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Let the CPU wars begin: AMD shows its Zen CPU can compete with Intel’s best

Gordon Mah Ung | Aug. 19, 2016
The first two Zens will feature an 8-core consumer chip and a 32-core server chip.

AMD on Thursday finally unveiled its new Zen microarchitecture, with a pair of CPUs that could put the company back into the fight with Intel’s best.

AMD said its Summit Ridge CPU, aimed at high-performance desktops, will pack 8 cores and feature simultaneous multi-threading technology to give it 16 threads of processing power. Summit Ridge is targeted for Q1 2017, though a trickle of chips could appear sooner. A second chip for servers, code-named Naples, will feature an astounding 32 cores with SMT, giving it 64 threads per CPU. SMT is similar to Intel’s Hyper-Threading technology, which splits a single core into two virtual cores for more performance.

To prove that Zen has the right stuff, AMD officials on Wednesday night demonstrated before a crowd of reporters and analysts that an 8-core Zen could run just as fast as Intel’s newest 8-core consumer Core i7 chip.

zenvsbroadwelle
Gordon Mah Ung: AMD’s  Summit Ridge SoC (left) running at 3GHz can run a Blender render just as fast as a Core i7-6900K (right) running at 3GHz.

Why this matters: Up to now, some had speculated that Zen would fall short. Recently-leaked benchmarks seemed to indicate it was no better than Intel’s Haswell microarchitecture released more than two years ago. If other tests back up AMD’s demonstration, however, it appears to run neck-and-neck with the newly released Broadwell-E. If AMD can live up to its promise, it's great news for the company as well as for consumers.

Clock-for-clock, it’s looking fast

The demonstration used the multi-threaded Blender rendering application on two similarly configured PCs. One featured an engineering sample Summit Ridge chip, while the other featured a new Intel Broadwell-E Core i7-6900K CPU. While the Core i7-6900K can run up to 4GHz on some workloads, AMD conducted the test with both CPUs locked at 3GHz.

This methodology may seem unorthodox to some, but matching the chips clock-for-clock helps reveal their efficiencies. Conducting the test this way also helps AMD protect the final shipping clock speeds of the chips. In the demo, which was performed just once, the Zen finished a nose ahead of the Broadwell-E Core i7-6900K chip.

It’s just a single test on an unreleased CPU, and under the control of AMD. Still, the significance of the performance feat quells any fears that Zen would be the all-too-familiar “too little, too late” story from a company that has eaten Intel’s dust.

The demonstration exceeded the crowd’s expectations. “This is the most exciting AMD (CPU) launch in a decade,” said Kevin Krewell, principal analyst with Tirias Research, who attended the event. “They really have hit the mark on this.”

 

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