AMD’s Zen CPUs, and why you should care

AMD's Zen CPUs, and why you should care

With 2015 over, it’s time to look to the technology of 2016. Today’s topic: what’s in store for that loneliest segment of the tech world, fans of AMD’s processors?

That’s because AMD hasn’t released anything processor wise, at least not worth celebrating, in over four years; that changes this year with the release of AMD’s hotly anticipated Zen architecture.

It’s been a trying time for AMD these past few years, thanks to decreasing market share across the board in consumer and business sectors, as well as decreasing sales and lower budgets for R&D.

No wonder they named their new X86 CPU architecture “Zen” – they’ve needed to remain quite zen ever since the dismal release of their Bulldozer architecture.

Having to suck it up and make do with an architecture that couldn’t compete versus their immediate Intel equivalents was painful enough, but it has to hurt to see customers purchasing Intel i3 CPUs over AMD’s Phenom II X6 chips, even when the purchase is made for the sake of single threaded performance.

Now, after a few CPU revisions and budget based APU refashioning, the world will mostly say goodbye to the Bulldozer based architecture in 2016, as there are still a few holdouts, like the Excavator APU due later this year.

To usher in a new era, it’s only fitting that we list some of the reasons why you should get excited for AMD’s Zen CPU, the first of which is that AMD management gave a lot of freedom for their engineers to design Zen, which is a hopeful sign in itself when engineers, and not bureaucrats, are in charge.

AMD Zen - Improvements to be excited about

From the get-go, AMD have made some bold claims about the performance increases their Zen CPU will achieve, promising a 40% increase in instructions per cycle (IPC) over their yet-to-be-released Excavator APU (their last Bulldozer-based architecture).

AMD seem confident in this benchmark, and we’re swayed to at least give them the benefit of the doubt since they are moving away from Clustered Multithreading (CMT) which was the bedrock of Bulldozer, and towards Simultaneous Multithreading (SMT), which is basically AMD going back to basics and implementing their own version of Intel’s Hyperthreading technology.

This means that AMD has pretty much gone back to favouring single threaded performance over multi-threaded performance, which although might be too little too late, it’s a gambit they have to take if they want to remain in the X86 market at all.

MD Zen - Improvements to be excited about

More so, for many people, AMD at best bent the truth about Bulldozer performance at the time, and at worst, straight up lied about Bulldozer being an “octo-core” CPU.

Suffice it to say, if AMD has any more goodwill left, they would do well now not flush it down the toilet with overeager performance figures or marketing hype.

Late last year, a leak by a former AMD employee merely said that AMD had finished testing their Zen CPU and it has “met all expectations” with “no significant bottlenecks”. Unsubstantiated it may be, it’s also mildly promising considering the shift in architecture design to favour SMT.

Now, although we are yet to even measure Excavator to project the IPC performance increase of Zen, there is a measurement we can use to help position Zen in the grand scheme of all things CPU, and it’s all thanks to Intel.

The last great generational advance in IPC was Nehalem to Sandy Bridge, with Sandy Bridge decimating the performance and price barometer, and Intel has been scurrying about in the shadows of their great accomplishment ever since, as victims of their own success.

Only recently has Intel’s Skylake been a substantial enough reason for gamers to retire their Sandy setup and move over to Skylake, with around 25-30% faster IPC figures over Sandy Bridge.

Looking at Digital Foundry’s comparison between the 2600k and 6700k on the majority of gaming titles, the performance differences via frame rates and frame times are not that severe, although in CPU dependent games like GTA V the performance gap is much bigger.

However, if we were to excuse GTA V and extrapolate those numbers and the claimed 40% increase in IPC for Zen, then we can make some guesstimations that Zen should fall at the very least within Ivy-Bridge/Haswell performance ranges, which is a far cry from what Bulldozer and its revisions have ever achieved.

Up to now, it’s been a healthy dose of speculative guesswork on performance, projection and a little underdogism, so what do we know about Zen that might incite educated choices to move from Intel in the future?

Well, we know that it will finally be on a new 14nm FinFET manufacturing process, which is comparable to Intel’s Skylake node. Zen CPU’s will use a new AM4 platform, which offers support for DDR4.

AMD Zen - Improvements to be excited about

The great thing about the AM4 platform, besides finally bringing AMD motherboards up to speed with features like native USB 3 support, is that AMD will once again return to their friendly compatibility roots for consumers.

Instead of the maddeningly confusing AM3+,AM1, FM1, FM2, FM2 + motherboard options we’ve had in the past 4 years, both AMD Zen or “Summit Ridge” CPUs and future “Bristol Ridge” Excavator APUs will be supported on the AM4 platform.

This makes drop-in upgrades or downgrades much easier for consumers who might not feel the need to lock themselves into the Intel tick-tock master plan.

The stakes have never been higher for AMD. In fact, Zen may be the CPU that either saves the company or sinks it in the X86 marketplace.

Their renewed commitment to a high performance X86 processor is admirable, but also wrought with potential pitfalls, some created by AMD themselves and others laid down by the current market dominance of Intel.

If you excuse our underdogism, even if many of us at MyGaming are using Intel CPUs, it seems like the CPU marketplace needs a shakeup in terms of pricing, and if AMD can become competitive again with Zen, we might finally get that. Once Q4 2016 rolls around, we’ll know what’s in store for us.


Technology news worth your perusal

Foveated rendering may drastically reduce the minimum requirements for VR headsets

New Polaris architecture by AMD means a promising future for compact gaming

Computer monitors cost so much more than TVs: here’s why

Forum discussion
Authors
Partners
asus

Join the conversation

  • Vorastra

    If they came out now, I would’ve cared. End of 2016? Not looking too good.

  • Corey

    What would you get instead though? Most 2nd gen chips on wards don’t give that good of upgrade to really be worth it for the money. Personally I’d be putting the cash in for a bigger GPU, SSD, etc which will boost performance more that a CPU. All of which you prob already know. Skylake chips don’t look bad just not for their price. If Zen comes and is successful I am seriously hoping the chips are great and that it forces Intel to drop some of their 6600k or 6700k’s Then I can upgrade without going having to sell everything else I own.

  • onstrike112

    Given that Intel’s going to release similar power for 1.5x the price that AMD does, you should care. AMD is what keeps Intel from murdering us in our sleep, when it comes to pricing. Given that I’m going to upgrade from my 4690K to something late in this year, I’m probably going AMD Zen. Thank goodness. I felt bad enough that I had to buy an Intel CPU.

  • Spikey01

    I really hope this AMD cpu will be competitive… look at the price of Intel i7 Cpu’s !!!!!!

  • rouxenator

    I do hope they make an AM1 Zen CPU, my Athlon 5350 is beginning to feel slow.

  • rouxenator

    It will be even more expensive if there was no AMD. Intel is desperately trying to have a x86/x64 monopoly.

  • That Guy Jon

    I hope it’s awesome… Oculus Rift tuned my CPU ain’t got what it takes :P… and I’m an AMD fanboy (for some reason)

  • SuperMecha

    Not likely. Zen will be using the new AM4 socket which will replace all of AMD’s existing sockets.

  • rouxenator

    Let’s hope for an affordable AM4 mini-ITX board then…

  • Pricing will still be out of wack even if it’s cheaper than Intel’s stuff overseas. The FX-8320 is around R3,000, which is insane money for a CPU that barely beats the Core i3-6100 in some benchmarks. With the rand tumbling down, distributors and retailers are probably only going to stock Intel hardware because it actually sells.

  • It’s not going to force a price war, though. Look at the Fury Nano and Fury X release – AMD is selling them out at record pace, and they’re both slightly slower than the GTX 980 and 980 Ti respectively, yet command similarly high prices. If Zen is good, AMD will price them competitively to Intel’s stuff.

  • Pansyfaust

    I highly doubt it will compete with the best Intel CPUs (i.e, Skylake, Haswell-E or it’s refresh), but if it can offer some value proposition for middle of the road performance at a reasonable (R16.5/$ kind of reasonable 🙁 ) price, then some success is in order. I highly doubt it will make the high end Intel CPU dominance bat an eyelid, but that juicy i5 locked CPU segment could be ripe for some CPUs that push affordable and comparable performance.

    Now if only local disti’s actually gave a dam about AMD and Zuma stopped firing and hiring finance ministers.

  • Corey

    I could be wrong, but I don’t think GCN was ever made for DX11. I think it was made to support it but not for it like the 900 Series was. This is why I think we get great performance all round from NVidia cards. GCN on the other hand I think was made for lower level API’s and consoles I mind. I think that is why in some DX12 games even the ol’ R9 290’s trade blows with the 980’s and the 290x can trade blows with the ti’s. Which is good news because they use more power than the 980 and ti’s. Though I don’t think first games will show that great a lead due to DX12 being more complicated perhaps. But I think the reason why AMD have improved their image which is why the Fury’s do so well though I don’t think they are necessarily better cards but rather better under certain circumstances.
    You are prob right though. AMD will Price their CPU’s competitively as they desperately need margin for a bit. But I think Prices will drop significantly over time but. All depends if AMD really have decent products coming this year and how fast they want to take market share back.

  • AS118

    Yeah, GCN and the Bulldozer-based CPU’s were made for increased parallelism (like with supercomputing and such), which never really took off on desktop / consumer.

    Instead, single-threaded CPU and GPU power reigned supreme, and AMD was left hanging because they incorrectly predicted that everything would be multi-core and parallel in the future, (now the past and present) and they were dead wrong, and had no backup plan or product.

    I wish they would’ve hedged their bets with more traditional single-core and single-threaded hardware. I just hope that DX12 and Vulkan even things out.

  • HakimAdil

    From my experiences, AMD will not still be able to compete with Intel because AMD is still very stubborn in some matters, for an example slashing the prices to compete. Most of the AMD fans went to Intel because AMD just cannot compete against Intel on prices and speeds. It is also not justify why such a slower CPU has such a higher price tag.
    If you want consumers to buy, you cannot sell it so much higher. Even if the price is the same as Intel, I will not buy anymore AMD because of a dying company and supports. If they want to sell, they have to slash their prices so that the consumers cannot resist AMD. But that is not going to happen because all these years what I can see is AMD thought that they are Apple and have Steve Jobs. Apple sells its branding and not quality on its product.

  • Leonardo Villegas A.

    WTF dude! I’m quoting you:

    “Most of the AMD fans went to Intel because AMD just cannot compete against Intel on prices and speeds.” A: LIE, almost always AMD have been cheaper than intel.

    “Even if the price is the same as Intel, I will not buy anymore AMD because of a dying company and supports.” A: AMD is far away from dying. They have the console market and the best GPU so far (AMD RADEON R9 295 X2).

    “Apple sells its branding and not quality on its product”. A: LIE. Apple sells quality.

    Soo..

    From my experience, AMD always is innovative and Intel a copycat. (ex. AMD64 x86-64, first dual core, first 3, 4, 6, 8 core, etc..).

    If AMD dies (it will not happen), then you have a intel monopoly (higher prices with no innovation, the worse scenario).

  • Anonymous

    WTF dude! I’m quoting you:
    Ans: Fck you and your rude bloody mouth!

    “Most of the AMD fans went to Intel because AMD just cannot compete against Intel on prices and speeds.” A: LIE, almost always AMD have been cheaper than intel.
    Ans: As per quotations all AMD are more expensive and even the motherboard are also more expensive. Go check before you suck onto other cocck.

    “Even if the price is the same as Intel, I will not buy anymore AMD because of a dying company and supports.” A: AMD is far away from dying. They have the console market and the best GPU so far (AMD RADEON R9 295 X2).
    Ans: There is no such thing as best GPU. Every week or days will have better GPUs coming out. You seems do not understand what is dying.

    “Apple sells its branding and not quality on its product”. A: LIE. Apple sells quality.
    Ans: You are such a stubborn liar that you you do not even understand what is called quality. Perhaps you are a defect so you do not know what is quality.

    Soo..
    Ans: Stop whining your advertisements here. Go back to your pussy AMD boss.

    From my experience, AMD always is innovative and Intel a
    copycat. (ex. AMD64 x86-64, first dual core, first 3, 4, 6, 8 core, etc..).
    Ans: You still seems like a spoilt brat who knows nothing. Intel is leading the CPU market for more than a decade and AMD still havent manage to get even. This is proven in all CPU markets sectors.

    If AMD dies (it will not happen), then you have a intel monopoly (higher prices with no innovation, the worse scenario).
    Ans: Nothing is forever. Even Motorola, Nokia and many more had gone dead. IBM and many others had sold their body parts. However I agree if AMD dies, Intel will monopoly and it is very bad for consumers and many related companies.

  • RedRaider

    “I highly doubt it will make the high end Intel CPU dominance bat an eyelid,”

    Oh, I think they will bat an eyelid, deciding to not charge $1000 to $1700 for the high end, and think better to sell it for $700 to $1000 instead. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to get them out the door, if Zen turns out to be competitive. That is worth at least an eyelid bat or even two.

  • RedRaider

    “AMD just cannot compete against Intel on prices and speeds”

    It’s a good thing AMD hasn’t been able to compete with Intel on price, because that means everything would be overpriced, we would all be gouged.

    And arguably, AMD is the best bang for the buck and has always, except for very few cases (I say that because there is always one or two exceptions to that “always” though I don’t know of one at this time), held that title over Intel.

    And don’t forget that a large part of Intel’s market share lead is due to unethical market practices by Intel.

FREE NEWSLETTER
AMD’s Zen CPUs, and why you should care

Related posts

Top