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AMD unveils new details for its next-generation 2017 Zen CPU core

“We are back, and just getting started.” That’s the word from AMD, which dropped some new details in a private press event about its forthcoming Zen architecture. We’ve already had a bit of a preview of what’s to come, thanks to some early benchmark leaks we reported a few weeks ago. AMD is still claiming a 40% improvement in instructions per clock for Zen, but now the company has actually demonstrated the previously announced 8-core, 16-thread Summit Ridge system — and is showing it outperforming an Intel Broadwell-E processor, at least in certain applications, at the same clock speed.

Zen is built on a 14nm FinFET process and features completely new branch prediction, a new micro-op cache, and a wider instruction window. The company is also focusing on throughput with Zen, with 8MB L3 cache and a new cache memory hierarchy.

During the same event, AMD also demoed its upcoming 32-core, 64-thread Zen server processor, codenamed Naples, running in a dual-CPU config Windows Server, though it didn’t offer any specifics on how it performs.

New Summit Ridge desktops will utilize AMD’s new AM4 socket, which will be compatible with the formerly named Bristol Ridge 7th generation A-Series CPUs. AM4 supports DDR4 memory; PCIe Gen 3 with dedicated lanes for graphics, USB, and other I/O; SATA Express; NVMe; and USB 3.1 Gen2 at 10Gbps. Summit Ridge looks like it won’t show up until the first quarter of 2017, which is a bit of a disappointment. And there’s also still no word on shipping clock speeds.

Nonetheless, the company is excited, as well as it should be for what amounts to its biggest launch in recent memory. “The performance and efficiency of our ‘Zen’ core showcases AMD at its best,” said Dr. Lisa Su, president and CEO. “Over the last four years we have made significant investments to develop a high-performance, multi-generation CPU roadmap that will power leadership products. Customer excitement for ‘Zen’ continues to grow as we make significant progress towards the launch of new products that will span from the data center to high-end PCs.”

The key here isn’t whether AMD can suddenly catch up and pass Intel in one fell swoop, delivering today’s version of the 386-40 or the K6. Instead, at this point, it’s much more important Zen does well in a wide variety of applications, including low-power notebooks as well as desktops and servers, so that the company is well positioned for further growth and regaining lost market share. It looks like we’re beginning to see the foundation of that for Zen, but time will tell.

AMD says it will be going into more depth on Zen next week at Hot Chips in Cupertino. Stay tuned for further details on that, as well as from senior editor Joel Hruska, who’s traveling on vacation for a few days and yet already can’t keep his hands off the new slide deck.

For more, read our AMD Radeon RX 480 review.

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