Zen 2 Is Imminent
AMD turns 50, and Team Red is still looking good.
AMD IS 50 YEARS OLD, and to celebrate, it launched a Gold Edition processor signed by CEO Lisa Su, and threw in some free games with its Radeon cards. It has good cause to celebrate, too: Things are looking particularly rosy as it gets ready to hit the market with its Ryzen 3000 series processors, featuring the new 7nm Zen 2 microarchitecture. AMD has produced some outstanding processors in the past (remember when the Athlon hit 1GHz?), but has never managed to fully exploit its innovation in follow-up designs. No longer: Buoyant with cash from selling server chips, AMD has been productive, and it looks like it is finally going to follow one very capable chip design with another, and in short order.
At CES 2019, we were treated to an eight-core engineering sample of the Ryzen 3000 used in anger, running against an Intel Core i9-9900K, which it proceeded to beat in Cinebench; admittedly only by 2,057 to 2,040, but enough to make a point. The power consumption was impressive, too: about 30 percent less than the i9-9900. Some speculated that it had been held back a little to highlight the lower power consumption.
Ryzen 3000 has a new manufacturing approach using a modular chiplet design (Intel has something similar). The main 7nm CPU die (called Core Complex, or CCX) is separate from the 14nm I/O die. This modular design is flexible, and improves yields. It also leaves enough room on the chip for two processor dies, each containing eight cores, so a 16-core desktop chip is due. AMD hasn’t confirmed this yet, but has hinted that you “might expect that we will have more that eight cores.”
A new microarchitecture should mean IPC (instruction per cycle) gains—it’s been reported that we can expect a bump of 12–15 percent, according to engineering samples currently with mobo manufacturers. Others have been less optimistic, putting it at 5–10 percent for more general use. Either way, it’s more than the jump between the original Zen and Zen+. Clock speeds? Good for a boost of 4.5GHz or more across the range, apparently. What is unlikely is speeds over 5GHz, certainly at first. There are various complicated reasons for this. The processing power bump comes largely from running more cores, and increasing the IPC. Memory bus frequencies run to DDR4- 5000, beyond the Infinity Fabric abilities, so AMD has added a divider mode, which runs the IF at half the memory speeds. We shall see what overclocking this can unlock.
Ryzen 3000 CPUs are socket compatible with existing AM4 motherboards, given a BIOS update. AMD has stated it will continue with AM4 compatibility for all the range until 2020. However, B350 boards don’t appear to have been included in that promise. If you do want one, there’s a new accompanying X570 chipset. Zen 2 also introduces us to PCIe 4.0 in mainstream processors, which has double the bandwidth of PCIe 3.0, although older motherboards might not manage this apart from on the first slot. It offers a lot of bandwidth, most of which you won’t need for now, although it opens the doors to some properly fast solid-state memory storage to come.
AMD’s Radeon division has been busy, too, with 7nm Navi, its next-generation GPU microarchitecture. Details are currently sketchy, though. It’ll surface in mid-market cards first; “enthusiast” versions aren’t expected until next year.
Ryzen 3000, the secondgeneration EPYC server chips (called Rome, and more important to AMD’s future than the desktop chips), and Navi are all on track to be available this fall. It is going to be another good year for processors, as Blue and Red square off. AMD has long offered good value for money, but one crown remains to be claimed: the fastest singlethread gaming chip. If AMD can come close to claiming this title from Intel, it will be something of a revolution: Intel has held that honor for so long. Ryzen and Zen put AMD back in the game two years ago, and Zen 2 will keep it there for a good while yet. AMD looks like it is going to follow one very capable chip design with another.