AMD’s Zen 3 architecture is slated to land this year, setting the stage for a new wave of powerful chips based upon a newer version of AMD’s most successful architecture to date. The new Zen 3 microarchitecture will power AMD’s full lineup of next-gen chips, including the Ryzen 4000 “Vermeer” desktop processors that will soon vie for a spot on our list of Best CPUs, the Ryzen 5000 laptop chips, and the EPYC Milan data center processors.
AMD’s original Zen microarchitecture brought a fundamental rethinking of desktop processor design to market, and, in the process, saved the company from the cusp of bankruptcy. Zen-based “Naples” chips also paved the way for the chiplet-based designs that are now sweeping over the industry, and set a new bar for core counts and pricing in an industry that was long plagued by stagnant innovation from a single dominant player.
As impressive as AMD’s rapid success with Zen was, it was merely the first step along AMD’s multi-year roadmap. AMD’s solid follow-up with the Zen 2 architecture, which it paired with the 7nm process in the “Matisse” chips, cemented AMD’s dominance in pricing, performance scaling, and efficiency as Intel struggled to move on to its 10nm process. That triggered a massive turnaround in fortunes for the chipmaker as it continues to steal market share from Intel at an accelerating rate and has reached its highest stock valuation in history.
And now it’s nearly time for Zen 3 to come to market as Intel faces yet more delays in its move to 7nm. AMD says Zen 3 features an entirely new architecture. Paired with the expected instructions per cycle (IPC) throughput advances and the early signs of up to a 4.9 GHz boost, AMD may just have the magic bullet that finally upsets Intel from its position at the top of our gaming performance benchmarks.
Aside from an AMD presentation about the Zen 3 architecture that was accidentally posted to YouTube, the company hasn’t publicly shared specifics about the design. However, the company has shared plenty of information about Zen 3’s schedule, and a string of leaks has shed further light on the soon-to-be-released architecture. If one thing is for certain, the Zen microarchitecture has completely redefined our expectations for mainstream desktop chips, and it’s rational to expect more of the same with Zen 3. Let’s cover what we know about Zen 3 so far.
AMD Zen 3, Ryzen 4000 At A Glance
- TSMC N7P or N7+ process
- 32+ MB of unified L3 cache
- Multi-Chip Module (MCM) design
- Up to 64 cores for data center chips
- First client (desktop and/or laptop) chips arrive in late 2020
- Full desktop, laptop and server lineups in market by the end of 2021
- EPYC Milan data center chips arrive in late 2020
- Pricing is the wild card, but AMD has increased pricing with recent launches
AMD Zen 3 Ryzen 4000, Ryzen 5000, EPYC Release Dates
(Image credit: AMD)
Today we’re focusing on Zen 3 processors. Confusingly, AMD uses Ryzen 4000 branding for its current generation of Renoir APUs and laptop chips, but they come with the Zen 2 architecture. Zen 3 desktop processors will come with Ryzen 4000 branding, while Zen 3 laptop chips will have Ryzen 5000 branding.
AMD shared its latest roadmaps at its Financial Analyst Day 2020 as it outlined its continuing march ahead with new CPU microarchitectures and denser process nodes. Each step along the path promises step-function improvements, and AMD focuses on a predictable and reliable release cadence, all of which have been a challenge for Intel as it remains mired on the 14nm node for the desktop.
AMD’s Zen roadmap stretches out to the end of 2021, which the company has confirmed means that the entire roster of Zen 3 chips will be fully in the market by the end of next year. That includes the Ryzen 4000 Vermeer desktop PC chips, Ryzen 5000 laptop chips, and EPYC Milan processors.
As with AMD’s previous lineups, all of these chips share the same underlying scalable microarchitecture – in this case, Zen 3. AMD will use an “enhanced version” of TSMC’s 7nm process for the chips, but hasn’t clarified which specific version it will use. Zen 3 chips could use the N7P process, which still uses traditional DUV fabrication techniques but is 7% faster and 10% more power-efficient than the current 7nm process AMD uses for the Ryzen chips. AMD could also use the N7+ process that brings even bigger advantages (+15% performance, -10% power) borne of advanced EUV manufacturing. In either case, we expect much larger performance gains from Zen 3 than we see with the Ryzen XT models, but we’ll dive into that shortly.
AMD has consistently swatted away rumors that its Zen 3 chips are delayed and has clarified that its chips wouldn’t use TSMC’s 5nm process. AMD has long maintained that it’s Zen 3 chips would come to market this year, which makes sense given the Zen 3 EPYC Milan data center chips on the roadmap. The company later clarified that Zen 3 “client” chips would also come to market this year. That’s an important distinction, with the term “client” signifying that we’ll see chips for regular consumers this year, too.
The first Zen 3 consumer chips could land in the form of the long-awaited Ryzen 4000 ‘Vermeer’ processors. This would expand on AMD’s success in desktop PCs and render the Ryzen XT models a mere stop-gap between big product launches. Conversely, the first Zen 3 consumer chips could come to laptops as a fast follower to the company’s Ryzen Mobile chips. AMD’s latest mobile processors are just now taking hold in the market and have finally gained some traction, but a quick follow-up would cement AMD’s position as a serious contender in the mobile segment. Intel has its promising Tiger Lake mobile chips launching this year, too, so it would be a good time for a new line of Zen 3 mobile chips to counter Intel’s 10nm assault.
But there’s another possibility that makes plenty of sense. AMD’s restricts its current Renoir APUs to the OEM market only, though we did manage to get a 4750G chip in for review. AMD hasn’t outlined any plans to bring those chips to the retail market, but did promise it would support a future unspecified APU for 400-series and 500-series motherboards. AMD could shock us, yet again, and release a new APU as its first consumer Zen 3 chip. That would actually kill two birds with one stone: AMD uses its APU die for both the desktop PC and laptop markets.
Possibilities abound for the first consumer chips, but the data center side of the equation is simple: AMD says that EPYC Milan, the follow-on to the EPYC Rome chips, will arrive on time by the end of 2020. AMD’s EPYC Rome processors are already serious challengers for Intel’s Cascade Lake Refresh lineup, and the fast-follow with Milan will only intensify the competition. Intel should have its 10nm Ice Lake server chips on the market at that time, so competition will be stiff.
Perhaps most impressive, AMD’s roadmaps indicate the company will have its EPYC Genoa processors fully on the market by the end of 2022. Those chips will come with the 5nm process and Zen 4 architecture, and as such, we can also expect that AMD’s Zen 4 processors for the consumer market will come with the 5nm process as well.
AMD Zen 3 Ryzen 4000 and EPYC Milan Performance and Specifications
The jury is still out on the performance uplift we can expect from Zen 3 processors, but there are a few primary levers that AMD can pull to increase performance: The company could increase clock frequencies, increase Zen 3’s IPC, rework the caching hierarchy, or increase core counts. The company could make a plethora of other design changes, of course, but these represent the lowest-hanging fruit.
In terms of core counts, AMD’s own presentation last year for its Milan processors showed that the company would stick with a maximum of 64 cores. That means, barring an unlikely significant change late in the design process, AMD’s maximum core count will still weigh in at 64 cores for its data center and Threadripper 4000 processors for the high-end desktop (HEDT) market.
EPYC and Threadripper’s maximum of 64 cores doesn’t tell us much about the mainstream desktop, though. AMD’s Ryzen 9 3950X is currently the king of the mainstream desktop with 16 cores and 32 threads, but AMD’s Mark Papermaster told us that the company doesn’t see a “saturation point for cores” on the mainstream desktop in the near term.
That leaves open the possibility of more cores on the mainstream desktop for enthusiasts in the future, but whether or not those will come with Zen 3-based desktop chips is open for debate. We do know that the Zen 3 desktop chips will drop into the AM4 socket, though, and it might be possible for AMD to squeeze more cores into its mainstream Ryzen lineup (particularly if it uses a smaller node for the large IOD die).
A maximum of 64 cores doesn’t really hamper AMD’s Zen 3-based chips – the company already has an industry-leading helping of cores, and it doesn’t appear that Intel will be able to match 64 cores in the near future. However, Intel holds a big lead in the single-threaded performance, lending its Comet Lake chips a significant lead in the gaming department. Intel’s extra performance headroom will become more important as Nvidia rolls out it’s Ampere GPUs and AMD counters with its own Big Navi.
AMD can boost its per-core performance by increasing frequency and IPC, which will then boost Zen 3’s single-threaded performance. We already see signs of that with its forthcoming chips. Two Ryzen 4000 part numbers (OPNs) recently surfaced, and decoding these strings (100-000000065-04_ 46/36 _Y and 100-000000061-06_ 49/37 _Y) indicates a 16-core chip with a 3.7 GHz base that boosts to a beastly 4.9 GHz. That’s a 5.7% and 4.3% improvement on the base and boost clocks, respectively, and bodes well for increased frequencies with the Zen 3 processors.
All signs point to AMD sticking with PCIe 4.0 and DDR4 for the Ryzen 4000 desktop processors.
Part numbers for AMD’s Zen 3 EPYC Milan processors, which will power not only data centers but also a wide range of supercomputers, have also surfaced. These 64-core and 32-core models allegedly boost up to 3.0 GHz, but given that the existing EPYC Rome processors already boost as high as 3.9 GHz, these might be models with conservative TDP ratings for certain use-cases. That means we could see faster models in the future.