why not? They have been worse, when they launched K7 it was laughable to spend more than 120$ for an AMD processor as they simply couldn't touch PIIs' performance. At the time they only had a desktop Celeron competitor which pretty much is the case now with Llano and Bulldozer. Now they're not quite that low as they have a server CPU and a mild presence in laptops.

About Brazos vs Atom+Ion, I'm not so sure. From a performance standpoint I agree that Brazos offers little over Atom+Ion, but Atom is limited by Intel @7-10 inch laptops, while my feeling is that most Brazos CPUs sell in 300-400 13-15" laptops (have a friend that is perfectly happy with a 15" Tosh based on E-450 & Momentus XT). So while Brazos doesn't bring much technical advantage, it is positioned differently in the market and this makes it more competitive than it would otherwise be.

Llano vs HD4000 - the only preview I've seen is the one @anandtech and I'm looking forward for your view Matt on an IB laptop. In that review the HD4000 is really competitive with Llano's iGPU, not to mention IB's CPU cores run circles around the K8 era Llano. However the HD4000 is only competitive, not really superior to the HD60something in Llano. And this is before considering drivers - I am not convinced at all that Intel provides decent graphics quality and I don't mean Medium/High settings. I mean something like the Intel IGP rendering a blue surface red, or jaggies/tears and pixels running about on the screen. I would love to see a detailed review of the HD4000 as a graphics processor with FPS, but also checking weather the games are properly rendered. For one I was hoping to game on the HD3000, but the drivers were a letdown (or buggy GPU?), now I wonder if the HD4000 is a 3DMark rallycar or a real competitor to a real GPU like Llano's.

April 26, 2012 | 09:42 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Some extra fuel for the fire:

April 26, 2012 | 12:06 PM - Posted by Tbone (not verified)

I believe Matt is smoking crack....

Intel HD 4000 doesnt beat llano igp

And Brazod ripped apart whatever Intel atom had in market share.

April 26, 2012 | 09:50 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

cant add much except why dump the 28nm brazos?

have long thought it would be a killer

I see little evidence that more than 2 cores achieves much

brazos would be my first choice apu for 28nm - not dumping it
A huge step. 40nm >28nm - 30% better power & heat in theory

thats 13~ watts from current 18

hard to believe intel/ion would have an answer - it would be a slam dunk for amd in all day ultra mobile or light devices

a 15" thin, light brazos 28nm would sure tempt me

one theory is they feel bad after all those design wins & then not being able to supply the oems who comitted to it - give them a chance to recoup for a while.

another guess is they couldnt resist a few tweaks to brazos using the easier current node & then doing the step change. Unusual to keep u roadmap secret, but it often makes sense.

April 26, 2012 | 10:27 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

My guess is that Rory took a look at all the current projects, looked at their manpower and budget, and cut the ones he thought made the least amount of sense. Quad core Brazos, while nice in theory, really does not have as much of a market as perhaps a dual core. When going dual core Brazos on 28 nm, I wonder if they were just looking at a die size that was almost too small for the number of pads needed? Could be some other issues there, such as the theoretical TDP was not going to be as low as they were hoping, and it made more sense to revise/optimize the 40 nm product? A good question though, and one we can hopefully get an answer to one day.

Also they are probably still constrained with TSMC's 28 nm process. Would it make more sense to order Brazos wafers and potentially lose out on higher margin products in the GPU space? I'm betting the long and short of it is that AMD felt they could not meet 28 nm Brazos demand with the supply of wafers they had to deal with, all the while cutting down on the GPU supply... which would be bad considering that NVIDIA is even more supply constrained and AMD wants to take advantage of that.

April 26, 2012 | 09:53 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

No mention of drivers or chipsets

r not amd chipsets more integrated? & if not faster, more generous with port options?


April 26, 2012 | 10:52 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Drivers certainly are an advantage for AMD. Intel's graphics drivers are nothing to write home about. Now, compare AMD's recent attempts at drivers vs. NVIDIA, and we have some issues. AMD still has a lot of room for improvement there.

AMD chipsets do give more SATA 6G ports and they have integrated USB 3.0 for the FM1 platform since last year. Too bad they never integrated USB 3.0 for AM3+, and it certainly seems like the 1090FX chipset will never see the light of day. So no PCI-E 3.0 for AM3+ anytime soon, or USB 3.0. AMD is sort of shafting those individuals who desire that particular platform. Maybe if Vishera comes out better than expected they will update the platform, but I think that particular project is dead and buried.

April 28, 2012 | 03:03 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

ta for the replies josh

as i suspected

I hear reasonably priced intel boards are niggardly w/ ports, which can be an expensive hassle down the road

amds integration should yield benefits - i doubt many discrete chipsets are 32nm - let alone on die - esp usb3 - it handles some serious traffic

seems to me, in the am3+ market, they need all the space they can get to make the cpu keep up w/ intel (bulldozer a bit of a dud, but I hear is making some traction in servers that like lotsa cores cheap - which is some big servers)


May 12, 2012 | 04:05 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not an intel troll) (not verified)

I'm REALLY not an Intel troll (and I most certainly don't have Steve jobs posters in my bedroom.)

AMD is a useless company. Bulldozer is epic fail. Trinity is going to suck anyway. llano is bad.
EVERYONE KNOWS ALL THIS. proof not. needed. Because the truth is indisputable.

Anyway, anyone who buys cheap junk (anything without fruit logos) does not deserve to live. huff ...

Just an objective and broad-minded observation.

Yours sincerely
Mr.Not an Intel troll

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