AMD releases more detail on its brand-new Ryzen CPU, and we're excited.
AMD hasn't had us this excited about a new processor in a long time. For years, AMD seemed to have ceded the high-end processor crown to Intel, but the company is back big time with its brand new Zen range.
"2017 is going to be a really great year for AMD. It's our best roadmap in 10 years plus," said Kevin Lensing, corporate vice president and general manger of AMD's Client Business Unit. "[Zen] allows us to bring innovation and competition back to the market."
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With the desktop part set to launch in Q1 2017, AMD has finally revealed some much-needed detail on the high-end component: it will be a 3.4GHz+ chip with eight cores (16 threads), and 4MB of L2 and 16MB of L3 cache.
Most importantly, we finally have the name of the new desktop processor: Ryzen. According to AMD, it wanted a name that linked to the Zen codename and showed that the company had a new horizon. Personally, I think it sounds a little more like a rubbish Street Fighter character, which isn't to say that I don't like it.
The first chip of the Ryzen generation is a high-end desktop chip, taking on the ultra-expensive Intel Haswell-E and Broadwell-E Core i7 enthusiast chips. The fact that we haven't seen much of lower-end chips is slightly puzzling, so we can only hope for more information some time next year.
What is AMD Ryzen?
Although the PC market may be in decline, there's one area that's showing growth: performance and gaming. It's no surprise, then, that AMD is aiming Ryzen at that market, hoping to attract PC gaming fans away from Intel rigs.
This also shows that AMD is ready to compete once again with Intel properly. AMD's problem in the past was that it didn't have Intel's performance per clock. This meant that the only way that AMD could match Intel's performance would be to increase clock speeds and power consumption. With Ryzen and the Zen architecture in general, AMD has revamped its processor architecture to make it more efficient and capable of performing more work per cycle.
Video: Watch AMD's Ryzen launch event
Fast forward to 15 minutes in for the start of the stream
AMD has confirmed that Ryzen is capable of doing 40% more work per clock cycle, compared to the previous generation Excavator core. Impressively, power consumption per cycle remains the same. AMD had these goals from the outset, but it's good to know that this has been achieved. We don't know what the Ryzen chips stated TDP is, although it's rumoured to be 95W.
So, how did AMD get Ryzen's performance boost? Partly, it's down to the new 14nm process, which means more transistors can fit onto a given piece of silicon, resulting in improved performance without a big increase in power consumption.
An entirely new architecture also helps. Importantly, Ryzen chips support “Simultaneous Multi-Threading”, which is similar to Intel’s Hyper-Threading tech. This allows for better distribution and handling of multiple tasks. For the high-end chip, there are eight cores that can handle 16 threads.
SenseMI drives performance and efficiency
Underpinning the processor are a series of new technologies bundled under the SenseMI umbrella term. These are technologies to make the processor more efficient and powerful.
Pure power is first. This uses monitors on the processor to work out the amount of energy required for any task. In other words, the processor need only run as fast as it needs to, saving power when the system is relatively idle.
Precision Boost is AMD's equivalent to Intel's Turbo Boost, increasing clock speed on the fly to deliver maximum performance when you need it. The company is promising that its speed boost tech is super-smart, providing 25MHz steps with no latency or queue drain.
Extended Frequency Range (EFR) is an automatic overclocking that kicks in if there's enough thermal headroom. EFR needs no user intervention and automatically kicks in while the processor remains cool enough. For those users that like to set everything manually, Ryzen can still be overclocked in the usual way.
"We wanted to reward those people who create better cooling solutions," said Lensing. "If you can keep the temp under its limits, we allow the frequency of the part to go over max frequency."
Neural Net Prediction is designed to speed the CPU up, by pre-loading instructions and choosing the best path through the CPU. With the right prediction, the CPU no longer has to wait for instructions to be loaded.
Smart Prefetch is the final tool and is designed to work out where code is, anticipating the location of future data. This data can then be stored in the cache, so that the CPU isn't slowed down waiting for comparatively slow system memory.
The new platform is AM4
AMD's new AM4 platform will accompany Ryzen. It brings all of the new tech that you'd expect, including DDR4 RAM, PCIe Gen 3, USB 3.1 Gen 2, NVMe and SATA Express. AMD is promising that this is a platform that you can "buy and know that this will work for years and years".
AMD Zen Performance
AMD delivered some live demos in its event last night, pitting a new Ryzen chip locked to 3.4GHz up against an equivalent, eight-core Intel Core i7-6900K at stock settings of 3.2-3.7GHz. As you might expect for an on-stage demo, the Ryzen beat the Core i7 by a small margin in each test, which included a Blender render and a Handbrake video conversion. Bear in mind the 6900K costs in excess of £1,000, so that's the sort of price AMD is looking to undercut.
AMD says the Zen architecture won’t just be limited to enthusiast desktop chips. Laptops and servers are also expected to benefit from Zen in the future, although the laptop part (Raven Ridge) will not launch until the end of 2017. Pricing will be a thornier issue: the performance of these chips means AMD will be entering a price bracket it’s never been in before, so don’t expect a bargain.
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Zen architecture will also make it to AMD APUs, meaning you’ll be able to buy a full chip with both Zen architecture and AMD Radeon graphics on board. These have proven relatively successful for budget gaming PCs in the past, so with better processing performance and graphics, AMD could really take a bite out of the budget gaming market.