Of course, the events of the outgoing year will be remembered for a long time, and often not in the most positive way. If we consider only the hardware market, then the second half of 2020 turned out to be very fruitful. Both GPU makers have launched high-end graphics cards, next-gen gaming consoles from Sony and Microsoft have been released, and AMD has unveiled the first Ryzen 5000 CPUs that outperform the competition in both raw processing power and gaming performance.
On the other hand, the release of new products was overshadowed by the situation with their availability. Most of the “iron” novelties belong to the category of scarce goods, so you won’t be able to buy a PlayStation 5 game console or a Radeon RX 6800 XT video card in the first electronics store that comes across. What can we say about retail prices, or rather, about their weak correlation with the recommended ones.
But let’s not dwell on the negative aspects of 2020 and try to remember how the computer hardware market has developed over the past 12 months. Summing up the results of the outgoing year, we will begin with processor innovations. As usual, the author takes responsibility for choosing the most interesting topics, and you, dear readers, can express your opinion in the comments under this article.
Zen 2 steps into laptops
For Advanced Micro Devices, the outgoing year began with the presentation of the Ryzen 4000 series mobile processors. AMD hybrid chips lag behind their counterparts without a graphics unit, so they migrated to the Zen 2 microarchitecture only in the Renoir generation. In them, the company decided to abandon the chiplet layout characteristic of the desktop Ryzen 3000 (Matisse / Zen 2), explaining this with energy efficiency considerations.
On a single 7nm Renoir die, the company combined two CCX blocks with four x86 cores each and a graphics module based on the improved Vega architecture. The processor component, if we discard the third-level cache reduced to 8 MB, is identical to the Zen 2 desktop CPUs. At the same time, the iGPU was cut to 8 Compute Units, but received an increase in frequencies. Together with support for LPDDR4X-4266 memory, this significantly increased the performance of the integrated graphics.
Representatives of the chipmaker call the release of Ryzen 4000 mobile processors “a turning point for AMD.” Which is not surprising, because the new APUs are able to impose a fight on Intel Core in all market segments, and the U-series solutions offer twice as many x86 cores as their direct counterparts from Intel.
In the summer, AMD Ryzen 4000 hybrid processors for desktop computers were released. To be more precise, the new APUs became available to the OEM partners of the “red” chipmaker and, according to his plans, should not have gone to retail. Despite this, the Renoir APU for the AM4 platform can be easily purchased from retailers around the world. As for the differences from mobile counterparts, they come down to increased frequencies and, as a result, a nominal heat pack.
The most powerful in the world
February was remembered for the release of the 64-core AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X processor for the high-end Socket sTRX4 platform. Like other 3rd generation Ryzen Threadripper, it is based on the Zen 2 microarchitecture and is supported by motherboards based on the TRX40 chipset. In terms of raw processing power, it is the most powerful x86-compatible processor to date, and to own a unique “stone” will have to part with at least $ 4,000.
AMD decided not to stop there and in the middle of summer released the Ryzen Threadripper Pro 3000 family of chips. These CPUs are a cross between previously released HEDT processors and server EPYC processors based on the Zen 2 architecture. In particular, relatively high frequencies were inherited from the former, and from the latter – an 8-channel memory controller and 128 PCI Express 4.0 interface lines.
The sWRX8 platform debuted with the Ryzen Threadripper Pro 3000. Neither the processors themselves nor the motherboards for them have been sold in retail and are available only to AMD OEM partners who produce workstations based on them. One of the first such a system was released by Lenovo.
In the second half of May, the Intel LGA1200 platform and the 10th generation Core processors, codenamed Comet Lake-S, were released. This is already the fifth family of mass desktop CPUs based on the Skylake microarchitecture, which was released five years ago. Pressure from AMD forced the chipmaker to once again increase the number of physical cores. The catch is that within the framework of the 14-nm process technology, this is not an easy task and passes, so to speak, with a creak.
To temper the “hot temper” of overclocking 9th generation Core processors, Intel abandoned the plastic thermal interface in favor of solder. Please note that these CPUs had a maximum of 8 cores. At the same time, the Comet Lake-S family is led by the 10-core Core i9-10900K, and to ensure efficient heat dissipation, the chipmaker went even further by reducing the thickness of the processor die from 800 to 500 micrometers. To maintain compatibility with LGA115x CPU coolers, the thickness of the heat-spreading cover had to be increased.
In the end, the corporation was still able to release a new “world’s best gaming processor”, albeit not without its drawbacks. Perhaps the main one is high power consumption. Those wishing to purchase the Core i9-10900K will also have to fork out for a powerful cooling system designed to remove two to three hundred watts of thermal power. Well, you can’t count on serious overclocking – the maximum that can most often be squeezed out of a 10-core Intel CPU without extreme cooling is equal to the Turbo Boost 2.0 frequency, i.e. 5.1 GHz.
Along with the 10th generation Core desktop processors, motherboards with Intel 400-series chipsets debuted. These chipsets did not bring any special innovations, which cannot be said about the motherboards themselves. Solutions of the middle and upper price categories have significantly increased the power system of the CPU socket and other equipment, for example, you can increasingly see a 2.5-gigabit network interface or a Wi-Fi 6 module. In addition, some LGA1200/Z490 boards are equipped with an element base for the PCI Express interface 4.0, support for which will be one of the “chips” of the 11th generation Core chips (Rocket Lake-S).
Key Features of Intel Rocket Lake-S Processors
Core i7-7700 is inexpensive
For a long time, the range of Ryzen 3000-series desktop processors was limited to models with a number of cores from 6 to 16 units. In the spring, AMD corrected this injustice by releasing inexpensive Ryzen 3 3100 and Ryzen 3 3300X CPUs. Both processors have four Zen 2 cores with SMT support and 16 MB of cache, while the differences between them come down not only to operating frequencies, but also to the internal layout.
If the younger CPU has half of the cores active in each CCX block, then the older “stone” has four cores represented by one complex. This had a positive effect on the delays in inter-core communication and access to the third level cache. All things being equal, the Ryzen 3 3300X easily outperforms its sibling in most tasks. Compared to Intel counterparts, the new CPUs perform quite well, offering 4-core Core i7 performance on the Skylake architecture at a recommended price of $99 and $120 for the Ryzen 3 3100 and Ryzen 3 3300X, respectively.
It’s fair to say that Intel’s product range also has inexpensive analogues of the Core i7 processors of the Skylake-S/Kaby Lake-S generations. The Core i3 chips for the LGA1200 platform also operate at 4 cores/8 threads, although they require a new motherboard, while Ryzen 3 also works on older AM4 boards. For more effective competition in this segment, Intel released the Core i3-10100F model with a deactivated video core in the fall. In foreign stores, it can be purchased at a price of $ 79.
These are not the Ryzens you are looking for.
The release of the 10th generation Intel Core processors did not go unnoticed by AMD. The Ryzen 3000 CPU lineup already includes products for every taste and wallet size, but the company felt that there was room for three more “stones”. In mid-summer, a trio of Matisse Refresh chips entered the market: Ryzen 5 3600XT, Ryzen 7 3800XT and Ryzen 9 3900XT. These processors differ from the previously released relatives only by slightly increased operating frequencies.
The maturity of the 7nm process technology helped improve the frequency characteristics of the CPU Zen 2: more “successful” crystals come off the TSMC pipelines. However, only enthusiasts will be able to reveal their potential with proper tweaking. Without this, the superiority over the old Ryzen 3000 turns out to be purely symbolic. In addition, 8- and 12-core models come without a standard cooling system, which for some users will be another disadvantage. Ultimately, the Ryzen 3000XT is more of a warm-up for Zen 3 than a full refresh of the CPU lineup.
In addition to the updated Zen 2 CPUs, AMD launched the B550 and A520 chipsets on the market this summer. Both chipsets are developed by ASMedia Technology and are content with passive cooling, unlike the flagship X570. Motherboards based on the B550 hub can boast partial support for PCI Express 4.0: for the PCI-E x16 slot and the M.2 connector, which are provided by the processor itself. The chipset lines support a maximum of PCI Express 3.0.
Chip system logic AMD B550
Intel made a 10nm sandwich
During the year, Intel systematically expanded the range of mobile processors. In the spring, 10th generation Core solutions for gaming laptops debuted, which, in general, did not bring any innovations other than slightly increased frequencies. But in the summer, the formal release of single-chip Lakefield systems with extremely low power consumption and a three-dimensional layout took place.
In a 12x12x1mm chip, Intel combined a 22nm system logic, a 10nm die with five x86 cores, 4MB L3 cache and a Gen11-LP graphics unit, and 8GB of LPDDR4X-4266 RAM. The declared TDP level of this “sandwich” is only 7 watts. SoC performance, as shown by independent tests, is fully consistent with power consumption and often turns out to be at the level of 2-core Y-series solutions, for example, Core i7-8500Y with a similar TDP.
In the fall, the first 11th generation Intel Core processors were released in the form of the Tiger Lake mobile family. This CPU line boasts new x86 core and graphics architectures, as well as improved 10nm SuperFin process technology. Against the background of competitor solutions, Tiger Lake chips look quite decent and bypass them in most tasks that are sensitive to single-threaded performance. In terms of raw processing power, the advantage is still with AMD, whose 7nm Ryzen 4000 processors operate with twice as many cores.
Big Apple Migration
Looking at how Intel has been doing in recent years with the development of new technological norms, Apple has begun to prepare a reserve foothold. In June, Cupertino announced their intention to transfer Mac computers to processors of their own design. Migration from x86 to ARM will take place over the next two years. By the way, in early autumn, the developers of the ARM microarchitecture came under the wing of Nvidia, with which Apple is at odds.
In November, the Apple M1 single-chip system was released, which served as the basis for the new MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac Mini. It contains eight ARM cores (four FireStorms with 12 MB L2 cache and four IceStorms with 4 MB L2 cache), a 2.6 Tflops graphics unit and a 128-bit LPDDR4X-4266 memory controller.
As independent reviews have shown, Apple’s decision to abandon Intel’s x86 processors in favor of its own SoC fully justified itself. For example, the 13-inch MacBook Pro 2020 easily outperforms its predecessor on a 4-core Intel processor in both ARM-optimized applications and programs launched through the Rosetta 2 layer. In addition, the device’s autonomy has increased by more than one and a half times, and the integrated graphics are quite good copes with the limited list of games available on macOS.
The insides of the new Apple MacBook Pro 13 and MacBook Air. Photo iFixit
AMD knows Zen 3
While Intel is treading water, continuing to use the 5-year-old Skylake microarchitecture in desktop processors, AMD does not stop improving Zen. Last year, she showed how well her architecture lends itself to scaling, and this year she consolidated her success by increasing single-threaded performance. According to AMD, when moving from Zen 2 to Zen 3, IPC (the number of instructions executed per clock) increased by 19%. And this is true, as can be judged by the results of tests in our test laboratory.
In November, Ryzen 5000 processors for the AM4 platform, codenamed Vermeer, entered the market. Structurally, they are similar to the Ryzen 3000 CPU. Moreover, the I / O chip is completely inherited from the processors released a year earlier. All architectural innovations are covered in 7-nm chiplets. AMD has finally moved from 4- to 8-core CCX modules, which has a positive effect on inter-core communication delays and work with the third level cache. More detailed information about the architectural features of CPU Zen 3 is available here.
The AMD Ryzen 5000 lineup of the first wave is represented by four solutions with the number of Zen 3 cores from six to sixteen pieces. Given the market situation, Lisa Su’s team decided to increase the recommended prices by $50 for each of the processors, however, this had little effect on their attractiveness to the end user. Without exaggeration, we have before us the fastest CPUs for the mainstream platform, which are great for both work and play. Comparison of AMD Ryzen 9 5950X and Ryzen 9 5900X processors with Intel Core i9-10900K here.
Another advantage of the Ryzen 5000 chips is backwards compatibility. You can use them not only in motherboards with AMD 500 series chipsets, but also in older products based on the B450 and X470 logic. The corresponding UEFI updates for old motherboards, according to the chipmaker’s plans, were supposed to be released in January, but most vendors did not wait for the deadlines, giving owners of B450 / X470 boards the opportunity to upgrade to Zen 3 CPUs right now.
Overview of the main events of 2020. Video cards
Overview of the main events of 2020. Consoles, memory and new trends