Intel Responds to AMD’s Challenge with Ice Lake CPUs as Competition in Server Market Intensifies, Says TrendForce
The x86 architecture remained the mainstream server architecture at the end of 2020, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. In the x86 server segment, Intel took the lead with a 92% market share thanks to the wide-ranging positioning of its solutions. On the other hand, AMD saw its market share rise to nearly 8% in 4Q20, which represents a 3% growth compared to 4Q19. Other server solutions, based on non-x86 architectures, comprised an insignificant portion of the market. TrendForce projects total server shipment to increase by 21% QoQ in 2Q21 owing to the release of Intel’s new Ice Lake platform.
Notably, edge computing, which involves low-latency data processing, has risen to the forefront of server applications in response to the rise of AI and 5G networks. Ideal use cases of edge computing include autonomous driving, IIoT, and other proprietary commercial applications, with relevant vendors already scrambling to deliver solutions aimed at these use cases. With regards to architecture, ARMv8-based solutions are the most suitable for edge computing applications in terms of both cost and power consumption. With the ongoing 5G commercialization, ARMv8 solutions have been occupying a growing share within the total shipment of all ARM solutions, and North American data centers have been the most aggressive in adopting these solutions. TrendForce expects ARMv8 solutions to occupy a respectable share of the low power consumption edge computing market in 2023-2025.
With the upcoming ramp-up in production, Intel’s new Ice Lake CPUs will likely account for 40% of Intel CPU shipment in 4Q21
As previously mentioned, Intel’s x86 CPUs are the mainstream among server platforms. With regards to Intel’s server roadmap, the company has started shipping a small batch of Whitley Ice Lake CPUs to its clients in the data center segment in 1Q21, while bulk shipment to branded server manufacturers is expected to take place in 2Q21. At the same time, Intel expects Whitley Ice Lake CPUs to account for about 40% of Intel’s CPU shipment in 4Q21, although adoption by buyers remains to be seen.
In terms of specifications, the Whitley platform allows Ice Lake CPUs to be compatible with the fastest DDR4 standards and therefore provides a major improvement in both data transfer rate (MT/s) and maximum capacity of DRAM supported per CPU. The Whitley platform will effectively increase the average DRAM storage capacity of servers, leading to faster and more advanced virtualization applications while improving data streaming performances in data centers. On the whole, not only does the Whitley platform increase the Ice Lake CPU’s cloud computing capabilities, but it also allows Intel to catch up to AMD’s Rome platform, in turn further strengthening Intel’s leadership position in the server market. As such, buyers will likely adopt the Whitley platform given the increased server demand generated by the post-pandemic new normal. Incidentally, although AMD’s mass-produced server solutions are slightly superior to competing offerings from Intel in terms of specs and pricing, AMD will not make significant adjustments in its upcoming Milan platform. AMD will therefore unlikely be a factor that propels the overall bit demand for server DRAM.
In the competition among server CPUs with respect to the data transfer rate, the Whitley Ice Lake is Intel’s first server processor platform that supports PCIe Gen 4. Although AMD was already mass producing server CPUs featuring PCIe Gen 4 support in 2020, Intel will likely be more effective in leveraging this advantage across the application ecosystem. The reason is that Intel is the long-time leader in server CPUs and controls the lion’s share of the market. Furthermore, Intel aims to synergize its latest server CPUs with the second generation of its Optane SSDs. Working together, they are expected to significantly enhance the computing performance of servers for the applications that will become mainstream in the future (e.g., AI and machine learning). TrendForce believes that the penetration rate of PCIe Gen 4 will rise rapidly in 2H21 as Intel and AMD step up shipments of CPUs that support this interface.
Regarding the implementation of the support for DDR5 and PCIe Gen 5, both Intel and AMD have already begun sending samples of related products to their clients in 1Q21. Intel plans to begin mass production for server CPUs belonging to the Eagle Stream platform at the start of 2022. Since the Eagle Stream is designed to support PCIe Gen 5, it will provide another significant boost to the data transfer rate. As for AMD, it plans to commence mass production for server CPUs based on the Genoa platform in 2Q22.
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