It's 2016, and it feels like we've been waiting forever for AMD to launch a strong attack against Intel with a fresh group of desktop processors that compete in the high-end. With Intel dominating the CPU scene for so long, three user groups have emerged: those who still buy AMD chips because the value proposition is still quite good, those who want to buy AMD to support the company but can't resist the allure of higher-performing competitive CPUs, and those who are completely indifferent to a brand and just buy whatever suits them.
With Zen, AMD is hoping that the latter two groups will be swayed. That might sound like a lofty goal and a pipe dream at this point, but AMD is having none of that. The company believes that Zen could be its first competitive architecture versus Intel in the high-end in quite some time. And let's be honest, even if AMD was to come out offering close to clock-for-clock performance parity with Intel, the market would consider it a huge win.
Can we buy into the hype given all we've seen over the years? It's hard to say, but Zen is unlike any architecture AMD has crafted since the day Intel began its distancing itself from AMD's performance further and further. The most important thing to note about Zen is that it's not an upgraded architecture; it's all new and built from the ground up. As a result, it lacks some of the inefficiencies of AMD's aging architectures and brings with it new optimizations for efficiency and performance.
GlobalFoundries will build AMD's 14nm Zen processors
While it was clearly stated that Zen is going to offer a substantial improvement over AMD's own previous generation chips, it's nice to see the company so confident about it competing well with Intel again - that's exactly what fans and mainstream consumers alike have been craving for so long. On the instructions-per-clock (IPC) front, Zen could deliver up to a 40% improvement. If we're lucky, Zen could even power the highest-end gaming PCs without any significant compromise.
AMD is doing a lot here to re-architect Zen to make sure it delivers as planned. The new CPU will be built on a FinFET process, for starters, which in itself should increase performance and power efficiency. However, it will also be built at 14nm, just like Intel's current crop of chips. Critical for those running virtual machines or other highly-threaded apps, AMD has specifically optimized performance here as well, as the chip reportedly balances threaded workloads more efficiently.
We're still so far away Zen that it's easy to get excited over these little tidbits of detail at the moment, but this architecture truly does have potential. Let's hope that AMD can deliver here, because not only do consumers need better options in core CPU technologies but also AMD as a company is long overdue for market share success versus Intel on the CPU front.