SAN FRANCISCO — It took much more than a day for Advanced Micro Devices Inc. to build Rome, and capitalizing on it will take even longer, but the potential payoff is huge.
AMD AMD, +1.14% introduced the second chapter of its return to the server market Wednesday at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco: Second-generation server chip Epyc 2, also known by its code name Rome. AMD touted the chip as the highest-performing x86 processor on the market — with 97% better performance than Intel Corp.’s INTC, -0.49% Xeon processor, the leader in the data-center and server markets — while pricing it about 50% lower than Intel.
AMD basically ceded the server market to Intel about a decade ago, after peaking at about a quarter of the market in 2006. Chief Executive Lisa Su is determined for AMD to make an even more spirited run at its main rival this time, and has not deviated from that path since first showing off the Zen family of chips almost three years ago.
For more: Why AMD believes it can challenge Intel in servers
The difference between then and now is that AMD has many more believers on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley. Shares have enjoyed a compound annual growth rate of 64% in the past three years, and AMD trotted out a long list of partners willing to laud the performance of Rome at Wednesday’s event that were not present in 2016.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. HPE, -0.08%, Dell Technologies Inc. DELL, -0.77% , Twitter Inc. TWTR, +0.99% , VMware Inc. VMW, +0.45% , Cray Inc. CRAY, -0.06% and Lenovo Group Ltd. 992, +1.02% all made appearances on stage Wednesday. Alphabet Inc. GOOGL, +0.41%GOOG, +0.35% was brought out as the final customer to announce that Google is using Epyc chips to power some of its data centers and in Google Cloud’s compute engine. Microsoft Corp. MSFT, +0.44% , a customer of Epyc since the first version, was another early AMD customer brought out to talk about the chip, which powers the Azure cloud.
Mark Potter, HPE Chief Technology Officer and director of HP Labs, said that the company has three servers powered by AMD’s Epyc 2 processor available for sales immediately, and more to come next year. Jen Fraser, a senior director of engineering at Twitter, said that by using Epyc 2 in its own data centers, Twitter expects to reduce its total cost of ownership by 25%.
“I love to see new tech in action, and they have one of the most demanding environments that we have encountered,” Su said of Twitter before taking a selfie on stage with Fraser.
Beyond data centers and cloud-computing hosting, AMD said Epyc 2 will be used in manufacturing, engineering simulation, structural analysis, fluid dynamics and many other data-intensive applications. Supercomputer maker Cray talked about a new customer for its high-performance machines, the U.S. Air Force, which will be using a new Epyc 2-based machine for weather forecasting for the military. Peter Ungaro, Cray’s CEO, said that Cray is approaching $1 billion in bookings for its Epyc-based machines.
Read more about Cray’s fastest supercomputer in the world based on AMD’s Epyc
“It is a bigger leap forward than I had expected,” Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst of Moor Insights and Strategy, said in an email. “AMD improved most of its Gen 1 shortcomings.” He also said that it took “AMD to execute and Intel to not execute,” for AMD to get where it is today. Intel has had its own problems with its advanced manufacturing technology and chip delays.
Moorhead noted, though, that before coming to any final conclusions on AMD’s performance advantages he would like to see more third-party performance benchmarks, including application-level ones, and hear from enterprises on their performance experiences.
That patient approach is a smart one for anyone familiar with AMD’s past, as Moorhead — a former AMD employee — surely knows. Expectations are already high, as several analysts expect AMD’s share of the server market to hit double digits next year, a very high bar for a company that just returned to the server market two years ago.
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AMD’s shares ticked up during the trading day and jumped 4% in after-hours trading, continuing a rise that feels a bit frothy and is largely based on high hopes for gains in the server market and a fourth-quarter rebound that seems far too hopeful.
The semiconductor industry is still in a downturn, driven in part by a growth slowdown in data-center chips sold by Intel and Nvidia Corp. NVDA, +1.01% . If all the roads lead to Rome for customers who were buying from AMD’s rival, it will mean Su’s dream comes true, but it could be a long time before we find that out.
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