Hardware: AMD CPU’s – Review – What’s Up with Zen?

Motherboards have to support the abilities of the CPU. AMD has announced three new motherboard chips sets to support the Zen CPU. I’m not into the deep geeky details. Suffice to say the chip sets and CPU are planned to make AMD more competitive in the gaming market. The change corrects a misjudgment made in earlier AMD CPU design.

End of summer

End of summer

AMD bet gaming would go with parallel computing, which multiple CORES handles better. While multiple cores have traditionally run slower than single cores, meaning slower clocks – 2.4GHz vs 3.5Ghz, they can do roughly 70± % more with each added core. But, it didn’t work out that way in the gaming world.

Note: Each core generates heat, uses power, and has to move data cross the motherboard to memory chips. Heat dissipation and the speed of memory and other IO channels limits how many cores can run at what speed. Think of 10 guys handing boxes to one guy putting them in a truck.

Intel bet gaming would make more use of fewer but faster cores. They won.

Said another way Intel bet if they made their 2 or 4 cores faster it would be better for gamers. AMD bet if they added 4 more cores and worried less about clock speed it would be better for gamers. So, they thought 8 cores at 2.4 would better than 4 at 3.5. (2.4 x 8 = 19.2 – 3.5 x 4 = 14… that’s a 27% advantage to AMD)

The problem is parallel processing is difficult to program. Game designers use fewer cores. We see that in many games. It is why Intel’s i5-6600K is winning so many votes for best CPU for the money in the gaming world. When you only use 2 of 4 or 8 cores the advantage rapidly shifts. 2.4 x 2 = 4.8 – 3.5 x 2 = 7 giving Intel a 32% advantage. That is way too big an advantage for a gamer, especially a competitive gamer, to give up.

It is only with the arrival of DirectX and Vulkan, the graphics processing code going into new games, that parallel processing is added. Parallel processing is being pushed into the graphics cards where parallelism is easy as the result is a composite image. Imagine lots of people working on painting a mural at the same time. Imagine 5 people trying to balance a single checkbook where the answer is a single number. My GTX 1060 has 1280 cores. My i5 has 4. Odd that they cost about the same.

Intel has a better grasp on reality and human nature. It paid off. AMD is waking up but, still heavily invested in parallel processing. Are they ahead of their time? Possibly.

AMD has designed for a 40% increase in the number of instructions they can process with each clock tick. If they achieve that, even running at 2.4GHz they will exceed Intel’s performance at 3.5GHz. That would give them an advantage on a per core basis. The area where Intel has excelled. They will be competitive.


AMD has not announced pricing. We know who they are competing against and what the competition’s prices are. We can guess that AMD is probably not going to exceed the speed of Intel’s i7-6700K 4 core. They may well match it on speed and deliver 8 hyper threaded cores for an effective 16 cores at the same price.

This is marketing. 16 effective cores has to be better than 8, doesn’t it?. At the same price many will buy based on just the marketing numbers. The more knowledgeable will wait for the hardware reviews.

Will a 16 core machine run Second Life better than a 4 core machine? I expect it will be a stop-watch difference. We will likely see it in the numbers. But, will we be able to perceive a difference as we use SL? Maybe, but I doubt it. That is likely true for all but the newest games and VR.

Unless a game is using DirectX12 or Vulkan, it can’t ‘easily’ take advantage of the added parallel processing. So, many gamers expecting 2 to 4 times the performance from 2 or 4 times more cores will be bummed to find only a small percentage of improved performance. An app has to use those additional cores for us to see an improvement.


More and more it is becoming a matter of which hardware is best for your application. In the gaming world the variety of approaches is diversifying. So, we are at a point where we pick hardware for the game we play most. Markets go through periods of innovation finding what works best, a free market at its best. These are followed by periods of consolidation as everyone moves toward what proves to be best. Then another phase of innovation starts. As the world speeds up we see the lines between those periods blur. It complicates our lives. But, we get really fun toys.

Is AMD going to be worth the wait? I don’t know. I think there is a good chance AMD will again be competitive in the gaming world. But, enough to be worth waiting? You’ll have to make your bet.

7 thoughts on “Hardware: AMD CPU’s – Review – What’s Up with Zen?

  1. You said a mouthful, very spot-on and nothing that needs to be added, really. I was going to just put my opinion, but you covered a lot of it.

    As an AMD fanboy, I still recommend Intel due to its performance.

    I’m still upset what Intel’s CEO did to screw over AMD, leaving AMD in a bad financial situation, but performance is king. I’m not just upset for the shady business by itself, but by AMD not being able to make the CPUs that they should have been, already. (I swear Zen or Zen-like CPUs would have been here years ago, if AMD wasn’t working with a hard budget)
    Intel has slowed-down in their upgrades due to no competition and they feel like charging a chunk of change due to their dominance.

    Just like Intel released their i7-2700K when AMD announced their FX series, Intel is also bringing their Kaby Lake processors. If it’s anything like in the past, the Kaby Lake is the best bet since Zen was barely tying with the Skylake processor in performance.
    Then again, price wins over customers.

  2. I myself refrained from upgrading my CPU (and motherboard, because the socket of my current MB doesn’t offer any upgrade path) for a new one, and I’m waiting to see if Zen will be both, worth on a performance/price ratio, and able to offer a significant speed up when compared with my current setting (Core-i5 2500K locked in turbo mode @ 4.6GHz: quite the little beast for a CPU that cost me only 200 euros in 2012).

    Fact is, there is no real urgency for an upgrade (my current main PC runs SL quite well, whatever the complexity of the scenes to render or the number of avatars around), so I can wait…

    From the various rumours and leaks I could read about Zen, I’m however afraid there will be a disappointment for many of the waiters (in particular, it doesn’t seem like the core frequency*IPC product will be on par with Intel’s latest CPUs, meaning inferior performance in SL, whatever the number of cores in Zen); this saddens me, because I’m also a big fan of old AMD CPUs (the Athlon was gorgeous !), and I’m quite a bit fed up with Intel’s quasi-monopoly and what it entails on the price of its CPUs.

    At least, Zen’s arrival might steer up the competition, pull the prices of the CPUs down, and incite Intel and AMD to start a race on the number of cores (still useful for many other applications, such as compiling the viewer for example: I won’t be adverse to see the compilation time divided by two thanks to a doubling of the cores), since the Silicon technology pretty much reached a plateau on the clock speed front.

    • Thanks. Well said.

      AMD is saying they are getting 40% more speed per core and enhancing caches and total throughput. From what I what I can deduce the Zen will out perform the 6000 series 6th gen Intel chips and cost less. We’ll have to wait and see.

      While that will be a significant improvement for AMD, Intel’s minor ‘tic’ to the 7000 series following the major ‘TIC’ to the 6000 series may be enough to pass AMD.

      I have an article that will pop up today on what Intel is doing,

      • “AMD is saying they are getting 40% more speed per core”

        Excepted that the 40% improvement is in comparison with *their* former CPU generation, not compared with Intel’s !…
        So far, the only test AMD made against Intel’s CPU lead to an equivalent performance with their new Zen CPU, but they had to *reduce* the Intel’s CPU clock to match the one of their sample (2.4GHz only !), and they didn’t say if the “equivalent performance” is on a per-core basis, or on a per CPU basis (with more cores for Zen).

        As I see it, and even if their early sample cannot be considered a finished product (hopefully, the released Zen will use a faster clock speed !), it does not bode too well, and I won’t be surprised if Zen would be, in the end, inferior to Intel’s Skylake (not even mentioning Kaby Lake) on a per-core basis (but with probably more cores offered in Zen)…

        • Thanks for adding. I hadn’t seen those details anywhere.

          It isn’t looking good for AMD.

  3. Pingback: Hardware: Intel CPU’s – Review – What’s Up? | Nalates' Things & StuffNalates’ Things & Stuff

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