Blink and you miss it: AMD's keynote address this year was a whirlwind of primetime announcements for the company. The message is clear: AMD is committing itself to 7nm as the future process node that will drive the company's innovations starting in 2019. The first consumer products on 7nm will be the Ryzen 3rd Generation Desktop processors, using Zen 2 cores, offering more than competitive performance against Intel's best hardware. Also on the docket is a return to high-end graphics performance, with AMD set to release a 7nm graphics card that can spar blow-for-blow with the competition at the $700 price barrier.

AMD at CES 2019

One of the odd things about AMD’s announcements this show has been the tale of two halves. Normally a company will push out single major press release with everything in it. This year AMD discussed its news around Ryzen-3000 series mobile parts and AMD Chromebooks just as the show started, and we were all confused if this was going to constitute what was in the keynote or not – it would seem odd, after all, for the company to pre-announce its keynote announcements. Luckily, AMD has plenty to announce, and it’s all pretty juicy.

First up, CPUs. AMD presented its next generation 7nm desktop CPU, which is the 3rd Generation Ryzen.

Attacking the Mainstream CPU Market: Toe to Toe with Core i9-9900K

Ignore everything you might have heard about what AMD’s future desktop CPU is going to be. Here are most of the details you need to know.

The new parts, codenamed Matisse, will be coming to market in mid-2019 (sometime in Q2 or Q3). The processor the company had on display was made from two pieces of silicon on the package: one eight-core 7nm chiplet made at TSMC, and a 14nm input/output chiplet with the dual memory controllers and the PCIe lanes, made at GlobalFoundries.

The company did state that it is the world’s first 7nm gaming CPU, and will also be the world’s first mainstream CPU to support PCIe 4.0 x16. At this time the company is not commenting on if the 3rd Gen is going to have a maximum of eight cores, or if this represents the best processor of the whole family.

Because the processor is still far away from launch, frequencies are not being finalized yet. However, the processor is for the AM4 socket, given that AMD has previously said that it intends to keep backwards compatibility for several generations. That will mean that this CPU will work in current 300 and 400-series AMD motherboards.

What this means for PCIe 4.0 is actually fairly simple. We expect there to be a new line of motherboards presumably something like X570 that will be PCIe 4.0 compatible, for any new PCIe 4.0 graphics cards that will be coming to market. One of the differences with PCIe 4.0 is that it can only handle PCB traces up to 7 inches before needing a redriver/retimer, so these extra ICs are needed for ports lower down the board. But, the first PCIe slot on most motherboards is in that limit, so it would appear that a lot of current 300 and 400 series motherboards, assuming the traces adhere to signal integrity specifications, could have their first PCIe slot rated at PCIe 4.0 with new firmware.

Going For Die Size

As we can see on the die shot above, the 8-core chiplet is smaller than the IO-die, similar to the 8+1 chiplet design on EPYC. The IO-die is not exactly one quarter of the EPYC IO-die, as I predicted might be the case back the Rome server processor announcement launch, but it is actually somewhere between one quarter and one half.

Doing some measurements on our imagery of the processor, and knowing that an AM4 processor is 40mm square, we measure the chiplet to be 10.53 x 7.67 mm = 80.80 mm2, whereas the IO die is 13.16mm x 9.32 mm = 122.63 mm2.

+15% Performance Generation on Generation, Minimum.

During the keynote, AMD showed some performance numbers using the new Ryzen 3rd Generation (Matisse) processor. The test in question was Cinebench R15.

Our internal numbers show the 2nd Generation Ryzen 7 2700X scores 1754.

This new 3rd Generation Ryzen processor scored 2023.

This would mean that at current non-final clocks, the new parts give a 15.3% increase in performance generation on generation. Cinebench is an idealized situation for AMD, but this is not at final clocks either. It will depend on the workload, but this is an interesting data point to have.

Identical Performance to the Core i9-9900K, Minimum.

Our internal benchmarks show the 9900K with a score of 2032.

The 8-core AMD processor scored 2023, and the Intel Core i9-9900K scored 2042.  

Both systems were running on strong air cooling, and we were told that the Core i9-9900K was allowed to run at its standard frequencies on an ASUS motherboard. The AMD chip, by contrast, was not running at final clocks. AMD said that both systems had identical power supplies, DRAM, SSDs, operating systems, patches, and both with a Vega 64 graphics card.

At Just Over Half The Power…?!

Also, in that same test, it showed the system level power. This includes the motherboard, DRAM, SSD, and so on. As the systems were supposedly identical, this makes the comparison CPU only. The Intel system, during Cinebench, ran at 180W. This result is in line with what we’ve seen on our systems, and sounds correct. The AMD system on the other hand was running at 130-132W.

If we take a look at our average system idle power in our own reviews which is around 55W, this would make the Intel CPU around 125W, whereas the AMD CPU would be around 75W.

AMD Benchmarks at CES 2019
AnandTech System Power Idle Power* Chip Power CB 15 MT Score
CB 15 MT Score
All-Core Frequency
AMD Zen 2 130W 55W 75W 2023 2057 ?
Intel i9-9900K 180W 55W 125W 2042 2040 4.7 GHz
*A rough estimate given our previous review testing

This suggests that AMD’s new processors with the same amount of cores are offering performance parity in select benchmarks to Intel’s highest performing mainstream processor, while consuming a lot less power. Almost half as much power.

That is a powerful statement. (ed: pun not intended)

How has AMD done this? IPC or Frequency?

We know a few things about the new Zen 2 microarchitecture. We know it has an improved branch predictor unit, and improved prefetcher, better micro-op cache management, a larger micro-op cache, increased dispatch bandwidth, increased retire bandwidth, native support for 256-bit floating point math, double size FMA units, and double size load-store units. These last three parts are key elements to an FP-heavy benchmark like Cinebench, and work a lot in AMD’s favor.

As the Intel CPU was allowed to run as standard, even on the ASUS board, it should reach around 4.7 GHz on an all-core turbo. AMD’s frequencies on the processor were unknown; but also they are not final and we ‘should expect more’. Well, if the processor was only running at 75W, and they can push it another 20-30W, then there’s going to be more frequency and more performance to be had.

The one thing we don’t know is how well TSMC’s 7nm performs with respect to voltage and frequency. The only chips that currently exist on the process are smartphone chips that are under 3 GHz. There is no comparable metric – one would assume that in order to be competitive with the Core i9-9900K, the processor would have to match the all-core frequency (4.7 GHz) if it was at the same IPC.

If the CPU can't match IPC or frequency, then three things are possible:

  1. If the TSMC process can’t go that high on frequency, then AMD is ahead of Intel on IPC, which is a massive change in the ranks of modern x86 hardware.
  2. If the TSMC process can clock above 5.0 GHz, AND there is room to spare in the power budget to go even higher, then it’s going to be really funny seeing these processors complete.
  3. AMD's Hyperthreading for software such as CineBench is out of this world.

TL;DR = AMD’s 3rd Gen Ryzen Processors Are Another Step Up

When speaking with AMD, their representative said that there will be more information to follow as we get closer to launch. They’re happy for users to discuss whether it is IPC or frequency that is making AMD the winner here, and they’ll disclose more closer to the time.

Ian, I Thought You Predicted Two Chiplets?

Naturally, I assumed that AMD would be presenting a Ryzen-3000 series desktop processor with sixteen cores. For me, and a lot of others, felt like a natural progression, but here we are today with AMD only mentioning an eight core chip.

I predicted wrong, and I've lost my money (ed: in Las Vegas no less). But if we look at the processor, there’s still room for a surprise.

There’s room for a little something extra in there. There’s not much room for a little something extra, but I’m sure if AMD wanted to, there’s just enough space for another CPU chiplet (or a GPU chiplet) on this package. The question would then be around frequency and power, which are both valid.

There's also the question of lower core count processors and the cheaper end of the market. This processor uses silicon from TSMC, made in Taiwan, and GlobalFoundries, made in New York, then packaged together. We have heard some discussion from others not in the industry that this makes cheaper processors (sub $100) less feasible. It is entirely possible that AMD might address that market with future GPU. 

What AMD has plans for in the future, I don’t know. I don’t have a crystal ball. But it does look like AMD has some room to grow in the future if they need to.

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  • twtech - Friday, February 8, 2019 - link

    Yes, I am a software developer who has successfully written MT code.

    The primary constraint in MT programming is that at a given time, some data stored in memory can safely either be read by any number of cores simultaneously, or only read-from/written to by a single core. So the code just needs to be written in a way where you don't attempt to do both on the same data at the same time.

    Sometimes the answer is as simple as just making a copy of the data, so any threads can read from one const/static copy, while a single thread writes any new updates to the other. Once the update is complete, publish the updated data to become the new read-only copy.
  • levizx - Thursday, January 10, 2019 - link

  • eldakka - Wednesday, January 9, 2019 - link

    If you currently need 16 cores, then by definition you are not a mainstream user, you are a HEDT user. And there are a range of HEDT processors, AMD Threadripper, Intel i9 'X' series, etc.
  • ajc9988 - Wednesday, January 9, 2019 - link

    guess what? TR is going to possibly knock the core count up another notch! *BAM*

    So, if the 16-core variant, and there will be a two Core Die chip coming out this year (whether 12 or 16 cores is up for debate), then the HEDT chips could see a move to do a 64 core chip and make 32 core an entry point at 1/4th the cost of Intel's 48 core behemoth AP chip or the Xeon overclockable 28 core chip, kinda like kicking a guy in the nuts when he is down in the dirt.
  • nevcairiel - Wednesday, January 9, 2019 - link

    They can scale up workstation/HEDT CPUs all they want, but that really doesn't change the fact that mainstream consumers just have no need for more then 8 cores right now. People asking for this are just HEDT users that want a cheaper platform instead. Sales of such CPUs would be minimal.

    Instead, I wish they don't go down that rabbit hole, and instead make the best 8c CPU they possibly can. No sacrificing ST performance or all-core clocks just to one-up last gens core counts for no reason other then marketing - please!
  • KOneJ - Wednesday, January 9, 2019 - link

    People for years said quad-cores were enough before Ryzen. Yeah, Bulldozer-derivative quad-module octa-int cores sucked, and yeah the 5960X, 6900K, and 6950X were all there, but once Ryzen 7 1(7/8)00(X) launched, followed by Coffee Lake-S, 4 cores became the budget bare-minimum. And 2c/4t was the basis for 15W TDP mobile U-series chips. And same for the 45W mobile SKUs. And Skylake-X/SP versus earlier EP offerings dovetailed EPYC/TR, when people were formerly arguing a lack of need, sensibility, use, and demand. Also, look at ARM and big.little. I don't think they're sacrificing 1T performance for superior nT. PBO and similar really help with that. Higher core-count for equal money and/or equal core-count for less money can only be a good thing.
  • TheinsanegamerN - Wednesday, January 9, 2019 - link

    Hell, Quad cores are more then enough! There is not a single game on the market today that is not 100% playable on my quad core 3570k rig. On the ryzen 1700 rig, I rarely see more then 3 cores used much at all.
  • KOneJ - Thursday, January 10, 2019 - link

    Hey, I'm still on a 6600K myself. But your 3570K will struggle with background multi-tasking while gaming and CPU encoding while gaming. And while it may be enough now, as soon as the majority of machines in the wild can handle it by having higher core counts, it'll be a wrap. China and other countries jumping on gaming may forestall this some, but it's happening right now. Just look at how core and thread counts have jumped at the budget end including low-TDP mobile chips.
  • Orange_Swan - Monday, January 14, 2019 - link

    got an i5-4960k, 16GB RAM and a GTX 1060 6GB and run into MAJOR problems playing Space engineers, it hits CPU & RAM limits every time.
    next PC if going to 8c/16t minimum and 32GB RAM
  • twtech - Thursday, January 10, 2019 - link

    Imagine if you were talking about software in the early 1980s. "No mainstream software needs even 1MB of RAM." Yes, it would have been true, but things change over time. The presence of 16 core CPUs will help drive the development of software that can make full use of many-core CPUs.

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