The Ryzen response: Intel have forgotten how to deal with a genuinely competitive AMD

Intel's AMD Ryzen competition

A resurgent AMD has found Intel seemingly unable to cope with the prospect of genuine competition in the PC space. It’s been a long time since Intel actually had to worry about what their biggest rival in the x86 CPU market was up to, but with the imminent launch of AMD’s new Ryzen chips Intel are going to have to up their game.

Your processor can’t do all the work on its own, help it out with one of the best SSDs around right now.

Just in case you’ve had your head buried in the sand for the last six months, the upcoming Ryzen processors are the vanguard of AMD’s brand new Zen CPU architecture

To me, Intel's ad hoc, scattergun response to the swathes of column inches that have been written about AMD's new chips has been ill-conceived at best and irrelevant at worst. They've almost given up on the recent Kaby Lake 7th Gen Core launch by talking about the 15% performance boost you can expect with the upcoming 8th Gen and missed the point of Ryzen by seemingly bringing forward their new expensive high-end desktop platforms.

What does AMD's Ryzen offer?

AMD Ryzen architecture

The Ryzen chips represent AMD’s first ground-up processor redesign since the failed gamble on their Bulldozer CPUs, and it’s a massive one for that side of AMD’s business.

With Ryzen they're still aiming to boost the core/thread count for mainstream processors, but in contrast to the ‘dozer design AMD are also focusing on making sure the single-threaded performance is capable of delivering quality gaming performance to compensate for a lack of genuine multi-threading support in many modern game engines.

You may have heard about an instruction-per-clock (IPC) increase of around 40% with Zen; that’s AMD making sure we know they’re putting a big emphasis on ensuring each individual Zen core has enough processing logic to power through instructions independently of other cores in the chip.

AMD then is looking to match Intel’s current dominance in the single-threaded throughput game, but they're also introducing higher core/thread counts throughout the Ryzen range. At launch there will probably only be the big-boy chips available - the eight-core/16-thread R7 1800X, R7 1700X and R7 1700 - but there are also numerous six-core/12-thread, four-core/eight-thread and straight four-core/four-thread parts filling out the Ryzen lineup.

The key to AMD’s push for Ryzen though is the pricing and positioning of these new chips. Intel have already got a range of octa-core, hex-core and quad-core CPUs - nailing a clean sweep in our pick of the best CPUs for gaming - and they’ve even got a serious 10-core/20-thread monster of a chip. They are though priced incredibly high while the equivalent Ryzen chips are coming in at around half the price.

Intel’s top eight-core/16-thread chip - the Core i7 6900K - costs around $1,000 while the AMD R7 1800X is set to retail for less than $500, offering similar performance but actually going to go head-to-head with Intel’s six-core chips in terms of pricing. That positioning is set to continue down through the stack with the sub-$200 quad-core/eight-thread R5 1400X going up against Intel’s best Kaby Lake  processor, the non-HyperThreaded, resolutely quad-core $250 Core i5 7600K.

Intel's Ryzen response

Intel 8th Gen Core processors

So what’s Intel’s reaction? New chips of their own, of course! There were reports of Intel prepping updated 7th Gen Core i5 7640K and Core i7 7740K processors just a scant few months after the launch of the full Kaby Lake lineup. The i7 7740K chip is set to be slightly faster than the i7 7700K, though the i5 is supposedly going to arrive with HyperThreading enabled. That would mean each of its four cores would be able to process two simultaneous instructions in the same way the Core i7 CPUs can.

But these aren’t actually replacements for the latest Kaby Lake processors - the new i5 7640K and i7 7740K are going to be the first Kaby Lake-X CPUs for Intel’s new high-end desktop (HEDT) range due to launch in August. The fact Intel seem to be accelerating the marketing push for the range would indicate they are being in some way designed as a response to Ryzen.

They will though need a new high-end foundation - an expensive X299 motherboard - and I simply can’t see them being priced to compete in any way with the first flush of Zen CPUs, at least not on a core-for-core basis. The fact there is going to be an i5 in the HEDT market for the first time is a novelty rather than anything genuinely exciting. I’m not really convinced it will come with HyperThreading either - that would make the distinction between i5 and i7 meaningless - and it’s also set to have a miserly four-core Turbo speed of just 4GHz, some 200MHz slower than the i5 7600K.

So yeah, that’s no real response to the threat of Ryzen, just Intel starting to steer the talk towards their new peak platform processors a little earlier than expected to try and steal back some headlines from AMD on the CPU side.

Intel have also been talking about the next generation of Core processors - the 8th Gen Core architecture. Given that the 7th Gen has only just landed in full Intel’s announcement of a 15% performance boost for their next architecture is an unprecedented move. Traditionally they’ve left off talking about the next-gen chips for a while after launch so people aren’t put off picking up a new CPU because of any talk of the advances of the next big shiny chip.

What else is unprecedented is the fact Intel are sticking with the 14nm process for their 8th Gen CPUs. We’re still expecting 10nm Cannonlake chips to form some part of the 8th Gen lineup, but at least on our gaming desktops we’re stuck with 14nm once more.

Gone is the old tick-tock model of CPU evolution and now it looks like Intel have killed the process>architecture>optimisation release cadence too. That little marketing fudge on the difficulty they were having hitting 10nm didn’t even last one cycle. Instead, as a result of Intel remaining on the 14nm lithography for the fourth generation in a row, it looks like they’re moving towards a process>architecture>optimise>flog-the-expired-equine release cadence.

This is Intel reacting to things rather than setting their own pace. That was where the big blue processor makers have been at their best.

Fair trade

Intel CPU innovation

To me it seems like Intel’s depleted marketing department is flailing around without real direction, looking for a way to respond to the huge amount of press and user excitement the AMD Ryzen chips are garnering at the moment. And it seems like they’re flailing because they’ve either forgotten or just don’t know how to deal with real competition anymore. For the last decade or so they’ve always been able to simply fall back on the fact they had the best technology, and by a relatively wide margin.

Or maybe it’s just that Intel can’t approach competition in the same way AMD believed they used to. The last time AMD had genuinely competitive processing silicon, back in the early 2000s with the Althon 64’s K8 Hammer architecture, Intel allegedly had a more aggressive approach to dealing with competition. 

The Athlon 64 chips were the first to integrate the memory controller onto the chip and the first to deliver serious 64-bit performance. Intel, by contrast, were struggling with 64-bit performance penalties and the Pentium 4 architecture burning holes through people’s machines. Okay, they weren’t quite that bad, but the Netburst architecture did get super toasty.

AMD then had a technologically superior product and to compete with them they asserted Intel was engaging in anti-trust practices which saw them sabotaging AMD’s position in the market. Ex-AMD CEO, Hector Ruiz, claimed in his book (Slingshot: AMD's Fight to Free an Industry from the Ruthless Grip of Intel) that Intel was paying huge sums of money to manufacturers to incentivise them to use Intel products over AMD. They took the fight to the courts and sued Intel. 

Intel though sued back over allegations AMD had violated their x86 licensing agreement. This back and forth went on for years, until 2009 when the two companies agreed to settle between them and shut down their individual litigation. As part of this Intel would pay AMD $1.25 billion, which sounds a lot but was in reality was just half of the profit it made in one quarter alone that year.

How should Intel react?

Intel engineers

So yeah, Intel aren’t going to look at that as a way of dealing with competition… but how did they get back to their current position of dominance? Technical innovation. They basically went back to the drawing board, drew on their vast resources of cash and genuine engineering talent, and created the best silicon.

And that’s what they need to do now.

Intel have been treading water in the CPU business for too long now. There has been no need for innovation without any real competition pushing them to innovate. Now there potentially is it’s time for Intel to start their technology motoring again. And we know they're more than capable of it; Intel have been producing the absolute best processor architecture for years.

The news they’re introducing six-core chips to their mainstream desktop range with Coffee Lake is promising, but they need to offer more than that when AMD are going to have octa-core CPUs in the same space.

The Motley Fool have an interesting take on one of Intel's recent announcements though. While they were busy talking about the 8th Gen on 14nm Intel was also talking data centre/server tech. A slide about data centre growth at an enterprise event had a little side-note that read 'Data center first to next process node.' 

That's potentially exciting because the data center/server CPUs use the same architecture as the HEDT processors. The 10-core/20-thread Core i7 6950X is essentially a server part jammed into a desktop motherboard, which is why it's a $1,700 processor.

They have though historically been behind the times in terms of processor generation since Intel started looking to the mobile market as their priority for innovation. If Intel is serious about hitting new process nodes in the data centre first then the HEDT segment could be the new home for innovation with gamers potentially looking to that market for the highest performing silicon. 

If that's the legacy of Ryzen that's quite exciting. The prospect of a bruised Intel fighting back against the Zen upstart with serious processor innovation can only be a good thing for us PC people, especially if Ryzen starts driving down the prices of Intel quality silicon.

What do you think? Is AMD's Ryzen going to be as competitive as the rumours and leaked benchmarks would have us believe? And if so, how do you want to see Intel react to the new CPU landscape?

Try these free to play games
?

These are affiliate links - clicking them and playing the games directly supports PCGamesN

Sign in to Commentlogin to comment
Decal141 avatarDave James avatarScrewB avatarsintheticreality avatarNicholas Steel avatarajc9988 avatar+12
ScrewB Avatar
6
2 Months ago

Intel didn't get their current market position by innovating. They got it by bribing OEM and motherboard manufactures not to sell AMD hardware. This crippled AMD's RND and market share even when they had a FAR superior architecture to Intel. Hopefully if Intel try that shit again they get more than just a slap on the wrist.

5
erikms Avatar
4
2 Months ago

Rubbish. Reason is AMD made poor CPU's and no one cared about AMD. Low-end CPU's

-1
Machetewave Avatar
2
2 Months ago

Not nearly as rubbish as your mental capabilities, and as true as the 1.5 BILLION fine Intel got from the EU.

AMD was able to beat Intel in the early 2k's, it is just impossible to keep up competing against the big guy if on top of having an economic advantage, they also play dirty.

2
sintheticreality Avatar
109
2 Months ago

I love this. I've owned mostly Intel chips(my kids' PCs both have AMD CPUs) and only Nvidia GPUs but I'm looking forward to going all AMD this time for a VR build in the summer.

5
Decal141 Avatar
21
2 Months ago

There's been too many false dawns with AMD for me to be quick to jump on the bandwagon. I want a competitive AMD, but they've shovelled this line before. I want concrete numbers, real world numbers.

2
Dave James Avatar
265
2 Months ago

I hear you, I was there with Bulldozer and R600...

But I'm hoping against hope that this time will be different. The omens at least are better this time around, and so are the early benchmarks. We'll know for sure soon though.

1
✪ TheCatOfWar Avatar
2
2 Months ago

Yes, but Zen is *very* different to Bulldozer in design and a lot closer to how Intel's architecture works. I made https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfZFNR5igtY a while back if you want to know why.

2
Dave James Avatar
265
2 Months ago

Yeah, the whole reason I'm more confident about Zen than the 'dozer gamble is that they seem to have made IPC a focus, as much as multi-threading capabilities.

Giving more logic to the individual cores, rather than the shared logic 'modules' of Bulldozer ought to make a big difference.

1
erikms Avatar
4
2 Months ago

Totally agree. You can NOT trust a test controlled by AMD. Just wait and see after March 2. A whole new ballgame.

1
Troll_Slayer Avatar
3
2 Months ago

The uninformed can wait and see if Ryzen is another Bulldozer; I already know it isn't. Jim Keller, SMT, dedicated FPU, ISA, fast cache, power efficiency. Heck, AMD previous mobile processors were as power-efficient on 28nm as Intel was on 14nm. Jim Keller and AMD developed Ryzen along side ARMv8, but eventually made Ryzen the priority. They learned alot about efficient execution from ARM and applied it to Ryzen (Jim Keller's own words) And even if it only matches Intel, where is Intel on graphics/GPU compared to AMD? Where is Intel on High Bandwidth Memory? Where are they on security? They bought Mcafee for crying out loud, which shows how incompetent they are. AMD built security features into the CPU. I think China and others will like that since Intel let the NSA right in with their not-so-random number generator used for encryption.

The future is as clear as the sky is blue, which is why I've had nearly all my money in AMD stock for a year and half.

2
Nicholas Steel Avatar
1
2 Months ago

Hyper Threading does not allow a CPU to process multiple instructions simultaneously. Hyper Threading allows a CPU Core Schedular to fill in down-time periods with information from a different thread so that a 2nd data stream will fill in the gaps in the existing schedule. Everything is still being processed 1-by-1.

1
Knowbody Avatar
1
2 Months ago

Technically, most x86 CPUs, with or without SMT, already do process multiple instructions simultaneously.

It's to do with Out of Order Execution, and why they can process more than one instruction per clock cycle (which is called being superscalar).

Each core has multiple sets of execution units, and the scheduler tries to keep them all busy by executing multiple instructions from the one thread.

As you can imagine, there can be issues with doing this, for instance some instructions require data from previous instructions, and you also run into branches in the code.

One of the things they do is they guess which branch it thinks is most likely to be taken, and starts speculatively executing instructions from it. And if it's right, it's just sped up execution. But if it's wrong, it has to throw the results away and start again from the other branch.

So it pays to make the right guess as often as it can. And in order to do that, they have branch prediction algorithms, which take a bunch of factors into account, such as recording a history of how often that branch has been taken before.

But anyway, the point is that with SMT, it can process multiple instructions simultaneously. But it can also do that without SMT too. SMT just allows it to fill even more idle execution units simultaneously than if only one thread is being executed.

Most of the complication from SMT is keeping track of which instructions belong to which thread.

1
ajc9988 Avatar
2
2 Months ago

So, one correction: HEDT is separating from server chips this next generation. Look up the socket for the new Skylake-X (Skylake-E), then look at the monster socket for the FPLGA with over 3000 pins. If they do separate the two, so that to use pearly chipset you need a server board and different socket, then they are more scared of the 32-core/64-thread ryzen based server chip taking away their marketshare. It would not be rushing first with the HEDT products. If you could research that and amend the article to reflect that, it may change your conclusion. Just trying to be helpful.

1
ajc9988 Avatar
2
2 Months ago

http://wccftech.com/intel-lga-3647-socket-skylake-ex-knights-landing/

1
Tortuga Avatar
1
2 Months ago

I wonder if complacency isn't unique to Intel as of late. Nvidia and Intel have a lot of parallels in response to resting on their higher market share laurels. Could Vega catch Nvidia unaware as well?

1
Troll_Slayer Avatar
3
2 Months ago

"forgotten how to deal with competition".

Nobody has forgotten how Intel bribed Dell and others a decade ago when AMD last had a superior processor. Intel paid Dell and others a billion dollars a year to not use AMD Athlon. Intel strong-armed and threatened to bankrupt them by holding back supply and exclusivity payments if Dell and others used AMD.

That's how Intel deals with competition, but that option is not available this time. This time the world, the Feds, the EU is watching, and Dell and a few others are not the only OEMs now and AMD is not Intel's only rival. The fat pig Intel has many enemies, and rightly so.

Intel is stuck at 14nm and now everyone else is on 14nm too. AMD, QCOM, BRCM, CAVM, IBM, NVDA, MLNX. AMD will take PC and server share. ARMv8, ARMv9 will take low, mid range server share and Power8/9 will conquer the high-end. Both ARM and Power are coming out with processors on 14nm this year.

We are talking about a company that, despite having the best fabs in the world, cannot enter a single new market without selling below cost. They failed at mobile (after kicking Steve Jobs out the door when he asked them to make th processor for original iPhone, which resulted in Samsung and TSMC fabs catching up to Intel as they produced millions of mobile processors), they failed at 64bit, they failed at GPU. They are a memory company masquerading as a processor company. There only game is big cores with the densest, largest, fastest cache; they suck at parallel processing and the times have caught up to them as single-core performance is less relevant and parallel processing and graphics is more relevant.

They cannot innovate; they cannot hire talent because their stock has flat-lined for the last decade and a half. Only 70billion in share buyback has kept it from falling. This is another trick that Intel cannot afford to continue, like bribery before. One year from now (or sooner) AMD and Intel stock will both be in the 20s; one going up and the other going down.

1
Anakhoresis Avatar
503
2 Months ago

I'm definitely hoping it turns out well, though I'm a little worried by how AMD are doing their marketing. I get that they don't want to set in stone the numbers of a product that's still fluctuating, but the amount of times they just refuse to use numbers is worrisome.

1
Lolssi Avatar
279
2 Months ago

I would have wanted to wait for Ryzen but unfortunately Black Friday changed my timetable. Maybe in few years when our older machine's i7 980x won't cut it anymore. Funny how that 2010 cpu is still going strong :P

1
Revelation Now Avatar
1
2 Months ago

Sounds like Amazon's investment in AMD hardware is paying off for AMD's tech offerings in the long run.

1
Dave James Avatar
265
2 Months ago

Interesting. Do you have any information about Amazon's investment in AMD? Is it a financial investment thing or have they signed up to AMD server hardware?

1
LucidStrike Avatar
1
2 Months ago

Goin' with AMD regardless because Intel seems far below my ethical standards.

1
erikms Avatar
4
2 Months ago

Yeah right....and enjoy your low-end AMD rig.

Ethical standards.....hillarious in this discussion. It's about performance and nothing else.

1
Karagra Avatar
1
2 Months ago

"Yeah right....and enjoy your low-end AMD rig."

Thats the sound of a angry Intel supporter. I remember when "Zen" was first announced Intel fanboys went crazy over how its nothing and all AMD fanboys will see. So to you sir I say. "Enjoy your low-end Intel rig in a few months" AMD is moving back in.

1
daftshadow Avatar
1
2 Months ago

Always been an Intel guy as I find their CPUs architecture superior than AMD's. The only gripe I have with Intel is their prices. Hopefully with Ryzen, AMD can pressure Intel to drive their prices down.

1
erikms Avatar
4
2 Months ago

Intel will cut their prices for sure. But like the rest of us Intel will wait and see if Ryzen really is what AMD says,

1