AMD’s Next Gen x86 High Performance Core is Zen – Will Debut Alongside K12 in 2016

Khalid Moammer
Posted Sep 9, 2014
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News just broke during the Deutsche Bank 2014 Technology Conference of AMD’s new x86 CPU core.  The CEO of the company Rory Read has just revealed the next generation high performance x86 core that has been referred to as the sister core of K12. The new core is called “Zen” internally by AMD & will debut alongside K12 in early 2016 as we’ve reported earlier.

AMD’s Next Gen x86 High Performance Core is Code Named “Zen”

Rumors of “Zen” have been floating around for quite sometime now but we did not wish to report on it without confirmation. So it’s quite the relief that we got to confirm this for you our readers straight from the mouth of AMD’s top executive.

Rory Read at the Deustche Bank 2014 Technology Conference :

Everyone knows that Bulldozer was not the game changing part when it was introduced three years ago. We have to live with that for four years but Zen, K12 we went out and got Jim Keller we went out and got Raja Koduri from Apple, Mark Papermaster, Lisa sue. We are building now our next generation graphics and compute technology that customers are very interested in and they’ll ( referring to the next generation graphics and compute architecture) move to the next generation node and they’ll be ready to go.

Rory mentions Zen once again near the end of the interview

There’s very few people who know how to create server chips, you know Jim Keller has a lot of experience in that space.
You get Zen and K12. Capture ARM before it happens. I can swim backwards on mobility and try and go into cell phones, when the margins are going down and the competition is tough or we can try and look out and say where are the opportunities ? and Lisa and her team are identifying. That’s how we’ve transformed AMD. Better efficiency, better model, look to the future.

ARM architecture leadership, x86 architecture big leap forward and we do it in a package where we’ve had very good conversations with the OEMs in the server space and with the customers. And we tested it because if we didn’t see that acceptance we would’ve ended the business a year ago. But we saw that opportunity and we saw the opportunity to rebuild that and to do it in a more consistent way and I think the next generation technology will position us. Now we have to execute and deliver.

Zen is one of the two next generation sister cores that the legendary Jim Keller AMD’s lead CPU architect has talked about earlier this year. K12 being the ARM variant & now we can finally confirm that Zen is the x86 variant. So there you have it folks you’ve heard it here first. We’ll keep you posted if we get more details or any new info.

Update:

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AMD’s CEO also talked about the company’s manufacturing process roadmap and stated that AMD will be transitioning to FinFETs and then to 14nm and 10nm after that. He’s likely referring to 16nm FinFETs which is the next generation node from TSMC. The fact that Rory Read neglected to mention transitioning to 20nm likely means that AMD has already made the transition and is in the production phase.

We’ll continue to go down the curve. We’re gonna go Fins and we’re gonna go 14 and 10 and all those things will occur but we want to do it in an orderly way.

Will we move down to Fins ? yes absolutely and the next generation of products go there as we introduce them in 16 (2016). But you want to do that as you catch the cost curve and the yield curve at the right place so that it makes sense for us.

20nm APUs are planned for the server market next year as a part of their Skybridge initiative which will merge both ARM and x86 on the same unified socket. Aside from that, AMD does seem to confirm that Bulldozer was not the game changer that they had hoped when it launched three years ago and that their financials are still suffering as a direct result of that.

AMD recently did a refresh of their x86 FX processors based on the Piledriver architecture which might just be the last processors based on the 32nm process since AMD already has 28nm available on the APU front. It will take some time before we get an idea of how Zen differs from the Bulldozer family and how it generally performs.

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But if the initial rumors are anything to go by then Zen will likely adopt an SMT style microarchitecture which indicates that it’s quite a large core since SMT (Simultaneous multithreading) is usually leveraged in large CPU cores to opportunistically take advantage of the various resources in the core and dedicate it to an additional execution thread for added throughput.
This adds to the area efficiency of the core design and reduces the effect of stalls and pipeline back pressure leading to improved resource utilization inside the core which in turn improves overall performance.

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