AMD Ships 7th Generation Desktop PC Processors

The "Bristol Ridge" chips offer improved performance and efficiency, but the real shift will come with the "Zen"-based processors early next year.

AMD logo

Advanced Micro Devices is shipping its latest desktop processors that will come with up to four of the vendor's current "Excavator" cores and will appear in systems from HP Inc. and Lenovo later this year.

While the new 7th Generation A-Series "Bristol Ridge" desktop chips won't feature AMD's high-profile upcoming 'Zen' core—those processors will begin to appear later this year and really ramp in early 2017—they will bring significant performance and power efficiency improvements over their "Kaveri"-based predecessors, will be more competitive with Intel processors and will include the chip maker's new AM4 platform, which comes with its own set of new features.

In all, the new Bristol Ridge accelerated processing units (APUs), which put the compute and graphics capabilities on the same piece of silicon, and the adoption by Lenovo and HP are important steps for AMD, according to Kevin Lensing, corporate vice presidence and general manager of client computing at the company.

"First, it marks a major increase in productivity performance, streaming video and eSports gaming experiences sought after by today's consumers," Lensing said in a statement. "Second, because these new OEM designs also feature our new AM4 desktop platform, the motherboard ecosystem shows its readiness for our upcoming high-performance 'Summit Ridge' desktop CPUs featuring 'Zen' cores, which share the same platform."

AMD introduced the Bristol Ridge processors in June at the Computex 2016 show, saying the chips will help AMD become a stronger competitor to Intel in the PC market. Worldwide PC shipments have continued to slow since 2011, forcing a wide array of vendors—such as Dell, HP and Intel—to look for new growth markets and to make moves to reduce their dependence on the PC space. However, during a conference call with journalists and analysts earlier this summer, Lensing said there still is a significant market opportunity of about $20 billion for client chips.

Intel has held a dominant position in the space, with its chips found in more than 95 percent of the PCs sold. However, AMD officials are targeting the client space as one of several key markets in their larger plan to put the chip maker on greater financial footing.

AMD officials said HP and Lenovo are only the first system makers to announce new systems based on the Bristol Ridge chips, and that other OEMs also are embracing the 7th Generation APUs. The chips will offer up to four Excavator cores and will come in 35- and 65-watt versions. The processors will deliver performance normally found in 95 watt chips, and will match Intel's Core i5 6500 processor in productivity performance and provide 99 percent better graphics performance, they said.

They also include enhanced video playback capabilities that support up to 4K Ultra HD in both H.264 and H.265 formats, will include Graphics Core Next graphics and will support Microsoft's DirectX 12 technology.

The AM4 socket—which will bring compatibility between the Bristol Ridge processors and the upcoming Zen-base "Summit Ridge" desktop chips—deliver DDR4 memory, next-generation interconnect technology and peripheral support, such as PCIe Gen 3, USB 3.1 Gen 2, NVMe and SATA Express, officials said.

The introduction of the Zen core microarchitecture will be key to AMD's future. Company engineers designed the x86 chips from the ground up for all of AMD's efforts, from the smallest notebooks to the largest high-performance computing (HPC) systems, and executives unveiled the plan more than a year ago. Last month, officials gave some clarity on the Zen timeline, saying the first chips with the new cores will be in desktops, followed by server processors—dubbed "Naples"—in the second quarter 2017 and followed by Zen-based notebooks in the second half of next year.

The goal with Zen was to create a new x86 microarchitecture with greater performance and power efficiency for a cloud-based world that includes such fast-growing computing trends as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), esports and data analytics. Zen offers a 40 percent improvement in instructions-per-clock performance over AMD's current processors, and during a demonstration in August, Senior Vice President and CTO Mark Papermaster said a Summit Ridge chip delivered comparable performance and efficiency as a similarly configured "Broadwell-E" processor from Intel.

In an interview with eWEEK last month, AMD President and CEO Lisa Su said AMD made a "high-risk, high-reward" bet on Zen that is paying off.

"I would agree that this is the biggest product launch [for AMD] in 10 years," Su said. "We're exactly where we thought we would be."