AMD’s Ryzen platform is on its march to the launch window – likely February of 2017 – and will be pushing non-stop information until its time of delivery. For today, we’re looking at the CPU and chipset architectures in greater depth, following-up on yesterday’s motherboard reveal.
First, let’s clear-up nomenclature confusion: “Zen” is still the AMD next generation CPU architecture name. “Ryzen” is the family of CPUs, comparable to Intel’s “Core” family in some loose ways. Each Ryzen CPU will exist on the Zen architecture, and each Ryzen CPU will have its own individual alphanumeric identifier (just like always).
CES 2017 allowed our team to dig deeper into the Zen architecture, its Ryzen family of CPUs, and the ensemble of AM4 motherboards in the pipes. There are currently “more than 50” SKUs of AM4 motherboards, according to the AMD team, and that’ll include the X370, B350, A320, and A/B/X300 chipsets. In this article, we’ll provide a GN-made block diagram of Ryzen’s PCIe lanes and other features, a look at ASRock and Biostar motherboards, and some brief notes on the S3.0 radiator.
Before diving in, here’s a block diagram that GamersNexus created to better represent the Ryzen / Chipset relationship:
AMD’s CES 2017 meeting room was primarily stocked with untouchable demos: Ryzen populated about half the room, Vega took a small (but critical) corner, and HDR screens took the rest. Given the challenges of demonstrating HDR in any medium other than analog (read: human eyes), we’ll skip that for now and focus on some of the Ryzen information. If Vega interests you, check out our write-up on the basics.
AMD’s suite served as a home to motherboards from MSI, Gigabyte, ASRock, and Biostar. We already spent some time with the MSI motherboards, including a look at the VRM design for each of the two configurations on display, and will today be focusing on Gigabyte’s X370, B350, and A320 motherboards. The company didn’t have any X300 mini-ITX boards at AMD’s suite, unfortunately, but did have micro-ATX displayed alongside the usual ATX form factor motherboards.
Despite the general lack of official documentation on AM4, we were able to get hands-on with some early AM4 motherboards from MSI at CES 2017. This is the first time – from AMD or from others – that we’ve received any detail on the new AM4 products, and the first time they’ve been demonstrated in public. The company debuted its X370 XPOWER Titanium overclocking motherboard (For Ryzen) alongside a mid-range B350 Tomahawk board, neither yet adorned with a price. We do have a release date target, though.
During PAX Prime 2016, we posted some official documentation on lower-end AM4 chipsets that would ship to bulk buyers, for use in HP-like systems at Costco-like places. Since then, we’ve learned that the X370 platform will crown the AM4 chipset accompaniment, with B350 falling next under that, and A320 (already known, see: PAX) at the low-end. A320 would be comparable to A68, were we to draw parallels to previous generation platforms. From what MSI tells us, an X300 chipset will also exist, but is not responsible for lane assignment and I/O tasking in the same way that X370 and B350 are; instead, X300 will likely see exclusive use on SFF platforms, and will perform no substantial functions. This was also detailed in our PAX coverage.
The article title might need a few more "-zen" and "-zon" syllables.
AMD’s new Zen architecture today made its public debut under the “Ryzen” 8C/16T CPU, an IGP-less competitor to Intel’s high-end enthusiast platforms. Ryzen, a combination of “Horizon” and “Zen” (we’re told), was demonstrated as operating at approximately 3.4GHz base clock, with boosting capabilities that brought it into competition with Intel’s Broadwell-E i7-6900K.
The Ryzen CPU aims to operate at approximately 3.4GHz base clock, leveraging a form of SMT to achieve 16 logical threads on 8 physical cores. We’ve also learned that Ryzen, due out in 1Q17, will host 20MB of combined L2+L3 cache. We are presently unsure of any more specifics on the caching architecture, and are due for briefings with AMD to develop a deeper understanding of Zen and its cache.
The AMD Gen 7 APUs and AM4 platform have officially begun shipment in some OEM systems this weekend, primarily through OEMs at physical retail locations. AMD's launch includes entry-level and mainstream AM4 chipsets, promising the high-end Zen chipset (990FX equivalent) at a later date. AM4 platform shipment begins with the B350, A320, and X/B/A300 chipsets in accompaniment with the A12-9800 and down.
Let's run through the new Gen7 APU finalized specs first, then talk AM4 chipset specs. Note that the new AM4 motherboards are making major moves to unify the FM and AM platforms under AMD's banner, so Zen's FX line equivalent and the Gen7 APUs will both function on the same motherboard. The below table (following the embedded video) provides the specs for the A12-9800, X4 950, and other relevant chips:
While Intel's Developer Forum is underway in San Francisco, not far from AMD in Sunnyvale, the x64 creators held a press conference to demonstrate Zen CPU performance. Based strictly on the presentation, AMD shows a 40% IPC (Instructions Per Clock) over Vishera. The demonstration used a 16T processor, the “Summit Ridge” chip that's been discussed a few times, which runs 8 cores with simultaneous multi-threading (SMT) for 16 total threads. For the non-gaming market, CPU codename “Naples” was also present, a 32C/64T Zen server processor in a dual-CPU Windows server.
AMD detailed more of the Zen architecture in an official capacity, commenting on new caching routines and branch prediction, accompanied by the SMT changes that shift AMD away from its modular Bulldozer architecture. AMD made mention of “fanless 2-in-1s” in addition to high-performance CPUs and embedded systems.
In a recent story circulating the web, rumors of AMD's (confirmed) deference to AS Media for its Zen chipset design have pointed toward USB3.1 transmission speed degradation issues. The reports indicated a slow-down of USB3.1 speeds as ports are distanced from the chipset, resolvable by motherboard manufacturers with a separate controller for USB3.1. The reports have not presented numbers for the alleged speed degradation; we do not have a clear picture of how heavily – if at all – this rumor impacts USB device speed.
Should USB3.1 transfer speeds truly be impacted this greatly by circuit distance, motherboard manufacturers can opt for inclusion of aftermarket ICs that resolve the issue at increased BOM. There is also still some time prior to mass production and shipping – motherboard manufacturers and AS Media may find a remedy to this reported choke-point by then.
The first “Ask GN” since leaving for PAX East, we delve into topics exploring voltage configurations for overclocking, AMD's Zen / Polaris architectures and the make-or-break pressure, alternatives to FRAPS in DirectX 12/Vulkan, and upgrades.
The questions are posted below the video with timestamps, as always.
For anyone interested in the final question in the video (paraphrased: “Should I buy Polaris or Pascal and sell my 980 Ti?”), you may be interested in our recent “Polaris & Pascal: Buy or Wait?” content we published.
This fifteenth episode of Ask GN springs forth a few quick-hitter questions, but a couple that require greater depth than was addressable in our episodic format. These longer questions will be explored in more depth in future content pieces.
For today, we're looking at the future of AMD's Zen for the company, forecasting HDR and monitor tech, discussing IGP and CPU performance gains, and talking thermals in laptops. As always, one bonus question at the end.
Timestamps are below the embedded video.
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