AMD in 2021 - the year in review

AMD Bergamo
(Image credit: AMD)

2021 wasn’t the most exciting year for AMD. The company didn’t have a ton in the way of new products, and even the introduction of new products wasn’t enough to curb the supply shortages and scalper woes that had already made 2020 such a dismal year in this market. 

There were still some notable moves, though, so let’s dig in and recount what AMD had in store for us this year and get some context for what’s ahead.

AMD lined up its latest products at CES 2021

We had a pretty good idea that AMD was going to show off mobile processors and extra Navi cards at CES 2021, and that’s exactly what the chipmaker did. AMD lined up its Ryzen 5000 mobile processors that would bring the heat against Intel’s dominance in the mobile market. These core-packed and highly efficient processors didn’t take long to hit the market in laptops either, turning up in late January. AMD also gave a glimpse of what was ahead with its Big Navi graphics cards.

AMD Ryzen PRO 5000 Series Mobile Processors

(Image credit: AMD)

More Big Navi cards and APUs

Over the course of 2021, AMD sprinkled out more Big Navi graphics cards to complete its product lineup. While the top of its lineup had already launched in 2020, AMD rounded that out with lower end cards like the Radeon RX 6700XT in March and the RX 6600 just this past October. Along the way, AMD also introduced the mobile series of its GPUs.

AMD also had a helping option for new PCs that didn’t require dedicated graphics cards in the form of its new Ryzen 5000-series APUs. These chips combine the CPU and GPU onto the same chip, Where it’s other CPUs would require a dedicated video card to get any graphical output from a system, AMD’s APUs enable video output through a motherboard’s video connection and can even handle some light gaming.

The unending chip shortage didn’t end

Despite AMD introducing more products, particularly with lower-end models coming out, it hasn’t been much easier for PC enthusiasts to get their hands on parts. The ongoing chip shortage and crypto boom has kept demand high and supply low. All it takes is a quick look at online product listings or brick-and-mortar store shelves to find that products are simply unavailable or going for well above the recommended retail price – particularly for GPUs, as CPU availability has started to even out.

This isn’t a shortage that’s expected to come to an end soon either. AMD CEO Dr. Lisa Su shared that, though she believes there’s an end in sight, it won’t be coming until late 2022. To help get there, AMD is planning to increase its manufacturing capacity, but that’s not a process that can happen on a dime.

AMD Radeon RX 6600

(Image credit: Future)

FidelityFX Super Resolution finally arrives

When Team Red revealed the AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT along with the rest of the Big Navi family, we were impressed by the sheer performance available for standard rasterization, but when it came to ray-tracing and 4K, Nvidia kept a lead. A big part of that was the availability of DLSS, Nvidia’s AI-powered super-sampling technique that provided better performance by rendering at a lower resolution but maintained near-native quality. AMD had an answer to that with FidelityFX Super Resolution, but it took the better part of a year for it to actually arrive. 

In June, when FidelityFX Super Resolution did finally show up, it wasn’t available on all that many games. It is appearing in more titles on a regular basis though, including the recent Far Cry 6 and upcoming God of War PC port. We haven’t found FSR to be superior to DLSS, so it’s not quite helping Team Red catch up to Nvidia as much as it could have, but it’s lack of a requirement of dedicated machine-learning Tensor Cores in a graphics card (needed to run DLSS) could slowly help it eke out an edge in terms of wider availability.

On a side note, Direct Storage was one of the other big features expected to boost performance for this generation of graphics cards (for Nvidia and AMD alike), but we’ve yet to see it in any meaningful form. 

Expected XT variants never came

While AMD released new graphics cards, APUs, and mobile processors, it didn’t end up bringing the long-expected XT CPU variants. While some previous processor generations got upgrades that boosted performance, like the Ryzen 3600X being followed by the 3600XT, those new models haven’t surfaced this go around. It’s possible AMD may just focus its efforts and manufacturing on Ryzen 6000 instead.

AMD partners with Nvidia in cloud gaming

You may think of AMD and Nvidia as enemies, but there are still ways their businesses can work together, and that’s demonstrated in their cloud gaming partnership. AMD is notably absent in the cloud gaming market, and Nvidia is absent in the CPU market, and that has left the two companies with an area they can team up. 

And that’s just what happened in October when the two companies announced the AMD Ryzen Threadripper Pro processors would be powering Nvidia’s top-tier GeForce Now cloud gaming service. Nvidia is running the service on GeForce SuperPods, and though they will use Nvidia graphics, the CPU work is all AMD.

AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT

(Image credit: Future)

AMD’s comeback story continues

It’s no secret that AMD was the underdog for a long stretch, but it’s been having a major comeback since the introduction of its Ryzen processors and Zen architecture. That’s been big for not just its popularity but also its business, in turn. This year, AMD had its sixth straight quarter of revenue share growth in the CPU market. In Q3 2021, it was holding 24.6% of the x86 CPU market (a key segment), it’s largest share since 2006. It also reached its highest share in the mobile computing market. According to Steam’s Hardware Survey throughout the year, AMD has also made some steady gains on Intel.

AMD DDR5 system benchmark leaks

Though this isn’t exactly something that’s coming in 2021, some leaks have shown what AMD may have in store. Benchmark leaks show an AMD processor running DDR5 memory, putting an 8-core chip alongside two 8GB sticks of 4,800MHz DDR5 RAM. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise though, as Intel has already introduced DDR5 support with its Alder Lake chips.

Concluding thoughts

While 2021 may have felt like a slow year for AMD, that just makes 2022 look all the more exciting. Given we didn’t get any big leaps forward in the processor or graphics card department, we’ll expect more out of AMD next year. If 2021 was about rounding out its lineup with low- and mid-range products, 2022 ought to be a year for the next generation of flagship parts, like Ryzen 6000, RDNA 3, and new Threadripper CPUs.

Mark Knapp

Over the last several years, Mark has been tasked as a writer, an editor, and a manager, interacting with published content from all angles. He is intimately familiar with the editorial process from the inception of an article idea, through the iterative process, past publishing, and down the road into performance analysis.