OUR ANNUAL LOOK AHEAD at processors often focuses on Intel products (like why isn't the Intel Core i11 here yet?). For 2020, however, the headline makers are AMD, Qualcomm, NVIDIA, and, oh yes, Intel. Beyond this gang of four, look for other chip makers targeting 5G and AI use cases.
"I think the breakout products are the chips from Qualcomm supporting 5G and Wi-Fi 6,” predicts Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. “They're one of two alternative chips powering Microsoft's Always Connected [PC] systems."
One big reason Qualcomm rates this praise? The new Snapdragon X52 5G Modem-RF system design, from the modem to the antenna to all the RF components, is 100% based on Qualcomm's own chips. No longer will manufacturers have to license various RF chips from multiple sources, making for a cleaner design and lower power requirements.
Processors for PCs and servers will make plenty of news in 2020 too. Indeed, the best growth story for the upcoming year will be AMD, according to Enderle, which “is on a stunning run."
Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research, agrees. "AMD has been cranking and gaining market share” in servers, he says. “Its Zen 2 server chip added features they couldn't get into Zen 1 in time. The chip offers as much memory bandwidth with a single socket as Intel offers with dual sockets.”
McGregor says sales for the entire server market have been going up and expects AI accelerators—promised for three years and now arriving—as well as customized solutions in processors to have a big impact in 2020. "Accelerators from Mythic and neuromorphic chips [modeled on biological brains] from BrainChip focus on inferencing.” However, he adds, “Their success won't slow the NVIDIA GPU tidal wave, because those chips focus on training and validation."
McGregor also notes that more customized solutions in chips “will mean more customization in servers.” Nuvia, a new company founded by three designers with over 100 chip patents, received $52 million in funding recently. A large part of that was from Dell's venture capital arm." Big vendors are challenged in offering data center server customizations, adds McGregor, so Dell could leverage this investment to get to market before its competitors.
In other parts of the market, Cisco chose to develop its own processor, the Silicon One Q100, in-house. It took five years, but the new chip will power many of Cisco’s high-end routers thanks to its 10 Tbps throughput.