AMD Steals the Show at Computex
The red team launches new CPUs and GPUs.
IF IT BELONGED to anybody, Computex 2019 was AMD's. It picked the event to launch its new 7nm Zen 2 Ryzen 3000 series processorsand thefirst Navi graphics cards. Zen 2 is no surprise — we've been drip-fed details for months— what we do have now are the hard numbers for the initial release. The five new chips range run from a $199 Ryzen 3 3600 through to a 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X for $499. Clock speeds don’t vary much, with 300MHz between the fastest and slowest base clocks, and 400MHz on the boost clocks. We can't expect m ira c le s— as the die process shrinks, you have to lower voltages, which makes it harder to run really high frequencies. Chips are struggling to reach 5GHz; it’s as much about efficiency and core count. The thermal performance is notable: The eight-core 3700X manages on a thermal design power of just 65W, 30W below a comparable Intel i9-9700K.
Instructions per cycle show an improvement of about 15 percent— handy, rather than dazzling. The original Ryzen managed about 50 percent over the previous Bulldozer family, but that was a huge technology leap, which we won't see for the foreseeable future. The Zen 2 core also introduces us to PCIe 4.0. This is particularly handy for AMD, which uses four PCIe lanes as the internal interconnect between processor and m o th erb o ard chipset, a notorious bottleneck, particularly for fast storage. It's not going to make much difference on the graphics card side of things. You'll need new X570 chipset motherboards, though, despite early hopes of backward compatibility.
This is a solid step forward for AMD: more efficient, more cores, and particularly strong in performance per watt. Keeping competitive in the world of processors requires investment in depth; you need to be working on the replacement design, and the replacement for the replacement, and already thinking beyond that as you launch a new design. This is where AMD has failed in the past. It never really managed to capitalize quickly enough on its innovations. Zen has changed that. The Ryzen 3000 range should be available now. Zen 2 shifts to servers next, with a new EPYC series before the end of the year. News on Threadripper versions was notable by its absence.
Soon after Computex, AMD added a cherry on the top: the 16-core version. As soon as people saw the first Ryzen 3000 chips, it was clear there was room for two of the Core Complex chiplets, so a 16-core version was inevitable. The Ryzen9 3950Xhasa baseclock of 3.5GHz and a maximum boost of 4.7GHz. Despite all the horsepower, it manages a T D P of 105W— commendably low. The 16-core beast will be available in September for $749. That last bit is the clincher; to match this performance running Intel, you can double that, and more.
The worst kept secret of Zen 2, the 16-core range-topper: a $749 chip that thrashes anything Intel has at twice the money.
Intel: It may be horribly late, and starting life as low-power mobile chips, but Intel’s Ice Lake architecture is looking good so far.
We don't have anything official on performance yet, but engineering samples have been put through their paces. One leak has it pitched against Intel's Core i9-9980XE, $1,999 of 18-core Skylake-X, using the GeekBench benchmark. The 3950X leaps ahead in multicore, and tops the Intel comfortably in single-thread, too. It a lso trou n ces A M D 's own Threadripper chips. The huge amount of cache h e lp s — the 3950X c a rrie s a whopping 72MB of L2 and L3. Others have been playing with overclocking, reaching 5GHz, then breaking world records in GeekBench, Cinebench R15, and R20. Is this the CPU to finally take the crown as the world's fastest gaming chip?
AMD 's graphics department hasalso been busy with itsown 7nm silicon: Navi, which also made its debut at Computex 2019. The architecture has the official name of RDNA. The $379 Radeon RX 5700 has 36 compute units, 2,304 stream processors, and carries 8GB of GDDR6 on a 256-bit memory bus. It has a base clock of 1,465MHz,aboostofl,725MHz, and a game clock of 1,625MHz. This equates to 7.95 Tflops of processing power. Above this is the $449 Radeon RX 5700XT, which has 40 compute units and 2,560 stream units. It runs at a base clock of 1,605MHz, a boost of 1,905MHz, and a game clock of 1,755MHz. It manages 9.75 Tflops. What’s a game clock? It’s a new metric AMD has coined to indicate a more typical speed used in games. Base and boost clocks are rarely used for any length of time; a card mostly runs somewhere in between, hence game clock.
Expect graphics card makers to take Navi further than AMD’s inital clock speed pretty soon.
AMD had the usual bar charts pitching the new cards against rival Nvidia ones in a favorable light. The RX 5700 XT is pitched against a GeForce RTX 2070, and the RX 5700 against a GeForce RTX 2060, over 10 games. The Navi cards win across the board, from a couple of percent to over 20. Noticeably faster games include B a ttle fie ld 5 and Metro Exodus. All the tests were run at 1440p, a sweet-spot for Navi no doubt; AMD has called it the best 1440p GPU in its class. Ray tracing? AMD has left that path for Nvidia to walk alone. There are other tricks, though, including Radeon Image Sharpening, which sharpens areas of low contrast, and Anti-Lag, a software tweak that gets the processor to pause for the GPU to update a frame. Both cards look to be competitive mid-range models, where AMD has always been strong.
Computex was busy for AMD, but what was happening at Intel? It also has a new microarchitecture: Sunny Cove. It's set to appear in its Ice Lake chips later this year, but the first chips are all low-power mobile parts. Mainstream desktop parts are still months away. Leaked early benchmarks show an IPC bump of 18 percent or better over Skylake. It has new Gen11 integrated graphics, hardware-accelerated Al, built-in Wi-Fi 6.0, and more. But it leaves an embarrassing gap until the new desktop chips are ready. What we do have is impressive, and about 30 laptops are expected with Ice Lake in time for the holiday.
What can Intel do? It did what it always does: It made a good show of what it had, then released a special- edition fastest-ever chip. We saw the Core i9-9990XE a few months ago; now we have the i9-9900KS, a carefully selected 9900K, overclocked to run at 5GHz on all cores, at all times. Bingo! We have the world's fastest gaming chip. The 9900KS will be available later this year, in limited numbers, and at an as-yet unknown eye-watering price.
The battle between AMD and Intel now enters the next round, and Intel has yet to get up from the initial impact the original Zen made. Zen 2 merely strengthens AMD 's position. Its chips offer great val ue for money, a n d — bar Intel's "specials’' — are ever y bit as fast. It’s not over, and Ice Lake is shaping up nicely, but its development is painfully slow. Computex 2019 belonged to AMD, and it looks like the rest of the year will too.