AMD and In­tel are both about to re­lease halo chips


In­tel ver­sus AMD—fight at the top; big­gest Face­book hack yet; Wi-Fi 6; Win 10 up­date deletes your files.

THERE IS YET an­other pro­ces­sor fight brew­ing, but this time around, the bat­tle is po­ten­tially go­ing to be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. It’s at the top of the mar­ket, as our two con­tenders each re­lease top-of-the-range desk­top pro­ces­sors.

AMD’s Ryzen has been giv­ing In­tel some­thing of a headache, be­cause it of­fers some se­ri­ous bang for your buck. How­ever, there has al­ways been one area where In­tel has ruled: at the top of the tree. If you re­ally want the best, the fastest, for gam­ing, you go to In­tel.

Take a look at the Hall of Fame for 3DMark. You have to scroll all the way down to fifti­eth po­si­tion be­fore you reach any­thing other than In­tel’s finest. No mat­ter how im­pres­sive AMD’s chips get, the In­tel fan­boy can al­ways counter with the boast of ab­so­lute su­pe­ri­or­ity in the al­limpor­tant gam­ing arena, even if it does come at an alarm­ing premium. Now that we are about to see each com­pany re­lease its top chips, is this po­si­tion about to change?

In the blue cor­ner, from In­tel, we have the Core i9-9900K. This is the first main­stream In­tel chip with eight cores and 16 threads. It’s based on In­tel’s 14nm++ process, and has a base clock of 3.6GHz, with a boost of up to the mag­i­cal 5GHz fig­ure. It also comes in a snazzy do­dec­a­he­dron box. And we’ve got one in for re­view (the CPU, not the box)—turn to page 78 to find out what we make of it. It’s set to launch at $530.

In the red cor­ner, from AMD, we have the Ryzen 7 2800X. Or we are ex­pected to have very soon, if ru­mors are to be be­lieved. An “X800” ver­sion was no­tice­able by its ab­sence from the se­cond gen­er­a­tion (2000 se­ries) Ryzen launch. The pre­vi­ous Zen core had a 1800X as its top dog. This fu­eled spec­u­la­tion that AMD was hold­ing it back to use as a counter for In­tel’s eight-core pro­ces­sor. It was even hinted at the Zen+ launch by Jim An­der­son that a 2800 might fol­low. Re­cent ru­mors of it car­ry­ing more than eight cores are spu­ri­ous, how­ever. You want more? You go Threadripper, and use a TR4 motherboard. What we’ll prob­a­bly get is a faster clock. The cur­rent 2700X has a base clock of 3.7GHz, and a boost of up to 4.3GHz. The jump to that 5GHz fig­ure would be a long one.

Can a 2800X se­ri­ously un­seat the 9900K as gam­ing king? It would be an amaz­ing up­set, but it is an un­likely sce­nario, too. It will be fast, though, and it’ll bench­mark faster on many tasks; but that ul­ti­mate sin­gle-core fo­cused game test—that’s a tall order. Ex­pect some fisticuffs any­way, be­cause the two are bound to be pitched against each other by all and sundry.

Mean­while, AMD sales are do­ing rather well. The com­pany posted healthy se­cond-quar­ter earn­ings of $1.76 bil­lion, up from $1.11 bil­lion last year. Ryzen’s mar­ket share has been steadily climb­ing; it is fore­casted to reach 30 per­cent by the year’s end. It’s been so good that the sup­ply of moth­er­boards is strug­gling to keep pace. Asus plans to ex­pand pro­duc­tion as A320 boards be­come hard to find.

Part of this suc­cess is due to In­tel’s trou­bles. Its 14nm foundry is work­ing at ca­pac­ity, lead­ing to price rises and short­ages across the board. It has even been forced to use 22nm pro­duc­tion for its H310 chipset to keep sup­ply lines healthy. Other sil­i­con may move back, too. In­tel re­ally needs to get on with the move to 10nm. This is now ex­pected to fi­nally get mov­ing by next July, with hints that pro­duc­tion may even start in the spring. It can’t come soon enough.

AMD and In­tel spar­ring like this is hardly new, each try­ing to grab head­lines with halo chips. AMD still of­fers the best price/per­for­mance op­tion, and In­tel still holds the shiny prizes. Keep fight­ing, though—com­pe­ti­tion is, as ever, good for us.

There has al­ways been one area where In­tel has ruled: at the top of the tree.

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