Intel has stumbled badly at a time when smaller rival AMD and others are picking up speed. It says it will regain its balance this year.

The company shocked the market last week with a revenue outlook that was behind Wall Street estimates by about US$3-billion. The weakness of the global economy only makes Intel’s challenges more difficult.

Intel is still the 300-pound gorilla in the market of CPUs, the brains of computers, and it says it has passed through the worst of a revamp under a new chief executive.

We stumbled, right? We lost share; we lost momentum. We think that stabilises this year

“We stumbled, right? We lost share; we lost momentum. We think that stabilises this year,” CEO Pat Gelsinger told investors on a conference call.

Intel still dominates the markets for PC and server processing chips, with a market share greater than 70%, tech research firm IDC calculated. But that is down from more than 90% in those markets in 2017.

“Someone going from 1% to 13% is significant. It tells you that now there’s a viable second competitor in the server processor market, who has momentum and is gaining momentum,” said IDC analyst Shane Rau.

That competitor is AMD, which, under the leadership of CEO Lisa Su, has come back from the brink of bankruptcy and has been taking business away from Intel quarter after quarter. AMD’s market capitalisation is about the same as Intel’s, a sign of investor confidence in AMD’s growth prospects.

Chip glut

Rau said Intel and AMD would both face macroeconomic headwinds and challenges related to rolling out their newest chips, but that Intel also had the bigger issue of a chip glut to deal with. “I don’t think Intel is in a position yet to start recovering share” in the market, he said.

Customers of processors cannot launch products if new chip designs are late, and Intel has stumbled on delivering its latest data centre chip, code named Sapphire Rapids.

“Sapphire Rapids was about two years late. And so, because of that, AMD has leapfrogged them,” said Bob O’Donnell of Technalysis Research.

Worse for Intel, the benchmarks published by the two companies show that AMD’s latest server chip outperforms Sapphire Rapids on “general purpose workloads”, according to Bernstein analyst Stacy Rasgon.

Intel has rising competition, too, as graphics chip maker Nvidia branches into central processors and former processor customers, including Apple and Amazon, design their own chips.

Gelsinger said that 2023 would be a year of stabilising then re-acceleration. Intel had taken some painful steps and now needed to execute on a good plan, he said. Some agree.

“Intel’s turnaround is taking some time, exacerbated by the economy, but I believe its plan is working,” said Glenn O’Donnell, analyst at Forrester Research. “It is delivering on new products and its manufacturing is ramping up with agreements from other chip makers to use Intel’s manufacturing capacity.”

Investors, meanwhile, are looking for the next piece of evidence: AMD will report its results on Tuesday.

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