AMD's Zen chips to square off against Intel's Skylake next year


AMD’s recent chips haven’t rocked Intel’s PC market dominance, but new chips based on the company’s Zen architecture could change the narrative next year.

The company on Wednesday shared initial details about the new FX and seventh-generation A-series chips, which will be in desktops and laptops next year. The chips are based on Zen, the brainchild of Jim Keller, a leading iPad and iPhone chip designer at Apple until AMD hired him on 2012.

The new AMD chips will battle Intel’s highly anticipated chips code-named Skylake, which will start appearing in tablets, laptops and desktops starting later this year. Intel has called Skylake its most significant chip family of last decade, designed to bring many wireless charging and data transfer features to laptops.

Details about the new Zen-based chips were shared during an AMD investor meeting in New York Wednesday, where executives admitted that they need to overhaul the company’s chip line to regain PC market share. AMD hopes innovations in the Zen architecture will revive its past glory and make it the scrappy competitor that gave fits to Intel in the 2000s.

The first chips to come will be FX processors, which will have a “high core count” and support the latest DDR4 memory, according to Mark Papermaster, senior vice president and chief technology officer for AMD. The FX chips are especially popular among gamers, who look for the highest-performing CPUs.

Then will come the seventh-generation A-series chips for laptops, which will focus on delivering performance within a limited power budget. The chips will support DDR3 and DDR4 memory. Performance gains on laptops could also be found on the mobile chips via support for the Heterogeneous System Architecture Foundation’s HSA 1.0 specification, which makes better use of processing units such as CPUs, GPUs and digital signal processors available in computers.

AMD’s upcoming chips are worth consideration because of power, performance and bandwidth improvements in the Zen architecture. The CPU architecture is designed for chips ranging from smartphones to high-end servers, Papermaster said.

“It’s getting right back into the competitive, high-performance CPU,” Papermaster said. “It’s a wide open space in terms of bringing competition back to x86.”

A Zen-based CPU is 40 percent faster per cycle than Excavator CPU cores in AMD chips code-named Carrizo, which will appear in laptops and desktops later this year. The power consumption can also be quickly reduced depending on the needs of a PC.

The Zen architecture has a modular design in which more CPU or graphics processors cores can be easily packed in. It also has a high-bandwidth caching system, though it wasn’t immediately clear if it had any effect on the memory structure of subsystem. A new networking interface also aids in faster data transfers.

AMD will put next-generation GPU cores in Zen-based chips. AMD is focusing heavily on 4K video with its current GPUs.

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