AMD Next Horizon

AMD’s Next Horizon event – roundup and some speculation

In the last couple of years, AMD has stormed back into the high performance computing and server markets in a big way. They innovated when they were down. Ryzen and Epyc have returned competition to both areas of the market. Yesterday’s Next Horizon event was more for the benefit of investors. However, we can still learn a lot from the event as technical enthusiasts to see and speculate about what kind of products the company will be launching in the short and medium term.


Next Horizon – Zen 2 and future designs

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It’s been known for a long time now that AMD would be the first desktop CPU manufacturer to move to the 7nm manufacturing node for all of its products. We also knew about Zen 2, the first major revision of the original Zen architecture. It will move direct to the 7nm process, which apparently offers twice the transistor density, half the power usage and 25 percent more performance at the same power.


Zen 2 (which is going to be the Ryzen 3000 series) is also expected to have general IPC improvements. Together with clockspeed and power consumption improvements, this could mean that AMD will overtake Intel in the overall desktop CPU performance stakes in 2019. And AMD might do that at what is likely to be much lower cost to the consumer as well.


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Into the future, Zen will continue to evolve with confirmation that Zen 3 – on an improvement 7nm process – will be coming, plus a Zen 4, which could be on anything. There is a 5nm process already, and that will be coming. Might Zen chips post 2020 come on this process?


Next Horizon – Vega for the data-centre

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The first big launch of the day is the new Radeon Instinct MI60. It’s the first GPU built on the 7nm node. Designed exclusively for the data centre, the thing is passively cooled. Vega might have a reputation for being hot and power hungry on desktop graphics, but it seems to be efficient and cool when put on to other jobs.


It’s a big thing for AMD to be first to the node. It also offers similar performance and efficiency benefits to Vega. The MI60 has FP32 and GP64 compute performance, machine learning, PCIe4.0 and 32GB of HBM2 memory for a whopping 1TB/s of memory bandwidth. That’s…a lot.


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In what might be a sign of things to come for desktop graphics, the MI60 also deploys a version of Infinity Fabric, which is AMD’s fancy new connection used on Ryzen to communicate between multiple CPUs. This might signal that multi-GPUs will make a comeback to the desktop. With the MI60, each Infinity Fabric link can transfer 100GB/s. Imagine what proper support of this would be like for gaming graphics.


Next Horizon – Epyc 2 and a preview of Rome

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The second iteration of Epyc had been speculated to be the next step in multi-chip package design. It was also rumoured to have massive core counts. A lot of that came from Jim (better known as AdoredTV on YouTube). Those predictions and leaks turned out to be accurate; Epyc 2 would be built upon a series of 7nm “chiplets”, with a central controller chip on the established 14nm process.


With this kind of design, it meant that Epyc would have a very flexible design in terms of the number of cores. What appears to be the headline Epyc has a central controller chip, surrounded by eight actual CPUs with eight cores each. Intel might dismiss this arrangement as simply being “glued together”, but if it works, it ain’t stupid.


Next Horizon – the medium term future

We know that Intel is having a multitude of issues right now; from 10nm not working properly, to limitations on the number of cores that can be economically run, and the lack of a properly scalable architecture. While the new Epycs haven’t been released yet, and there are no specs, official or otherwise, the 7nm process offers advantages in power, clockspeed and performance. Even with 64 cores, this chip should outperform in pretty much all metrics.


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This means that desktop Ryzen 3000 and Threadripper processors might also share these attributes. We might be seeing a bunch of consumer grade processors with 16 cores and 32 threads (Ryzens), and professional chips with 32 cores (Threadripper). While that sounds fantastic and it is, the race to have the most cores leaves a lot of applications behind in terms of taking advantage of that potential.


Irrespective, there is a fantastic future and exciting time ahead for desktop performance. Nvidia is reaching for the next step in graphics performance with ray tracing. The number of cores on desktops will keep ramping up to give consumers choice and more performance.

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