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Zen Q&A with AMD's CTO: 'We’re bringing competition back to high-performance x86'

Gordon Mah Ung, Mark Hachman | Aug. 19, 2016
AMD is pretty much betting the company on the new Zen core. We wanted to know more.

After being frankly astounded by AMD’s demonstration of its Zen microprocessor on Wednesday, we simply had to sit down with AMD chief technical officer Mark Papermaster to find out more. Below is our interview, lightly edited for length and clarity.

PCWorld: Wow. Leading up to this, there were a lot of doubts on the Internet about Zen’s performance, that it could be lower than Intel’s Ivy Bridge. Clearly, you guys have demonstrated that you can run with Intel’s biggest dogs.

Papermaster: What we said a year ago—I guess it was in May, at the financial analysts’ meeting, and I know when I put down that 40-percent IPC number, I got a lot of looks back, saying, “Really?” But the team was so focused. It was a very proud team at AMD. And they’ve had such a history of great designs. 

And as I showed in my presentation, it’s been innovation after innovation. We had let a gap develop in CPU performance. This was a great job by the team, to bring us back.

Zen had been in development for how long?

Not quite four years. 

Clearly you’re in a chess game with Intel. And tomorrow, when Intel reads these stories, I wonder if they’re going to cut prices. Do you keep prices low and go for as much volume as you can with Zen, or keep them high and raise your profit margins?

As you heard Jim Anderson say, who runs that business, they’ll make those pricing decisions on those products. But the main thing we’re showing today is just that: We don’t want any of that fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

We’re working with OEMs and ODMs. And as we come up to shipment, and the timeframe that we described today, the market should be confident. We’re confident. Our customers—we’re working with them under NDA—they see the restricted information. But there’s no reason to have the market doubting if we’re real, if we hit the performance target we set out for with the Zen core. We did. That’s what we were able to not only share with you today, but also demonstrate. 

Would you say that the CPU wars are back on again, after being on a break for the past few years?

There’s always been competition, or the CPU wars. What we did is we drove an incredible efficiency in the CPU roadmap that we showed you here tonight. So if you look at the “Excavator” core, the previous generation that we compared for you, it does amazingly well if we target its sweet spot, which is in our PC market.

Look at some of the 7th generation APUs leveraging that Excavator. It’s in 20-nanometer. It’s in great performance per watt, it’s got the Radeon graphics with it, the battery life is a massive jump over the previous generation. But the war we’re bringing back is to high performance. We’re bringing competition back to high-performance x86.

 

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