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AMD CEO Su: We like GPU crypto-miners but gamers are first priority

How many letters in AMD? Wow, what a coincidence. Same number of quarters of straight sales growth

AMD CEO Lisa Su was in ebullient form on Wednesday when her company reported better-than-expected growth in the first quarter of 2018, and forecast a strong year for the chip design firm.

"This is our third straight quarter of revenue growth," she told financial analysts on a conference call. "Our strong first quarter demonstrates our long term strategy is paying off and we are strengthening AMD with long-term investments."

Su claimed AMD had seen double-digit growth in its desktop and laptop markets, server sales were strong, and its high-performance computing products are flying off the shelves. The one dark spot was slow games console sales, but that will change as new models come on the market, she predicted.

Here's a summary of AMD's Q1 2018 GAAP figures, covering the three months to March 31:

  • Revenues of $1.65bn were up 40 per cent year-on-year and up 23 per cent on the previous quarter. Su said the company would focus more on yearly comparisons in the future to reflect the interests of long-term investors.
  • Net income of $121m was welcome after AMD made a paltry $2m in profit this time last year, and the $8m in the fourth quarter of last year.
  • Earnings per share of $0.11 which was roughly in line with what analysts were expecting.
  • Computing and Graphics revenues were $1.12bn, a 95 per cent leap from the year-ago quarter on the strength of Ryzen PC processors and Radeon graphics chip sales. Average selling prices were up for both processor and graphics packages, and this has driven up operating income significantly.
  • Enterprise, embedded and semi-custom revenues were $532m, down 12 per cent year-on-year, mainly due to Q1 2017 bagging a fat licensing deal, we're told. Server and embedded electronics sales were higher.

Su named Dell and HP Inc as big customers, and predicted a host of new consumer products carrying AMD's silicon as well as workstations and gaming machines. The chief exec expects to see 60 new laptop designs this year carrying the Ryzen processor and new servers from HPE, Cray and Dell carrying AMD hardware.

But Su also made much of the growing demand for AMD chipsets from those in the blockchain and digital currency spheres. AMD wants to avoid the shortages experienced by Nvidia and other vendors as cryptocurrency zealots snatch more and more silicon in their quest for digital gold, and stay loyal to its core customer base – in other words, it'll sell GPU cards to miners, but gamers get priority.

"Our first priority is to gamers, that’s through OEM and system integrators and key e-tailers, and we're going to continue to do that," Su said. "We'll also work with commercial miners; we've talked and see what their forecasts are, so we have good visibility on the market. The blockchain infrastructure is here to stay, there are numerous currencies and apps that will keep things going there."

The potential danger of selling to alt-coin miners is that graphics silicon will be dumped on the secondhand market as soon as it becomes economically infeasible to continue using them, in terms of power consumed versus the value of the coins being mined. That may cause price and revenue wobbles because some gamers will snap up the cheap secondhand cards, denying AMD sales. Su wasn't particularly worried about this.

Su also said that the first company's first 7nm FinFET chips will be shipping this year, out of the Taiwanese fabrication plants of TSMC, although AMD will continue to have a relationship with the silicon shapers at Global Foundries. Su said she was expecting the new chips to be shipping in volume this year.

"7nm puts us in a good competitive spot," she said. "The competitive environment is good and gets better. However, we take the competition very seriously." ®

Meanwhile, at Qualcomm

Things were somewhat gloomier over at Qualcomm, which also announced its second quarter results for 2018, and they weren't great.

Revenues grew 5 per cent to $5.3bn, and it reported profits of $400m. While AMD would love figures like that, the net income was down 52 per cent on this time last year. Earnings per share were down by the same percentage and Qualcomm is now paying out $0.24 per share.

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