AMD Lays Out the Argument for Zen at Hot Chips Show

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2016-08-23 Print this article Print
AMD chips

As a result, AMD was able to hit the ambitious performance and efficiency goals its officials first talked about 15 months ago. The company demonstrated those capabilities during the event for analysts and journalists a week ago, and are expecting the numbers to follow through when the chips start appearing in systems later this year and as they ramp in 2017. Officials also said that tests found the performance of the Zen chips were competitive with—and at times outperformed—Intel's new "Broadwell-E" chips.

The first chips scheduled to hit the market will be "Summit Ridge" CPUs for high-end desktops, which will offer eight cores and 16 threads and will use the same AM4 socket as the company's latest seventh-generation A-Series chips announced this summer. Those chips will be followed by the 32-core, 64-thread "Naples," which is set to begin shipping in servers in the second quarter next year, followed by Zen-based notebooks in the second half of 2017. More CPUs and accelerated-processing units (APUs)—which include both the CPU and GPU on the same piece of silicon—will ship after that.

Clark said Zen isn't the first chip he's helped design from scratch—he was part of the team that developed AMD's K5 processor almost two decades ago. But it's never easy.

"For me, it wasn't the first time, but you don't do it often because it is so daunting," he said. "It's going to take a lot of [effort] and time. … It comes with a lot of risk."

It also came as AMD was reworking other parts of the company including its graphics business, where engineers were developing the new Polaris GPU architecture introduced earlier this year. However, such efforts also helped contribute to the work on Zen. For example, the Polaris architecture also is built on a 14nm FinFET process, which gave Zen engineers data to learn from.

Overall, the result is what Clark was hoping for when the work on the new microarchitecture began all those years ago with a focus on both performance and power efficiency.

"As the lead [on the core development], I picked 'Zen' as the [codename] because zen is a balance," he said. "We needed to balance the whole thing to make it work."


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