AMD Confirms Completing Two 14/16nm FinFET Product Designs – FinFET Based Zen CPUs And Arctic Islands GPUs Due In 2016

Khalid Moammer

AMD's President and CEO, Lisa Su, revealed at yesterday's earnings call that AMD has already completed its first couple of FinFET designs. She also stressed that FinFET is going to be incredibly important across all markets for the company in 2016.

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Although Su stressed the importance of good design and architecture in making any competitive product as opposed to just manufacturing process. Being on a competitive leading edge process node is undoubtedly important but it's just a tool. And what the engineers manage to create with that tool in terms of products and innovation is what's going to matter.

AMD Confirms Completing Two 14/16nm FinFET Product Designs - Will Debut Zen CPUs And Arctic Islands GPUs In 2016

Due to obvious competitive reasons Su did not reveal which products taped out on FinFET. However Su confirmed that AMD's next generation processors based on Zen as well as the company's upcoming next generation graphics products - purportedly code named Arctic Islands - are both based on FinFET and are coming out next year. So it's fair to assume that at least one of the two completed designs is Zen while the other is likely a next generation graphics product set for 2016.

We covered yesterday the slow down of the historic manufacturing process transition cadence as we've come to know it in the observation that is Moore's Law. Intel's traditional tick-tock cadence has been augmented to take into account this slow down of recent years. 14nm has been challenging for the company and the rest of the industry and 10nm will continue to prove to be challenging. As a result Intel delayed their 10nm Cannonlake family of processors by a year to 2017. And instead will be introducing Kaby Lake as a stop-gap 14nm solution for 2016.

This creates a very interesting dynamic which analysts caught on very quickly. Because it means that for the first time in nearly a decade AMD and Intel will actually have close parity in terms of manufacturing process technology. And will meet for the first time next year with AMD's launch of its FinFET based Zen CPUs in a similar time-frame to Intel's Kaby Lake in 2016.

Matt Ramsay - Canaccord Genuity - Analyst
A little bit of a longer-term strategic question for you, Lisa. Last night, Intel announced the addition of a new chip on their 14-nanometer roadmap and pushed back 10. It strikes me as two things. One, love to get your commentary relative to your foundry partners as to how the [Moore's Law] progression is going, particularly with Zen coming on 14-nanometer next year. Second, it looks like now you will be in a position to potentially overlap your Zen products with a generation of Intel products that is still on 14-nanometer. Just your reaction to that, in general, and the competitive landscape on the foundry side. Thanks.

Lisa Su - Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. - President & CEO
Matt, I do think the process technology landscape, right now, is quite interesting. On the first part of your question, how do we view FinFET technologies? Actually, I think the maturity of FinFET technologies is coming along very nicely, so we see it as an important part of our roadmap in 2016 across all of our markets. We've actually just taped out our first couple of FinFET designs. Relative to what that means for the competitive landscape going forward, I've been asked that question a couple of times over the last year and my comments have been, our focus is on design architecture and ensuring that we use all of our design architecture expertise. Zen is a clean sheet design and from architectural standpoint, I think it's going to be very competitive. The fact that the gap between foundry technologies and other technologies is shrinking, I think does change the competitive landscape and will be a good opportunity as we go forward competitively. We are aggressively going after FinFET and I think that's going to be an incredibly important node for us.

AMD seems to be quite confident that Zen is architecturally competitive regardless of the process node. Earlier this year in May we caught a glimpse for the first time into what Zen will bring to the table in 2016. We know Zen will debut on the desktop first on a new socket dubbed AM4 featuring a brand new chipset with DDR4 memory support. We also know that the Zen FX processors themselves will feature high core counts, multi-threading and a 40% IPC - instructions per clock - improvement over AMD's Excavator CPU core. So no doubt it has all the makings of a competitive product.

It looks especially promising considering that Zen will be on a comparable process node to Intel's Kaby Lake next year and that Zen will bring high core count CPUs to the mainstream. Something that Intel still reserves for the more expensive LGA2011-3 enthusiast platform and will still be limited to Broadwell-E next year. The x86 CPU market has been in a state of chronic stagnation and an aggressive injection of competition may catch Intel by surprise. A good change of pace is needed and AMD seems to be heading in the right direction with Zen.

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