Zen2: Credit where credit’s due

So, AMD has released its new Zen2 architecture, codenamed ‘Matisse’, and now available commercially as the Ryzen 3000-series.

And I think I can keep this blog short: Intel has its work cut out, because AMD is back. AMD now has TSMC build their x86 CPUs, using their new 7 nm process. But Zen2 does not stop there. As in: it’s not just a so-so architecture that leverages a superior manufacturing process to push clockspeeds or transistor count into an advantage.

No, Zen2 is actually a very good architecture in its own right. It can compete head-to-head with Intel’s best offerings on IPC, and performance-per-watt is very good as well. Combine that with AMD’s standard weapon of value-for-money, and it feels like we’re back in the late 90s/early 2000s, where AMD’s Athlons would compete head-to-head with Intels Pentium III and 4.

Perhaps most interesting is that they chose not to use a single die, but to spread the functionality over multiple dies, where they can combine different manufacturing processes (something that Intel has done in the past with CPUs and GPUs/IMCs as well, such as the 32nm/45m Westmere).

It seems that Intel’s biggest problem at the moment is that they are still on 14 nm for their mainstream offerings. Now that is a first, as far as I know. Intel has always had the edge in manufacturing, even when their architecture itself was not superior. This allowed Intel to compete back in the Athlon days. But this time, Intel is on the back foot in manufacturing. And for the first time since the introduction of the Core2, Intel no longer has the more efficient architecture either.

So, I suppose we will now wait and see what Intel can do to strike back. What will their 10 nm process bring? And can they introduce a new architecture that once again takes the IPC/performance crown?

But for now, AMD seems to be in a very good place. I think that is good news. I have always said, since AMD had taken over ATi, that problems in the CPU department would hurt the GPU deparment, for the simple reason that the CPU market is larger, and would have their priority. And I think this is what we have been seeing in recent years. With AMD struggling since Bulldozer, their Radeon line was slowly losing grip on nVidia. So hopefully we will now see the reverse: with Zen2, AMD should be able to get back a lot of CPU marketshare, and boost their revenue considerably. And with that, they should be able to invest more in R&D for their GPU line as well, and close in on nVidia once again.

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