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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.

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Gordon Mah Ung: AMD’s Zen will fit into the new AM4 socket and appears to support dual-channel DDR4.

Performance, throughput and efficiency

AMD officials also lifted the curtain on Zen's completely new microarchitecture. Gone are the shared, clustered multi-thread cores of the previous Bulldozer and Piledriver designs—Zen’s cores are stand-alone cores with SMT. The chip is being fabbed by spin-off company Global Foundries on a 14nm process, using FinFet technology.

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AMD’s new Zen is a completely new CPU demonstrating a big performance boost over previous designs.

AMD CTO Mark Papermaster said the Zen core is about performance, throughput, and efficiency. Papermaster said Zen features a new high-performance cache, a greatly improved prefetcher, and a completely redesigned branch prediction unit.

This is a big deal for AMD, and Papermaster showed it. “It’s a thrill to tell you we fully validated our performance achievement,” he said, beaming. He also promised that AMD was just warming up. “We are back. I told you a year ago we are back. And I’m very happy to tell you we delivered that performance and the team is not stopping, they are full forward on the next-generation design."

The Summit Ridge chips are actually SoCs and will support DDR4, USB 3.1 10Gbps, NVMe, SATA Express and PCIe 3.0. Other details of Summit Ridge such as die size, transistor count and thermals weren’t released Wednesday night.

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Gordon Mah Ung: Here’s what 128 threads of computing looks like on a dual-processor AMD Naples-based server.

Naples brings 32 cores and 128 threads

It’s not just about the desktop, either. AMD also wowed the crowd by demonstrating its server-oriented Naples SoC running in a dual-processor system. With each Naples packing 32 cores and SMT, that means a Naples-based server would feature 128 threads of compute power.

Officials said Zen will continue to evolve—the new chip design will scale down to laptops sometime next year. But first AMD needs to ship these first Zen chips. 

The consumer-focused Summit Ridge is expected to hit shelves in the first quarter of 2017, but AMD officials said some limited chips may ship in systems as soon as the end of this year. The server-oriented Naples chip would hit in the first half of 2017.
“I told you the best is yet to come,” said AMD CEO Lisa Su. “The next 12 months will be even more exciting.”

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AMD promised more than a year ago the new Zen CPU design would be 40 percent faster than its previous chip and it claims to have hit the mark.

 

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