AMD Confirms Future Ryzen CPUs Will Adopt A Hybrid Chip Design Similar To Intel

AMD Ryzen 5000 C Series Hero
Intel's decision to move to a hybrid architecture for its CPUs, with heterogeneous compute cores targeted at either high-performance processing or low-power computing, has been a controversial one among enthusiasts. Some users cried, "I'm moving to AMD!" because Intel's long-time rival has no such distinction—every CPU core in a Ryzen processor is identical to the rest of them.

Well, that's not going to be the case forever, apparently. According to AMD CTO Mark Papermaster, AMD will be moving to a hybrid architecture for its consumer processors at some point—possibly as soon as the next generation, if rumors are to be believed. Or not, if you prefer fresher rumors.

This information originates from an interview with Tom's Hardware's Paul Alcorn. We're not completely sure we would read too much into what Papermaster said, because he was speaking in very general terms about the use of heterogeneous processing, including multiple types of processor core inside a chip.

mark papermaster statement hybrid processing
Image: AMD CTO Mark Papermaster speaking to Tom's Hardware.

As Papermaster pointed out, AMD's already doing this. Its just-launched "Phoenix" processors, known more properly as the Ryzen 7040 series, include a "Ryzen AI" co-processor on-die. It's possible that he was speaking about things like that, because when asked by Alcorn if "a hybrid architecture will be coming to client PCs," he said "it's already there today." Did he mean competitor Intel's parts, or is he talking about Ryzen AI?

To be clear, Papermaster did specifically talk about mixing "high-performance cores" with "power-efficient cores." He just also mentioned accelerators in the same breath. Papermaster says that he sees the future of the CPU as varying not only on core density—that is, the number of cores per chip—but also on core type, as well as core configuration. He gives the example of stacked cache as one such alteration.

The interview was conducted unscripted at the ITF World supercomputing conference in Belgium, and as such interviews tend to be, it's kind of rambling and a little confusing in parts. For that reason, exactly what Papermaster was talking about isn't clear, but it really wouldn't surprise us if AMD went the big.LITTLE route like Intel has. For all of the foibles of Intel's Alder Lake CPUs, there are real merits to such an approach as well.

locuza alder lake die shot
Die shot analysis of Intel's Alder Lake silicon by Locuza.

The thing is, where Intel was able to leverage its low-power "Atom"-class CPU core IP to create hybrid processors, AMD has no such CPU core. AMD's low-power cores died out with the "Enhanced Puma" architecture used in the Xbox One X. Ryzen is purportedly derived in its earliest forms from the Jaguar architecture, but its current iteration, Zen 4, is decidedly a high-power core through-and-through despite its use in devices like the ASUS ROG Ally.

There are various ideas on what AMD could use for an "e-core". One possibility is a regular Zen core with much of the floating-point capability stripped out. That would save a lot of area and power, but it would mean that AMD faces the same struggle Intel has had, where even its top consumer chips don't support AVX-512 due to the lack of such instruction set support in its Gracemont E-cores.

Alternatively, AMD could simply do something clever with UEFI power management. Ryzen processors already detect the most efficient cores and set those as the "preferred cores" for demanding tasks. A similar function could designate one or more cores as "low-power" cores and run them at drastically lower clocks to save power.

Whatever the case, it's fairly likely that AMD will eventually implement some kind of hybrid processing function. Modern Ryzen processors already have GPUs, so the days of truly homogeneous CPUs are well and truly over in any case. Perhaps it's finally time for obstinate holdouts (like your author) to buck up and look toward the hybridized future.
Tags:  AMD, CPUs, (nasdaq:amd), ryzen