Where has AMD been?

Back in 2011, AMD introduced the Bulldozer architecture featuring an implementation of Clustered Multi-Threading. This design featured ‘modules’ with dual integer cores and a single floating-point processor. A radically different design to a traditional monolithic core, Bulldozer was meant to provide greater multi-threaded performance by allowing more, smaller cores to be grouped together to save die space.

A simplistic diagram of a Bulldozer module

Despite allowing high-core count processors to be produced, Bulldozer ultimately fell short of expectations in performance. This being especially prominent in single-threaded workloads whereby a single thread can only utilise half of a module’s processing capability at any one time. Bulldozer went on to receive three revisions; Pile-driver, Steamroller and finally Excavator. Each bringing a modest increase in Instructions Per Clock (IPC). But none would bring AMD’s performance per core to parity with its biggest rival, Intel.

A massive leap with Ryzen

But that changes soon. With AMD officially announcing three new products based on their brand-new core design named Ryzen, today marks the start of AMD’s return to high-performance computing.  With Ryzen, AMD his making some big changes and even bigger claims of performance. Instead of the dual-integer core module implementation of previous designs, Zen features a brand new much wider core.


Comparing a ‘Excavator’ module to a ‘Zen’ Core

Each core is still capable of hosting two logical threads, but via an implementation of Simultaneous Multi-threading, similar to Intel’s HyperThreading. However, each thread has full access to the entire execution resources of the core, unlike in the module.

Not bad at all

AMD made an original claim of a 40% uplift in per-core, per-thread performance per clock with the new design – a goal that they’ve apparently beaten. AMD is now claiming that they’ve achieved a massive 52% uplift in IPC over the fourth generation iteration of Bulldozer, Excavator. So where does that put Ryzen?

Doing battle with Intel’s best

Back in December of last year, AMD held their ‘New Horizon’ event to show us a look at what their new core can do. Showing an 8 core, 16-thread Ryzen processor doing battle against Intel’s mammoth i7 6900K – also an 8 core, 16 thread chip. Being based on the Broadwell micro-architecture, this processor represents one of the most powerful parts Intel has. It’s second only to the mighty i7 6950X which features 10 cores and 20 threads. In a show of power, the Ryzen part came out on top, besting the i7 at similar clock speeds in a Blender render test.

We’ve also seen many leaks over the past few months, providing a sneak preview of what’s to come. So how does the performance look so far? It’s looking great. From what we’ve seen so far, I think it’s a safe bet to assume that AMD has achieved almost parity with Intel’s best cores. Though Broadwell has since been surpassed by Skylake, many of the leaks have shown us that Ryzen might actually land a few percent faster than Broadwell in IPC.

An official benchmark from AMD. Eight-cores doing battle, looks like a win for AMD

This places it firmly in the territory of the blue chip giant’s best core available. What’s interesting to point out is that Ryzen actually has a smaller physical die area per core compared to Skylake. This is despite the Intel process being denser. This likely means Ryzen uses less transistors to achieve very similar performance – a massive win for AMD. This will likely result in Ryzen parts being cheaper to produce.

From a previous leak: Ryzen actually has a physically smaller core size than Skylake

So what does this mean?

Although we’ve yet to see official  independent reviews, I think it’s safe to say Ryzen can do battle with some of the best Intel processors available – and at a much lower price point. This means the CPU market is about to become a lot more interesting.

Much more wallet friendly

Competition is a much needed thing. Intel’s dominance in the high-end CPU market has lead to little need for the chip giant to provide big uplifts in performance. A big example of this is in core count; quad-cores have dominated the mainstream segment for many years. The higher core counts have been limited to those willing to fork out big dollars for Intel’s High-end Desktop Platform. But that changes soon, I think it’s safe to say AMD’s back in the game, and they’re back with a bang (for your buck).