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Year in Review: PC Processors Bounce Back

January 12, 2021

Author: Linley Gwennap

The past year brought a surge in PC shipments and revenue, revitalizing a stagnant market. Although final numbers are pending, IDC believes PC shipments rose 11% in 2020 relative to the previous year. Most of the gain, however, was in Chromebooks, as many schools and students purchased these inexpensive systems to facilitate remote education. Although traditional-PC sales remained flat, demand shifted toward higher-cost systems that could handle both Zoom calls and complex games. The work-from-home movement also accelerated the shift away from desktop systems: laptops (including Chromebooks) comprised about 75% of the market, up sharply from previous years.

AMD had a big 2020, thanks to growth in both PC processors and graphics cards. The company rolled out 7nm Ryzen desktop and laptop processors, and for the first time, it surpassed Intel in single-thread performance. It also unveiled new Radeon graphics cards that double performance over the previous generation and introduce ray-tracing acceleration. AMD combined these technologies to create semicustom SoCs for the Microsoft Xbox Series X and Sony PlayStation 5 consoles that began shipping just before the holidays.

Intel continued to struggle with its 10nm process. For most of the year, it had to rely on Comet Lake, a warmed-over 14nm design that lost ground to Ryzen. Later in the year, however, Intel rolled out the more impressive Tiger Lake, which flipped AMD’s traditional lead in integrated-GPU performance. The company also introduced its first discrete graphics chip under the Xe brand, targeting laptops.

Apple spurned both new products, however, in favor of its first in-house PC processor, the Arm-compatible M1. Nvidia introduced its Ampere architecture and benefited when many people turned to PC gaming as the pandemic canceled other entertainment options.

Subscribers can view the full article in the Microprocessor Report.

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