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AMD Preps Zen CPU, Reigniting Chip War with Intel
Posted November 30, 2016
AMD Preps Zen CPU, Reigniting Chip War with Intel
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By Shirley Siluk. Updated November 30, 2016 9:29AM

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Chip developer AMD plans to offer a sneak preview of its long-awaited Zen CPU during a live online event scheduled for 1 p.m. Pacific time on Dec. 13. Originally set for release this year and now expected to launch in early 2017, Zen's built-from-the-ground-up architecture could amp up AMD's competition with Intel, the current 800-pound gorilla of the global microprocessor market.

The "New Horizon" event will be hosted by video game media figure Geoff Keighley, who produces The Game Awards show for the gaming industry. In addition to featuring other guests and giveaways, the event also promises to have gamer Peter "PPD" Dager "put 'Zen' through its paces."

AMD, which is now taking signups for the live-stream event, said the Zen preview will be "the first time the public will be able to try it themselves and see its capabilities." The company added the event will be of particular interest to serious gamers.

Zen: Improved Power and More

Until yesterday's event announcement, AMD hasn't said much about Zen in several months. The last big news came in mid-August, when the company revealed some test and performance details about the CPU at a special event in San Francisco.

AMD senior fellow Mike Clark followed up on that event with a presentation at the Hot Chips symposium held in Cupertino, Calif., in late August. In his deep dive, Clark described how Zen's new architecture was able to handle 40 percent more instructions per clock than AMD's previous Excavator x86 core and could provide both improved power usage and better caching.

Zen's "clean-sheet" design will introduce a number of changes compared to its previous CPUs, including a new cache hierarchy and simultaneous multithreading (SMT), according to AMD. In August, Ars Technica noted that the new architecture "corrects most of the mistakes made with AMD's line of Bulldozer-based CPU cores," adding that SMT has already "been used to great effect by Intel."

Possible Pricing Threat to Intel

Currently scheduled to hit the market in the first quarter of 2017, AMD's Zen-based CPU will be one of several new microprocessors with the potential to compete with Intel's dominant Xeon line, a forecast from the analyst firm IDC noted earlier this year.

Zen would be the only x86-based processor in that lineup, according to IDC. Other chips that could compete with Intel's Xeon include Qualcomm's ARM-based Hydra, X-Gene 3 from Applied Micro, Cavium's ThunderX 2 and Vulcan from Broadcom.

In addition to having "just edged out" a comparable Broadwell-E processor from Intel in tests, AMD's upcoming Zen-based family of "Summit Ridge" CPUs could also pose a threat to Intel on pricing. The Summit Ridge CPUs could cost about half as much as comparable processors from Intel when they hit the market next year, according to an unconfirmed leak highlighed by HotHardware.com over the weekend.

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