Zen’s de­vel­op­ment cy­cle is still in over­drive


AMD ups the pres­sure on In­tel; In­tel’s new top dog; Face­book to face the mu­sic; Mi­crosoft tests ads; more….

AMD CER­TAINLY has am­bi­tion, and a hec­tic re­lease sched­ule. It was only last March that the first Zen chips ap­peared, and since then we’ve had a myr­iad vari­ants, and a sec­ond it­er­a­tion of the de­sign, the Zen+. The EPYC range of server pro­ces­sors came along in June, and re­peated the trick Ryzen had man­aged on the desk­top: It of­fered a price to per­for­mance bal­ance that left In­tel more than a lit­tle bruised. EPYC sold well, tak­ing a de­cent bite out of In­tel’s Xeon mar­ket share, but there’s much more to be had. We are about to see EPYC 2, co­de­name “Rome,” a 7nm server chip that is ready for sam­pling now, and due for com­mer­cial re­lease this year.

EPYC 2 will be the first AMD chip to use the new Zen 2 ar­chi­tec­ture. This is a mod­u­lar de­sign, with 7nm process nodes, called “chiplets,” built around a 14nm I/O unit, rather than Zen’s more self-con­tained blocks. The ar­chi­tec­tural im­prove­ments in­clude dou­bling the float­ing point width to 256-bit, and dou­bling the L3 cache, along with a slew of tweaks to branch pre­dic­tion, band­widths, prefetch­ing, in­struc­tion cache, and more. Clock for clock, Zen 2 will be 10–15 per­cent faster than Zen+, min­i­mum. The shrink also of­fers lower power con­sump­tion. Start­ing with a server chip shows where AMD’s plans lie, and where a good part of the profits are.

Mov­ing to a 7nm process means more room for cores. The EPYC 2 will dou­ble the core count, now 64 rather than 32, in­stantly giv­ing twice the power per socket. It also gets PCIe 4.0 sup­port, and will be socket com­pat­i­ble with the pre­vi­ous EPYC, and in­deed the next one, “Milan.” Per­for­mance? At AMD’s Next Hori­zon event, an EPYC 2 was pit­ted against a dual Xeon Plat­inum 8180M—no slouch with a to­tal of 56 cores. The com­par­i­son em­ployed the ray-trac­ing bench­mark C-Ray, and the pro­to­type EPYC 2 box coasted to vic­tory. A care­fully se­lected demon­stra­tion, of course; the bench­mark likes float­ing point and lots of cores, which helps.

The desk­top ver­sion of Zen 2, the 3000 se­ries, is all set for this year. Leaks have it that the first chips are eight-core, run at 4GHz, and use the same AM4 socket as the 2000 se­ries. There will be 12 and 16-core ver­sions to fol­low. There’s also talk of a 32-core HEDT ver­sion. AMD’s mul­ti­core per­for­mance is al­ready out­stand­ing—Zen 2 will push it even fur­ther.

The next tar­get is sin­glethread per­for­mance—AMD wants to top the desk­top gam­ing bench­marks, a prize that has eluded it so far, but Zen 2 could be the ar­chi­tec­ture to do it. Clock speeds are un­likely to jump by much, but the ef­fi­ciency im­prove­ments could tip it over, un­less In­tel does some­thing…. With AMD’s blis­ter­ing de­vel­op­ment cy­cle, Zen 3, an evo­lu­tion of Zen 2, is promised in 2020. Zen 4, more of a

re­design, is al­ready be­ing planned. Radeon is also go­ing 7nm. First to emerge will be Ve­gapow­ered In­stinct M160 and M150 cards. These PCIe 4.0 cards are aimed at ma­chine learn­ing in data cen­ters. The M150 is due any day, with the M160 fol­low­ing be­fore spring. 7nm graph­ics cards will fol­low, but de­tails are scant. More pre­cise de­tails on the up­com­ing Navi cards are thin on the ground, too, apart from ru­mors that Radeon is to fo­cus on con­soles and servers first. We’ve yet to know much about any re­sponse to Nvidia’s hard­ware ray-trac­ing Tur­ing ar­chi­tec­ture ei­ther. A re­sponse is in­evitable, but de­vel­op­ment teams are pretty busy right now, so it’ll be later rather than sooner.

AMD ap­pears to have skipped the 10nm process; the orig­i­nal Zen was a 14nm piece, the Zen+ op­ti­mized and shrank this to 12nm. The new Zen 2 will jump straight to 7nm for its pro­cess­ing units. This must be galling for In­tel, which is strug­gling to get its own 10nm process off the ground, and is re­duced to get­ting all the value it can out of 14nm chips.

It’s only been 22 months since AMD got back in the game with the Zen-pow­ered Ryzen, and the com­pany has been fir­ing on all cylin­ders ever since. EPYC 2 and its Zen 2 stable­mates look set to in­crease the pres­sure on In­tel across the mar­ket­place, from servers down.

EPYC 2: the first chip to use the Zen 2 ar­chi­tec­ture

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