AMD Refocusing On Performance?

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AMD Refocusing On Performance? 3

With the 300 series GPUs and the Zen CPU architecture just around the corner, are AMD making a comeback at the competition with Intel and Nvidia? With the obvious tough time AMD has been having over the last few years, well since the Athlon 64 glory days, I’d go as far to say, they managed to turn a profit in 2014, thanks for Playstation 4 and Xbox one chip sales. The purchase of ATi and the spinoff of AMD’s manufacturing facilities to GlobalFoundaries to remain profitable. It’s been quite the rollercoaster.

AMD have become known for the “value for money” brand where it’s best offerings like the 8350 CPU are only really competing with Intel’s quad-core i5 range, in most cases, and even it’s GPU’s from which the ATi merger finally saw them re-branded to AMD GPU’s in 2010 have been stagnating as of late. We haven’t seen a GPU release for a couple years, that’s an age in the technology era.

Yesterday, at the AMD Financial Analyst Day event, the company finally decided that enough was enough: AMD will no longer be competing in a race to the bottom. “It’s extraordinarily important to ensure that we have competitive, high-performance cores,” said CEO Lisa Su. “We have reduced our low-end PC exposure. When you look at AMD’s historical business, we were very, very heavily concentrated in consumer, low-end PCs, that was actually our speciality. However, when you look at that market, there has been so much volatility, especially at the intersection between tablets and PCs and differentiation hasn’t been there… very clearly, we are an x86 company. We have tremendous x86 heritage, and opportunity to lead in that area. We are absolutely going to invest in high-performance x86.”

Good news, being a secret AMD underdog fan myself, as watching the fall of AMD first hand when Intel Core2Duo’s and Quad’s smash AMD’s offerings into the ground I was left bitterly disappointed. Having purchased a Phenom 9950 and a nice AM2+ motherboard to then see the Q6600 destroy it left a bitter taste in my mouth, but once I got my hands on one (Q6600), in performance terms, I never went back.

Hearing this news secretly put a smile back on my face. Competition makes the companies offer their best products when they should, not “hold off for another year” as the competition can’t make anything as good. This is targeted at GPU’s more than anything, the CPU market, especially the workstation and server market is alive and well. Nvidia last year had a 76% share of the GPU market, thanks to it’s huge R&D budget it makes the better card.

Regarding the news recently, later this year AMD will be offering re-designed products in both the CPU and GPU range, that do, in fact, get me a little bit excited. Starting off with CPU’s, the new “Zen” x86 core CPU lineup is a new whole new direction for AMD. Zen brings together the ditching of CMT, Bulldozer CPU’s and the last generation of Excavator-based Carrizo APU’s due later this year. CMT or clustered multi-threading was the arrangement of multiple integer cores sharing a single FPU, which resulted in poor single-threaded performance, Bulldozer’s downfall. Zen brings SMT, simultaneous multithreading, to the table. Much like Intel’s Core series CPUs. Zen will become AMD’s sole microarchitecture. Zen is rumored to have a 40% increase in instructions per clock, IPC. This could, however, be the end of FM sockets with AM4 being the replacement.

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Onto the GPUs. AMD finally confirmed that it will be launching a new flagship card later this quarter. The company was tight-lipped on specifics but did confirm it would be the first to ship with the much-hyped High Bandwidth Memory (HMB). In development for over seven years, HMB is a form of stacked memory, where the DRAM chips are stacked on top of each other. AMD is hoping that its work with HBM will pay off regarding power consumption, higher performance in 4K gaming and its scaling ability to new form factors. Keep an eye out for Nvidia 2016 Pascal release with HBM implementation.

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AMD is being quiet about specifications but expect more news about the 300 series family as soon as we hear it. I suspect the Fiji XT lineup and a bunch of rebrands, typical of both major parties. AMD took a similar approach with the mobile 300-series, which is essentially just a set of rebranded 200-series parts. They do feature much higher clock speeds, which should result in a boost to performance, but memory bandwidth is down across the board.

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