AMD Impresses With Newly-Branded Ryzen CPU Demonstrations And Product Details

By Patrick Moorhead - December 13, 2016
Advanced Micro Devices is in the process of slowly unveiling their new CPU, code-named Zen. This drawn-out tease is designed to create a “rolling thunder” of interest and establish premium positioning for AMD’s new Zen processor that eventually culminates with real boxed CPUs and systems shipping in Q1 2017. It appears to be working so far, as interest is high with the OEMs, press, and other analysts I’m talking with. I’m impressed, too. The latest Zen launch installment happened at a press and analyst event last week I attended where new demos were shown and more technical information disclosed as a preview to today’s AMD New Horizon event. Zen even got a real brand name, called “Ryzen”, which I like, as it keeps the “Zen” goodness while emoting forward progress and activity. I’d like to talk about the demos a bit more which, wait for it, even included two of NVIDIA’s highest end gaming GPUs, Titan X, but more importantly, showed everyone how impressive Ryzen could be. More application demos, few third-party benchmarks The demos Advanced Micro Devices showed at the event last week included new applications as well as some updated ones that had been shown back in August when the company gave its first Zen disclosures. The August demos had Ryzen performing well in both gaming and professional applications. Those demos included 4K gaming and video editing, which are GPU heavy, but still require quite a bit of performance from a CPU. At that time, AMD was showing off “Summit Ridge” (Ryzen’s desktop codename) at 3.0 GHz. Now the company is showing off Ryzen at 3.4 GHz, a 400 MHz. improvement, without boost, which should improve max performance even more. Another tease. In addition to dual card 4K gaming and video editing, AMD added a very heavy CPU ray racing demonstration. The important part of what AMD is doing is they’re showing real world performance in applications that users know they would use. Given the performance and desired positioning, I agree with the approach at this stage because synthetic benchmarks don’t tell the whole story of how a new processor like Ryzen would perform day to day. Believe me, I am an advocate of third-party, independent benchmarks and believe Ryzen will do well in them, don’t sense AMD fears them, but we’re all going to have to be patient as AMD continues to tease us. Let’s dive into the demo details. Ryzen Battlefield 1 at 4K with two NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan X in SLI The first demo AMD showed off which I personally played with was Battlefield 1 in 4K resolution at Ultra graphical settings on a pair of systems both equipped with a pair of NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan X (Pascal) cards in SLI mode. These systems were otherwise identical except that one system was running on AMD’s new 8 core Ryzen processor while the other ran on Intel’s i7-6900K processor. Both systems ran their processors on stock air coolers, meaning that there isn’t any unfair cooling advantage for one chip or the other. Both processors ran DDR4 2400 memory, however the Intel system ran in quad-channel while the AMD system only ran in dual-channel since the Intel system is capable of quad-channel, and that is theoretically the fastest configuration of the RAM. I had a chance to play this demo for myself for 15 minutes and both systems ran the game extremely smoothly without any noticeable difference between the two. The demo also shows me that the Ryzen platform is stable-enough for a two-graphics- card, beast of a gaming system. Also notable was that the graphics cards were NVIDIA-based, which tells me they will support Ryzen technically for the highest-end systems, a good sign as to what NVIDIA thinks of Ryzen. There was not a frame rate counter running and the explanation I received was that there was variability in the Battlefield 1 builds which led to different numbers for each build, so they chose not to. In the AMD New Horizon event today, AMD did run a frame rate counter which showed good performance, indicating Battlefield 1 build variability narrowed. Ryzen Blender and Handbrake video editing demo with Radeon RX 480 In addition to the Battlefield 1 gaming demo, AMD showed off a pair of video rendering demos to compare against the Intel Core i7-6900k. The Intel Core i7-6900k is a popular target for AMD because its 8-core Broadwell-E processor sells for $1,000 and gives them a nice positioning target to compare against. It also clocks in at 3.2 GHz with a maximum turbo speed of 3.7 GHz, however we do not know how this turbo speed will compare against AMD’s final, turbo clock speed. The Core i7-6900K features 20MB of L3 cache while the Ryzen processor has 16MB of L3 cache, giving the 6900K a slight edge in amount of L3 cache available to the cores. The Ryzen processor also features AMD’s “SenseMI” technology which the company says uses machine intelligence to do things like branch prediction. When asked, AMD said the neural net predictor is based on “perceptrons, also known as artificial neurons, to support branch prediction”. I need to go study up on that one. The Blender demo was not a new one, while the Handbrake one was. The Blender and Handbrake demos both ran using an MSI RX 480 GPU paired with the Ryzen processor and Intel Core i7-6900K. These demonstrations were done to show off the CPU rendering performance and power draw of the Ryzen processor in comparison to the Intel Core i7-6900K. The Blender demo was designed to show that both Intel and AMD systems performed the Blender render at the same amount of time, around 25 seconds, but with AMD using anywhere between 5-8 watts less system power. After the August event, a few of AMD’s detractors were throwing stones at the lack of power metrics, so AMD obliged. I’m wondering what the figures will be on both performance and power once AMD enables boost. To show off AMD’s performance advantage, the company used Handbrake to convert a 116MB 4K AVI MPEG 4 file encoded at 16 Mbps to the Apple TV preset number 3. In that demo, AMD showed their processor outpacing the Intel Core i7-6900k by 3 seconds, processing the 60 second clip in 56 seconds while Intel processed it in 59 seconds. These two demos were both run live and illustrated how confident AMD is in the performance and power draw of Ryzen when put up against a $1,000 Intel CPU. Ryzen zBrush demo with Radeon Pro 7100 The zBrush demo used a slightly different configuration than the previous systems. zBrush essentially hits all cores as it does CPU-based ray tracing, a very heavy-duty load. This system swapped out the GPU once again for a Radeon Pro 7100 since zBrush is technically a professional graphics application and a professional driver is the most likely to keep the performance consistent. This demonstration was intended to show Ryzen is not just a consumer gaming product but also something that could be readily used for professional or prosumer applications. This would also give AMD some workstation credibility and possibly allow them to sell more of these high-end Ryzen processors into the channel as well as to OEMs. The demo would have been more effective if it compared to an Intel device, but I know these things are hard to script. So what? At their press and analyst event last week, AMD showed off a mixture of demos that give us more insights into Ryzen’s performance as part of a rolling thunder set of Zen announcements. AMD also held their New Horizon event today to take their case directly to gamers. In AMD’s specific use cases, applications, configurations, settings and data sets, I can comfortably say that the pre-production Ryzen desktop platform kept up with Intel’s $1,000 Broadwell-based, Core i7-6900k and in some cases, beat it. I looked hard to poke holes in the testing methodology and configurations, but I didn’t. The ultimate performance comparison tests against the 6900K will be when third-party reviewers test production systems in Q1 2017 after Ryzen launches. It’s likely both AMD and Intel will have some tricks up their sleeve between now and then to make themselves look better. AMD hasn’t even shown turbo speeds which will not only boost maximum performance, but could also impact power. This is the most desktop excitement in years and just the notion of Ryzen being even close to Intel’s highest-end processor is impressive as this hasn’t happened in nearly a decade. While there’s a lot of work to be completed by AMD, it will be interesting to see where AMD goes from here with their quad-core and dual-core offerings. That’s very important as that’s where the unit volume, revenue and profit dollars exist, but it’s also where Intel has more competitive architectures. You see, the Intel 6900K uses an older micro-architecture, Broadwell, as Intel has moved onto Skylake, a 10-15% bump, for most their desktop volume. First, let’s see AMD get this one over the line first and lock in final clocks, pricing, availability and a release date in more detail than Q1 2017. AMD, you’re such a tease, but Ryzen looks to be worth it.
Patrick Moorhead
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.