Sony plans PlayStation NEO with massive APU hardware upgrade

Subject: Graphics Cards, Processors | April 19, 2016 - 03:21 PM |
Tagged: sony, ps4, Playstation, neo, giant bomb, APU, amd

Based on a new report coming from Giant Bomb, Sony is set to release a new console this year with upgraded processing power and a focus on 4K capabilities, code named NEO. We have been hearing for several weeks that both Microsoft and Sony were planning partial generation upgrades but it appears that details for Sony's update have started leaking out in greater detail, if you believe the reports.

Giant Bomb isn't known for tossing around speculation and tends to only report details it can safely confirm. Austin Walker says "multiple sources have confirmed for us details of the project, which is internally referred to as the NEO." 

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The current PlayStation 4 APU
Image source: iFixIt.com

There are plenty of interesting details in the story, including Sony's determination to not split the user base with multiple consoles by forcing developers to have a mode for the "base" PS4 and one for NEO. But most interesting to us is the possible hardware upgrade.

The NEO will feature a higher clock speed than the original PS4, an improved GPU, and higher bandwidth on the memory. The documents we've received note that the HDD in the NEO is the same as that in the original PlayStation 4, but it's not clear if that means in terms of capacity or connection speed.

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Games running in NEO mode will be able to use the hardware upgrades (and an additional 512 MiB in the memory budget) to offer increased and more stable frame rate and higher visual fidelity, at least when those games run at 1080p on HDTVs. The NEO will also support 4K image output, but games themselves are not required to be 4K native.

Giant Bomb even has details on the architectural changes.

  Shipping PS4 PS4 "NEO"
CPU 8 Jaguar Cores @ 1.6 GHz 8 Jaguar Cores @ 2.1 GHz
GPU AMD GCN, 18 CUs @ 800 MHz AMD GCN+, 36 CUs @ 911 MHz
Stream Processors 1152 SPs ~ HD 7870 equiv. 2304 SPs ~ R9 390 equiv.
Memory 8GB GDDR5 @ 176 GB/s 8GB GDDR5 @ 218 GB/s

(We actually did a full video teardown of the PS4 on launch day!)

If the Compute Unit count is right from the GB report, then the PS4 NEO system will have 2,304 stream processors running at 911 MHz, giving it performance nearing that of a consumer Radeon R9 390 graphics card. The R9 390 has 2,560 SPs running at around 1.0 GHz, so while the NEO would be slower, it would be a substantial upgrade over the current PS4 hardware and the Xbox One. Memory bandwidth on NEO is still much lower than a desktop add-in card (218 GB/s vs 384 GB/s).

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Could Sony's NEO platform rival the R9 390?

If the NEO hardware is based on Grenada / Hawaii GPU design, there are some interesting questions to ask. With the push into 4K that we expect with the upgraded PlayStation, it would be painful if the GPU didn't natively support HDMI 2.0 (4K @ 60 Hz). With the modularity of current semi-custom APU designs it is likely that AMD could swap out the display controller on NEO with one that can support HDMI 2.0 even though no consumer shipping graphics cards in the 300-series does so. 

It is also POSSIBLE that NEO is based on the upcoming AMD Polaris GPU architecture, which supports HDR and HDMI 2.0 natively. That would be a much more impressive feat for both Sony and AMD, as we have yet to see Polaris released in any consumer GPU. Couple that with the variables of 14/16nm FinFET process production and you have a complicated production pipe that would need significant monitoring. It would potentially lower cost on the build side and lower power consumption for the NEO device, but I would be surprised if Sony wanted to take a chance on the first generation of tech from AMD / Samsung / Global Foundries.

However, if you look at recent rumors swirling about the June announcement of the Radeon R9 480 using the Polaris architecture, it is said to have 2,304 stream processors, perfectly matching the NEO specs above.

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New features of the AMD Polaris architecture due this summer

There is a lot Sony and game developers could do with roughly twice the GPU compute capability on a console like NEO. This could make the PlayStation VR a much more comparable platform to the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive though the necessity to work with the original PS4 platform might hinder the upgrade path. 

The other obvious use is to upgrade the image quality and/or rendering resolution of current games and games in development or just to improve the frame rate, an area that many current generation consoles seem to have been slipping on

In the documents we’ve received, Sony offers suggestions for reaching 4K/UltraHD resolutions for NEO mode game builds, but they're also giving developers a degree of freedom with how to approach this. 4K TV owners should expect the NEO to upscale games to fit the format, but one place Sony is unwilling to bend is on frame rate. Throughout the documents, Sony repeatedly reminds developers that the frame rate of games in NEO Mode must meet or exceed the frame rate of the game on the original PS4 system.

There is still plenty to read in the Giant Bomb report, and I suggest you head over and do so. If you thought the summer was going to be interesting solely because of new GPU releases from AMD and NVIDIA, it appears that Sony and Microsoft have their own agenda as well.

Source: Giant Bomb

AMD Pre-Announces 7th Gen A-Series SOC

Subject: Processors | April 5, 2016 - 10:30 AM |
Tagged: mobile, hp, GCN, envy, ddr4, carrizo, Bristol Ridge, APU, amd, AM4

Today AMD is “pre-announcing” their latest 7th generation APU.  Codenamed “Bristol Ridge”, this new SOC is based off of the Excavator architecture featured in the previous Carrizo series of products.  AMD provided very few hints as to what was new and different in Bristol Ridge as compared to Carrizo, but they have provided a few nice hints.

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They were able to provide a die shot of the new Bristol Ridge APU and there are some interesting differences between it and the previous Carrizo. Unfortunately, there really are no changes that we can see from this shot. Those new functional units that you are tempted to speculate about? For some reason AMD decided to widen out the shot of this die. Those extra units around the border? They are the adjacent dies on the wafer. I was bamboozled at first, but happily Marc Sauter pointed it out to me. No new functional units for you!

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This is the Carrizo shot. It is functionally identical to what we see with Bristol Ridge.

AMD appears to be using the same 28 nm HKMG process from GLOBALFOUNDRIES.  This is not going to give AMD much of a jump, but from information in the industry GLOBALFOUNDRIES and others have put an impressive amount of work into several generations of 28 nm products.  TSMC is on their third iteration which has improved power and clock capabilities on that node.  GLOBALFOUNDRIES has continued to improve their particular process and likely Bristol Ridge is going to be the last APU built on that node.

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All of the competing chips are rated at 15 watts TDP. Intel has the compute advantage, but AMD is cleaning up when it comes to graphics.

The company has also continued to improve upon their power gating and clocking technologies to keep TDPs low, yet performance high.  AMD recently released the Godavari APUs to the market which exhibit better clocking and power characteristics from the previous Kaveri.  Little was done on the actual design, rather it was improved process tech as well as better clock control algorithms that achieved these advances.  It appears as though AMD has continued this trend with Bristol Ridge.

We likely are not seeing per clock increases, but rather higher and longer sustained clockspeeds providing the performance boost that we are seeing between Carrizo and Bristol Ridge.  In these benchmarks AMD is using 15 watt TDP products.  These are mobile chips and any power improvements will show off significant gains in overall performance.  Bristol Ridge is still a native quad core part with what looks to be an 8 module GCN unit.

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Again with all three products at a 15 watt TDP we can see that AMD is squeezing every bit of performance it can with the 28 nm process and their Excavator based design.

The basic core and GPU design look relatively unchanged, but obviously there were a lot of tweaks applied to give the better performance at comparable TDPs.  

AMD is announcing this along with the first product that will feature this APU.  The HP Envy X360.  This convertible tablet offers some very nice features and looks to be one of the better implementations that AMD has seen using its latest APUs.  Carrizo had some wins, but taking marketshare back from Intel in the mobile space has been tortuous at best. AMD obviously hopes that Bristol Ridge in the sub-35 watt range will continue to show fight for the company in this important market.  Perhaps one of the more interesting features is the option for the PCIe SSD.  Hopefully AMD will send out a few samples so we can see what a more “premium” type convertible can do with the AMD silicon.

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The HP Envy X360 convertible in all of its glory.

Bristol Ridge will be coming to the AM4 socket infrastructure in what appears to be a Computex timeframe.  These parts will of course feature higher TDPs than what we are seeing here with the 15 watt unit that was tested.  It seems at that time AMD will announce the full lineup from top to bottom and start seeding the market with AM4 boards that will eventually house the “Zen” CPUs that will show up in late 2016.

Source: AMD

Intel officially ends the era of "tick-tock" processor production

Subject: Processors | March 22, 2016 - 09:08 PM |
Tagged: Intel, tick tock, tick-tock, process technology, kaby lake

It should come as little surprise to our readers that have followed news about Kaby Lake, Intel's extension of the Skylake architecture that officially broke nearly a decade of tick-tock processor design. With tick-tock, Intel would iterate in subsequent years between a new processor microarchitecture (Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge, etc.) and a new process technology (45nm, 32nm, 22nm, etc.). According to this story over at Fool.com, Intel's officially ending that pattern of production.

From the company's latest K-10 filing:

"We expect to lengthen the amount of time we will utilize our 14 [nanometer] and our next-generation 10 [nanometer] process technologies, further optimizing our products and process technologies while meeting the yearly market cadence for product introductions."

ticktockout.JPG

It is likely that that graphic above that showcases the changes from Tick-Tock to what is going on now isn't "to scale" and we may see more than three steps in each iteration along the way. Intel still believes that it has and will continue to have the best process technology in the world and that its processors will benefit.

Continuing further, the company indicates that "this competitive advantage will be extended in the future as the costs to build leading-edge fabrication facilities increase, and as fewer semiconductor companies will be able to leverage platform design and manufacturing."

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Kaby Lake details leaking out...

As Scott pointed out in our discussions about this news, it might mean consumers will see advantages in longer socket compatibility going forward though I would still see this as a net-negative for technology. As process technology improvements slow down, either due to complexity or lack of competition in the market, we will see less innovation in key areas of performance and power consumption. 

Source: Fool.com

ARM Partners with TSMC to Produce SoCs on 7nm FinFET

Subject: Processors | March 15, 2016 - 04:52 PM |
Tagged: TSMC, SoC, servers, process technology, low power, FinFET, datacenter, cpu, arm, 7nm, 7 nm FinFET

ARM and TSMC have announced their collaboration on 7 nm FinFET process technology for future SoCs. A multi-year agreement between the companies, products produces on this 7 nm FinFET process are intended to expand ARM’s reach “beyond mobile and into next-generation networks and data centers”.

tsmc-headquarters.jpg

TSMC Headquarters (Image credit: AndroidHeadlines)

So when can we expect to see 7nm SoCs on the market? The report from The Inquirer offers this quote from TSMC:

“A TSMC spokesperson told the INQUIRER in a statement: ‘Our 7nm technology development progress is on schedule. TSMC's 7nm technology development leverages our 10nm development very effectively. At the same time, 7nm offers a substantial density improvement, performance improvement and power reduction from 10nm’.”

Full press release after the break.

Source: ARM
Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD

Clockspeed Jump and More!

On March 1st AMD announced the availability of two new processors as well as more information on the A10 7860 APU.

The two new units are the A10-7890K and the Athlon X4 880K.  These are both Kaveri based parts, but of course the Athlon has the GPU portion disabled.  Product refreshes for the past several years have followed a far different schedule than the days of yore.  Remember back in time when the Phenom II series and the competing Core 2 series would have clockspeed updates that were expected yearly, if not every half year with a slightly faster top end performer to garner top dollar from consumers?

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Things have changed, for better or worse.  We have so far seen two clockspeed bumps for the Kaveri /Godavari based APU.  Kaveri was first introduced over two years ago with the A10-7850K and the lower end derivatives.  The 7850K has a clockspeed that ranges from 3.7 GHz to the max 4 GHz with boost.  The GPU portion is clocked at 720 MHz.  This is a 95 watt TDP part that is one of the introductory units from GLOBALFOUNDRIES 28 nm HKMG process.

Today the new top end A10-7890K is clocked at 4.1 GHz to 4.3 GHz max.  The GPU receives a significant boost in performance with a clockspeed of 866 MHz.  The combination of CPU and GPU clockspeed increases push the total performance of the part exceeding 1 TFLOPs.  It features the same dual module/quad core Godavari design as well as the 8 GCN Units.  The interesting part here is that the APU does not exceed the 95 watt TDP that it shares with the older and slower 7850K.  It is also a boost in performance from last year’s refresh of the A10-7870K which is clocked 200 MHz slower on the CPU portion but retains the 866 MHz speed of the GPU.  This APU is fully unlocked so a user can easily overclock both the CPU and GPU cores.

amd_7890k.png

The Athlon X4 880K is still based on the Godavari family rather than the Carizzo update that the X4 845 uses.  This part is clocked from 4.0 to 4.2 GHz.  It again retains the 95 watt TDP rating of the previous Athlon X4 CPUs.  Previously the X4 860K was the highest clocked unit at 3.7 GHz to 4.0, but the 880K raises that to 4 to 4.2 GHz.  A 300 MHz gain in base clock is pretty significant as well as stretching that ceiling to 4.2 GHz.  The Godavari modules retain their full amount of L2 cache so the 880K has 4 MB available to it.  These parts are very popular with budget enthusiasts and gaming builds as they are extremely inexpensive and perform at an acceptable level with free overclocking thrown in.

Click here to read more about AMD's March 2016 Refresh!

Tesla Motors Hires Peter Bannon of Apple

Subject: Graphics Cards, Processors | February 29, 2016 - 11:48 PM |
Tagged: tesla motors, tesla, SoC, Peter Bannon, Jim Keller

When we found out that Jim Keller has joined Tesla, we were a bit confused. He is highly skilled in processor design, and he moved to a company that does not design processors. Kind of weird, right? There are two possibilities that leap to mind: either he wanted to try something new in life, and Elon Musk hired him for his general management skills, or Tesla wants to get more involved in the production of their SoCs, possibly even designing their own.

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Now Peter Bannon, who was a colleague of Jim Keller at Apple, has been hired by Tesla Motors. Chances are, the both of them were not independently interested in an abrupt career change that led them to the same company. That seems highly unlikely, to say the least. So it appears that Tesla Motors wants experienced chip designers in house. What for? We don't know. This is a lot of talent to just look over the shoulders of NVIDIA and other SoC partners, to make sure they have an upper hand in negotiation. Jim Keller is at Tesla as their “Vice-President of Autopilot Hardware Engineering.” We don't know what Peter Bannon's title will be.

And then, if Tesla Motors does get into creating their own hardware, we wonder what they will do with it. The company has a history of open development and releasing patents (etc.) into the public. That said, SoC design is a highly encumbered field, depending on what they're specifically doing, which we have no idea about.

Source: Eletrek

MWC 2016: MediaTek Announces Helio P20 True Octa-Core SoC

Subject: Processors, Mobile | February 22, 2016 - 04:11 PM |
Tagged: TSMC, SoC, octa-core, MWC 2016, MWC, mediatek, Mali-T880, LPDDR4X, Cortex-A53, big.little, arm

MediaTek might not be well-known in the United States, but the company has been working to expand from China, where it had a 40% market share as of June 2015, into the global market. While 2015 saw the introduction of the 8-core Helio P10 and the 10-core helio X20 SoCs, the company continues to expand their lineup, today announcing the Helio P20 SoC.

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There are a number of differences between the recent SoCs from MediaTek, beginning with the CPU core configuration. This new Helio P20 is a “True Octa-Core” design, but rather than a big.LITTLE configuration it’s using 8 identically-clocked ARM Cortex-A53 cores at 2.3 GHz. The previous Helio P10 used a similar CPU configuration, though clocks were limited to 2.0 GHz with that SoC. Conversely, the 10-core Helio X20 uses a tri-cluster configuration, with 2x ARM Cortex-A72 cores running at 2.5 GHz, along with a typical big.LITTLE arrangement (4x Cortex-A53 cores at 2.0 Ghz and 4x Cortex-A53 cores at 1.4 GHz).

Another change affecting MediaTek’s new SoC and he industry at large is the move to smaller process nodes. The Helio P10 was built on 28 nm HPM, and this new P20 moves to 16 nm FinFET. Just as with the Helio P10 and Helio X20 (a 20 nm part) this SoC is produced at TSMC using their 16FF+ (FinFET Plus) technology. This should provide up to “40% higher speed and 60% power saving” compared to the company’s previous 20 nm process found in the Helio X20, though of course real-world results will have to wait until handsets are available to test.

The Helio P20 also takes advantage of LPDDR4X, and is “the world’s first SoC to support low power double data rate random access memory” according to MediaTek. The company says this new memory provides “70 percent more bandwidth than the LPDDR3 and 50 percent power savings by lowering supply voltage to 0.6v”. Graphics are powered by ARM’s high-end Mali T880 GPU, clocked at an impressive 900 MHz. And all-important modem connectivity includes CAT6 LTE with 2x carrier aggregation for speeds of up to 300 Mbps down, 50 Mbps up. The Helio P20 also supports up to 4k/30 video decode with H.264/265 support, and the 12-bit dual camera ISP supports up to 24 MP sensors.

Specs from MediaTek:

  • Process: 16nm
  • Apps CPU: 8x Cortex-A53, up to 2.3GHz
  • Memory: Up to 2 x LPDDR4X 1600MHz (up to 6GB) + 1x LPDDR3 933Mhz (up to 4GB) + eMMC 5.1
  • Camera: Up to 24MP at 24FPS w/ZSD, 12bit Dual ISP, 3A HW engine, Bayer & Mono sensor support
  • Video Decode: Up to 4Kx2K 30fps H.264/265
  • Video Encode: Up to 4Kx2K 30fps H.264
  • Graphics: Mali T-880 MP2 900MHz
  • Display: FHD 1920x1080 60fps. 2x DSI for dual display
  • Modem: LTE FDD TDD R.11 Cat.6 with 2x20 CA. C2K SRLTE. L+W DSDS support
  • Connectivity: WiFiac/abgn (with MT6630). GPS/Glonass/Beidou/BT/FM.
  • Audio: 110db SNR & -95db THD

It’s interesting to see SoC makers experiment with less complex CPU designs after a generation of multi-cluster (big.LITTLE) SoCs, as even the current flagship Qualcomm SoC, the Snapdragon 820, has reverted to a straight quad-core design. The P20 is expected to be in shipping devices by the second half of 2016, and we will see how this configuration performs once some devices using this new P20 SoC are in the wild.

Full press release after the break:

Source: MediaTek

Extreme Overclocking of Skylake (7.02566 GHz)

Subject: Processors | February 7, 2016 - 02:00 AM |
Tagged: Skylake, overclocking, asrock, Intel, gskill

I recently came across a post at PC Gamer that looked at the extreme overclocking leaderboard of the Skylake-based Intel Core i7-6700K. Obviously, these competitions will probably never end as long as higher numbers are possible on parts that are interesting for one reason or another. Skylake is the new chip on the liquid nitrogen block. It cannot reach frequencies as high as its predecessors, but teams still compete to get as high as possible on that specific SKU.

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The current world record for a single-threaded Intel Core i7-6700K is 7.02566 GHz, which is achieved with a voltage of 4.032V. For comparison, the i7-6700K is typically around 1.3V at load. This record was apparently set about a month ago, on January 11th.

This is obviously a huge increase, about three-fold more voltage for the extra 3 GHz. For comparison, the current world record over all known CPUs is the AMD FX-8370 with a clock of 8.72278 GHz. Many Pentium 4-era processors make up the top 15 places too, as those parts were designed for high clock rates with relatively low IPC.

The rest of the system used G.SKILL Ripjaws 4 DDR4 RAM, an ASRock Z170M OC Formula motherboard, and an Antec 1300W power supply. It used an NVIDIA GeForce GT 630 GPU, which offloaded graphics from the integrated chip, but otherwise interfered as little as possible. They also used Windows XP, because why not I guess? I assume that it does the least amount of work to boot, allowing a quicker verification, but that is only a guess.

Source: HWBot

ASRock Releases BIOS to Disable Non-K Skylake Overclocking

Subject: Processors | February 5, 2016 - 04:44 PM |
Tagged: Intel, Skylake, overclocking, cpu, Non-K, BCLK, bios, SKY OC, asrock, Z170

ASRock's latest batch of motherboard BIOS updates remove the SKY OS function, which permitted overclocking of non-K Intel processors via BCLK (baseclock).

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The news comes amid speculation that Intel had pressured motherboard vendors to remove such functionality. Intel's unlocked K parts (i5-6600K, i7-6700K) will once again be the only options for Skylake overclocking on Z170 on ASRock boards (assuming prior BIOS versions are no longer available), and with no Pentium G3258 this generation Intel is no longer a budget friendly option for enthusiasts looking to push their CPU past factory specs.

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(Image credit: Hexus.net)

It sounds like now would be a good time to archive that SKY OS enabled BIOS update file if you've downloaded it - or simply refrain from this BIOS update. What remains to be seen of course is whether other vendors will follow suit and disable BCLK overclocking of non-K processors. This had become a popular feature on a number of Z170 motherboards on the market, but ASRock may have been in too weak a position to battle Intel on this issue.

Source: Hexus
Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD

AMD Keeps Q1 Interesting

CES 2016 was not a watershed moment for AMD.  They showed off their line of current video cards and, perhaps more importantly, showed off working Polaris silicon, which will be their workhorse for 2016 in the graphics department.  They did not show off Zen, a next generation APU, or any AM4 motherboards.  The CPU and APU world was not presented in a way that was revolutionary.  What they did show off, however, hinted at the things to come to help keep AMD relevant in the desktop space.

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It was odd to see an announcement about the stock cooler that AMD was introducing, but when we learned more about it, the more important it was for AMD’s reputation moving forward.  The Wraith cooler is a new unit to help control the noise and temperatures of the latest AMD CPUs and select APUs.  This is a fairly beefy unit with a large, slow moving fan that produces very little noise.  This is a big change from the variable speed fans on previous coolers that could get rather noisy and leave temperatures that were higher in range than are comfortable.  There has been some derision aimed at AMD for providing “just a cooler” for their top end products, but it is a push that is making them more user and enthusiast friendly without breaking the bank.

Socket AM3+ is not dead yet.  Though we have been commenting on the health of the platform for some time, AMD and its partners work to improve and iterate upon these products to include technologies such as USB 3.1 and M.2 support.  While these chipsets are limited to PCI-E 2.0 speeds, the four lanes available to most M.2 controllers allows these boards to provide enough bandwidth to fully utilize the latest NVMe based M.2 drives available.  We likely will not see a faster refresh on AM3+, but we will see new SKUs utilizing the Wraith cooler as well as a price break for the processors that exist in this socket.

Click here to continue reading about AMD's latest offerings for Q1 2016!