The Making of ‘Zen’
It’s already been a big year for AMD. By the time it arrived in Taiwan, the chipmaker had already released its first Ryzen processors, announced the Epyc server line, unveiled its first Vega graphics card and teased a 16-core desktop chip dubbed Threadripper.
Even with all these new products, AMD arguably doesn’t have the fastest CPU core or the fastest single GPU. But it has certainly come a long way and at its press conference the company made a solid case that the combination of its new processors and graphics–on platforms that deliver more memory bandwidth and I/O–can deliver the best overall system performance at a given price.
Despite the earlier announcements, AMD still managed to break some news at Computex. Perhaps the most significant announcement, at least in the short term, is that all five major OEMs–Acer, Asus, Dell, HP and Lenovo–will soon offer systems based on Ryzen. That is on top of the 92 motherboards and 20 systems already on the market. Several of these new systems are generating a lot of buzz at Computex including Dell’s $600 VR-ready Inspiron Gaming Desktop; the $1,000 Inspiron 27 7000 all-in-one; and an Asus ROG gaming laptop with an eight-core Ryzen 7 CPU, Radeon RX 580 graphics and a 17-inch FreeSync display. “This is really only the first batch and you should expect to see them in markets over the next few weeks,” CEO Dr. Lisa Su said.
To date, AMD has release seven Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 desktop processors with the entry-level Ryzen 3 due in the third quarter. AMD likes to show a chart indicating that “up and down the retail stack” Ryzen outperforms Intel’s Core at every price point on CINEBENCH, which makes sense because the 3D content-creation test is highly multi-threaded and Ryzen offers more cores per dollar. Jim Anderson, the head of the Computing and Graphics Group, said that Ryzen is also winning on “real user applications,” which is debatable based on my testing versus Intel’s Kaby Lake. Nevertheless, Ryzen is very competitive and it is notable that the entire line–including Ryzen 3–will be Oculus Rift approved.
AMD also announced that Ryzen Mobile, the first version to combine Zen CPU cores with Radeon graphics on a single APU (Accelerated Processing Unit) will be available in consumer 2-in-1s, thin and lights and gaming laptops in the second half of the year followed by commercial notebooks in early 2018. Ryzen promises 50 percent better CPU performance and 40 percent better graphics performance that current 7th Generation ‘Bristol Ridge” APUs. On stage, AMD demonstrated a 2-in-1 reference design less than 15mm thick that was running a quad-core Ryzen Mobile APU. “We are just getting started. We are going to roll out Ryzen to each segment of the PC market over the next few months,” Anderson said.
The heavily-hyped Threadripper, with 16 cores (32 threads) is based on a new platform targeted at very high performance desktops and will be available this summer. Intel has responded with the announcement here at Computex of the Skylake X-Series including a Core i9 Extreme Edition with 18 cores (36 threads). However, AMD is emphasizing that all Threadripper PCs with the X399 platform will have the full four DDR4 memory channels and 64 lanes of PCIe Gen3–unlike Intel’s X299 platform which has different features depending on the Skylake-X processor that you choose. ASRock, Asus, Gigabyte and MSI will all have X399 motherboards in the market when Threadripper launches.
AMD also announced that the new Epyc processors for mainstream single- and dual-socket servers will be available worldwide starting June 20. The company’s pitch for Epyc, with up to 32 cores and 64 threads, is simple–more cores, more memory bandwidth and greater I/O than Xeon E5 processors at the same price. Su reiterated the company’s strategy to offer cheaper single-socket servers with equivalent or higher core counts, memory bandwidth and I/O than the competing Xeon dual-socket servers used in nearly all datacenters. “Epyc wins on performance, Epyc wins on power, Epyc wins on total cost of ownership,” Su claimed.
She also talked about how the new Vega graphics will be important not only for gaming and professional visualization, but also GPU compute. The Radeon Vega Frontier Edition, with up to 25 teraflops of performance, will be available starting June 27. “It’s not really about just the CPU or just the GPU. It’s putting Epyc and Radeon together in a system that delivers breakthrough performance,” Su said.
AMD demonstrated a PC with a Threadripper processor and four Radeon Vega Frontier Edition GPUs running Blender with the Radeon Pro plug-in to render changes to a very complex design in near real-time with all 32 CPU cores utilized. In a move that is sure to disappoint gamers, AMD did not announce the consumer Radeon RX Vega graphics card; instead it said the card will launch at SIGGRAPH at the end of July. But AMD did demonstrated a Threadripper system with dual Radeon RX Vega cards running Prey, a new first-person shooter developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda, at the maximum quality settings.
Of course, the competition isn’t standing still. Intel is now promising bigger gains from Coffee Lake later this year, Skylake-X leapfrogs Threadripper in core count, and Skylake-EP Xeons are already shipping to certain customers such as Google. Similarly Vega closes the gap with the Tesla P100 and GeForce GTX 1080, but Nvidia has already announced the Tesla V100 and consumer versions of Volta won’t be far behind. But AMD’s Computex press event left little doubt that the company is now in the game. “There is no doubt that he market is a lot more exciting than it was one or two years ago because competition is very, very good for the ecosystem,” Su said. “The best is yet to come.”