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Why AMD’s Newest Ryzen Chips Landed With a Dud

Aaron Pressman

Advanced Micro Devices on Friday unveiled the second generation update to its groundbreaking Ryzen chips for personal computers, but unlike last year’s initial debut, the reception so far has been muted at best.

The new chips, available for pre-order immediately and arriving on Apr. 19, are faster and cheaper than last year’s models. But AMD didn’t disclose any new hardware features, performance tests, or comparison benchmarks to chips from archrival , which just released a host of new, faster processors of its own. Shares of AMD, which have been volatile in 2018, lost almost 2% to $9.92 in midday trading on Friday. The shares are down 19% over the past year.

The slump reflects AMD’s difficult challenge competing with Intel in the CPU market and in the graphics chip market. Despite AMD CEO Lisa Su’s strategy to abandon older designs and develop all new, groundbreaking chips with Ryzen for PCs, the Epyc chip for servers, and the Vega line for graphics, the company is still having difficulty catching its much larger peers. Intel blunted some of AMD’s momentum by adding an “i9” high-performance chip to its line up that had topped out with the “i7.” And Nvidia is still dominating selling graphics chips into the booming market in cloud data centers that run machine learning and artificial intelligence tasks. Investors also have concerns about possibly volatile sales related to digital currency mining and a deal Su struck with Intel for combined CPU and graphics chips. The defection of AMD’s lead graphic designer, Raja Kudori, to Intel in November probably didn’t help assuage investors, either.

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On the surface, AMD had a strong year in 2017. Sales rose 25% to $5.3 billion and Su managed to turn a 60 cents per share loss in 2016 into a modest 4 cents-a-share profit. But AMD gained only a few percentage points of market share against Intel and investors had been hoping to see profit margins and earnings per share improve more quickly, too.

It was a little over a year ago that AMD’s long-depressed stock price rose above $12 a share for the first time since 2007. The huge gain--the stock had been as low as $1.83 in 2016--reflected investor enthusiasm for Su’s strategy. But after peaking at almost $16 per share last July, investors have largely been disappointed in AMD’s results and concerned about the cryptocurrency factor.

Analysts haven’t been able to figure out exactly how much of AMD’s sales strength last year was due to the rise of digital currency mining. Groups that “mine” ethereum and several other major cryptocurrencies by crunching transaction records for new coin rewards have relied on graphics chips from AMD and Nvidia . As the price of the currencies rose last year, the groups had incentives to devote ever greater computing resources to their mining efforts. But lately, digital currency prices have crashed to earth and graphics chip sales could suffer.

The new AMD chips announced on Friday go on sale Apr. 19. The top of the line Ryzen 2700X, which will sell for $329, has 8 processing cores and runs at a top speed of 4.3 GHz. That compares to last year’s similar Ryzen 1800X which also had 8 cores, a top speed of 4 GHz, but sold for $500 when it debuted.

AMD said it would release more details, including performance comparisons, on Apr. 19. The new chips are manufactured at a scale of 12 nanometers, down from 14 nm for last year’s Ryzen line, which should make them more energy efficient and higher performing.

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