AMD released some additional information about its upcoming Ryzen chips at CES this week. Having spent over four years designing the architecture, the company plans to keep it around for at least that long. That’s according to CTO Mark Papermaster, who was on-hand to discuss the chip. First things first — AMD is promising a hard launch for Ryzen, without any paper launches, limited availability, or limited product introductions. When Zen debuts it’ll debut in multiple (still unknown) configurations, not a single eight-core part.
As PCWorld details, Papermaster also confirmed the four-year target and emphasized that it didn’t mean AMD wouldn’t iterate the core. “We’re not going tick-tock,” Papermaster said. “Zen is going to be tock, tock, tock.”
There are several ways to read this sentence. Tick-tock refers to Intel’s previous practice of introducing new CPU architectures in one product cycle and new manufacturing nodes in the other. AMD has never strictly deployed an equivalent approach over multiple product cycles. I wouldn’t necessarily conclude that Papermaster is saying AMD won’t deploy Zen on new manufacturing nodes over time, but that AMD intends to implement an aggressive series of tweaks and improvements to the current core as time goes by.
There’s a significant lag between when a design tapes out and when it ships to consumers. This means AMD’s CPU design team is almost certainly hard at work on Zen’s successor already, even though Zen hasn’t actually shipped yet. While I can’t make any concrete predictions about how Zen will compete against specific products in Intel’s lineup, the demos we’ve seen and the product information already available has convinced me that Ryzen will be at least a meaningful and significant improvement on AMD’s overall power efficiency, performance, and performance-per-watt. With Intel’s CPU performance largely stuck and performance gains relegated to single-digit increases year-on-year, there’s a great deal of excitement for Ryzen. Even if it doesn’t seize the pole position from every price point, there’s pent-up demand for strong parts at good pricing. AMD wants to capitalize on that, and the best way to do so is to keep delivering core improvements year-over-year.
I think we can reasonably look forward to that. The first Ryzen APUs are probably going to be DDR4-based, but there’s no reason for AMD not to push into HBM2 as that standard becomes more affordable. Power consumption and efficiency will continue to be important targets in years to come because AMD is unlikely to match Intel clock-for-clock and core-for-core with its very first launch. Ryzen is the beginning of AMD’s comeback, not the end of it, and setting a four-year target for the architecture now makes sense. It also gives AMD time to think about what it wants to come next. Intel’s Kaby Lake debut this week didn’t do much to excite the enthusiast community, but we’ll have a much better sense of how the two chips compare once we get a little closer to Ryzen’s still-unspecified (Q1) launch date.
Overclocking features, Crossfire
Meanwhile, PCWorld’s Brad Chacos reports on some interesting news on the overclocking front. All AMD Ryzen CPUs will be unlocked and overclockable, but only three motherboard chipsets — X370, X300, and B350 will have overclocking support. If current rumors are accurate, that corresponds to the upcoming enthusiast-class chipset (X370), mainstream (X300), and small form factor (X300) chipsets. That’s most of the chipsets AMD is launching (most of the non-budget ones, at least) and should cover virtually the entire overclocking market. AMD motherboards have historically been cheaper than their Intel counterparts, so this shouldn’t be a major issue.
Crossfire and SLI support will only be implemented on the X370, however. According to AMD, the relative handful of people who use multi-GPUs always use higher-end motherboards. Practically, this makes sense, since most people can’t afford or don’t want a second card, and if you do want one, you can probably afford a slightly more expensive motherboard. Given the typical price gap between AMD and Intel we don’t see this being a major issue, either.
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