Leaked AMD Mendocino Block Diagram Reveals Its Unique Chip Architecture
Hardware enthusiasts of a certain vintage will become misty-eyed and nostalgic when they hear the word "Mendocino." That might be exactly why AMD picked that codename for its own cut-down, low-cost Ryzen processors. Officially announced at Computex and intended for applications where cost is the most important factor, Mendocino is the codename for a series of chips that tops out at four Zen 2 cores with attached RDNA 2 graphics.
On the face of it, that description sounds a lot like the "Aerith" (aka Van Gogh) SoC inside Valve's Steam Deck handheld. However, if the latest information is accurate, Mendocino is quite a bit different from Aerith. For starters, while both use RDNA 2 graphics, a Mendocino die includes just a quarter of the GPU compute compared to Aerith; a single Navi Workgroup Processor, totaling two compute units for a maximum of 128 shaders.
Image: Olrak on Twitter
Furthermore, the slide above—unearthed by Olrak (@Olrak29_ on Twitter)—seems to indicate that Mendocino's Zen 2 cores aren't exactly the same as those featured in Aerith and other products based on Zen 2, like the Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, and of course, the company's Ryzen 3000-series processors.
For starters, the L3 cache on this chip has been slashed from 16MB (per-CCX on other Zen 2 parts) to just 4MB. It also seems to have had half of its floating-point compute ability lopped off. Zen 2 parts normally have four floating-point pipes, but this diagram, if legit, seems to indicate that Mendocino's cores will only have two. That will seriously hurt performance in crunchy, branchy floating-point code, but the markets these chips are meant for don't do a lot of that kind of computing anyway.
Another huge change that will particularly impact games on a device equipped with one of these chips—like, say, the AYANEO Air Plus—is the reduction in memory bus width. Mendocino has two 32-bit LPDDR5 memory channels. Before you say, 'well that's dual-channel; isn't that the same as desktop parts?', remember that DDR5 DIMMs normally have two channels per module—a so-called dual-channel setup on a DDR5 desktop actually has four.
So saying, even if a Mendocino device were equipped with extremely fast LPDDR5-6400 memory, it's only looking at about 51 GB/sec of memory bandwidth. That's barely more than half of what the Steam Deck manages thanks to its full-sized 128-bit memory bus. That 51 GB/sec has to be shared with the four Zen 2 cores, too, and their small cache means that they're going to have to dip out to main memory more often as well.
To summarize, Mendocino truly is a processor created to be as cost-effective as possible, just as Dr. Su said at Computex. It has cuts to its Zen 2 cores and their associated cache, it has a narrow memory bus to simplify product implementations, and it has an extremely tiny 2-CU RDNA 2 GPU, according to the leaked slide..
Despite all that, we're actually pretty confident that it will still perform well in its intended market of education and low-powered devices. We do have to admit that we're curious to see the impact of the incisions AMD made to cut costs, though. If we get our hands on such a system, we'll put it through its paces and report back.