Gaming Evolved: AMD’s time in the sun.

Posted: June 4, 2013 by ryanlecocq in Features, Off-topic, Technology

I love AMD.  My personal systems are all AMD from top-to-bottom and I’ve been telling people they’re the best since 2010.  That said, I have to give AMD props above and beyond my normal approval of their budget priced, casual gaming friendly hardware.  Securing the deals to not only design, but actually manufacture the entire chipset for both the Xbox One and the Playstation 4 was a game changing move.  It looks like stock analysts don’t even realize it yet, because they’re still just talking about AMD’s position in relation to Intel and nVidia in terms of current production.  That doesn’t really matter.  When x86 came out, it didn’t really matter who had what share of the current market, IBM was in charge now because they had set the new standard.  That is what this is like and here is why (in a rare for me numbered list!):


1. AMD Optimized is now the standard.

It doesn’t really matter if Intel’s CPU design performed better in the past.  You may argue the quality of Intel’s designs and the performance of their parts.  Granted and granted, still doesn’t matter.  The fact known to great political and martial authors and seemingly ignored by market analysts, is that you do not attack your enemy where they are strong.  You attack them where they are weak and careless.  For AMD’s primary competitors, Intel and nVidia, this would obviously be in the budget and power-friendly market.  Intel and nVidia have been touting the “go big or go home” philosophy for a long time now, in fact since about when The Matrix came out and all PC users were still nerds.  The fact is that now the market has exploded and people want more for less.  The average person doesn’t need CPU horsepower the like of which an i7 delivers.  The maximum needs of the average user tops out at Intel’s midrange i5 range, which you’ll notice is as high as AMD tries to compete.  By securing the rights to make all of two game consoles and most of the third, AMD has just ensured that all future games will be developed on their hardware for at least this console generation.  Since 60-70% of the gaming market is consoles, this is obvious, not speculation, as of the second the Xbox One was confirmed.  So what this means is that even if you buy an expensive Intel chip, your games will be optimized for AMD’s many weaker cores, making your i7 suddenly plummet compared to that FX-8350.  You also will be hearing a lot less of that annoying “nVidia” whisper when you boot your games as developers would be crazy to develop and optimize for hardware used in none of the consoles.  That’s not where it ends though.  The Xbox One is rumored to be more of an entertainment hub, more geared at taking on Apple and Valve than Sony and Nintendo.  The more markets AMD is able to get traction in, the more they will be able to close in on Intel and nVidia in the areas they excel.  By this I mean with all the money they take from Sony and Microsoft, they can build any kind of crazy assembly line they want or hire every engineer around to develop a high end competitor.  Starting where their competition is weak and slowly cutting away at them bit by bit is exactly the tactic that Sun Tzu or Marcus Agrippa would suggest in the same tactical situation.


2.  Intel isn’t stupid.

You may say:  “How can Intel and nVidia not see this?”  Of course they can.  The problem is that hardware development is a lot like new cars.  It takes about 5 years between concept and market.  So you decide what you think the next cycle is going to be like as soon as you start the current one (PC hardware generations are roughly 6 years).  Intel and nVidia decided the market would probably stay similar to what it had been for years, AMD decided the economy would get worse before it got better.  As a result, AMD was touting the line “low power, low cost” when that was what Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo wanted to hear.  By the time this was anywhere near happening, the hands were already dealt and the bets placed.  That’s why Intel has gotten even more buddy buddy with Apple, tried to move further into industrial computing and made attempts to court the microserver market.  If you look at nVidia ads, you’ll notice they’re mostly aimed at 3D developers, as that’s really their best shot not to go the way of 3DFX (similar story, the best but not the winner).  In the past Intel has always leaned towards nVidia in a pinch over AMD and nVidia has relied upon this, but I don’t see that happening much longer.  If Intel can smell the change, I think they’ll take the money and run where there’s more (namely becoming Apple’s second party hardware goto).  This will leave nVidia in a very tough position with AMD surrounding them on all sides and risky ventures like the Kepler/Shield/Steambox trifecta they had hoped for.  Which brings up our next point.


3.  Valve isn’t stupid.

Before they were the company that redefined game distribution, Valve was just a great game developer.  I don’t think they will forget that when a partnership with nVidia becomes irrational.  Steam runs on games and games will run on AMD.  I think it’s very likely that Valve will immediately shift their attentions from nVidia to AMD once a suitable ego deflation period has passed.  It’s really the only sane thing to do.  Valve would be either brazenly bold or just plain stupid to fight all of their competitors on all sides at once by making an nVidia based Steambox.  Especially if Intel ducks the consumer PC market, leaving Valve with only the lower-end, Android based variants available.  They would then have to go to AMD anyway for their higher end CPU to power full titles.


4.  Regardless of what the console game and set-top box markets do, nobody is getting rich tomorrow.

This generation, just like the last generation, there are going to be more home entertainment than enthusiast PC sales for a very simple reason.  It just isn’t the damn 90s anymore and nobody has $1000 to spend on a machine just to invite people into their office and show off how tall of green bars it can make.  Those days are ten years gone and it’s long past time for the industry to realize it.  Personally, I’m going to play it safe and build my next gaming PC on a similar, but more powerful AMD chipset to the one in both consoles.  That way I know everything will run happy and I’ll still get that PC gamer experience of turning bars and toggles up.  After seeing the Xbox One announcement, it would take a very strong sales pitch to get me to buy anything not AMD at this point as I still play games, albeit far less than I once did and mainstream gaming now means AMD optimized.


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