Zen and the art of product cycle maintenence

Subject: General Tech | September 10, 2015 - 01:22 PM |
Tagged: Zen, amd

There have been quite a few rumours surrounding AMD's next chip refresh, the Zen architectureDigiTimes is adding to that with a story today which places the release date sometime at the end of 2016, at the earliest.  Their sources suggest an issue with GLOBALFOUNDRIES 14nm FinFET process which is delaying the release and which is very bad news for AMD.  The claimed 40% improvement over current generation processors is not going to mean as much in a year or more and with AMD's current financial situation releasing a new CPU for people to buy is something that needs to happen.  Let us hope that the delay is exaggerated or that something happens to resolve the production issues in the coming months.

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"AMD's next-generation Zen architecture is expected to arrive in the fourth quarter of 2016 at the earliest, but sources from motherboard players are concerned that the late arrival of the new platform may put AMD in a rather difficult competitive position."

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Tech Talk

Source: DigiTimes

TSMC Plans 10nm, 7nm, and "Very Steep" Ramping of 16nm.

Subject: Graphics Cards, Processors, Mobile | July 19, 2015 - 06:59 AM |
Tagged: Zen, TSMC, Skylake, pascal, nvidia, Intel, Cannonlake, amd, 7nm, 16nm, 10nm

Getting smaller features allows a chip designer to create products that are faster, cheaper, and consume less power. Years ago, most of them had their own production facilities but that is getting rare. IBM has just finished selling its manufacturing off to GlobalFoundries, which was spun out of AMD when it divested from fabrication in 2009. Texas Instruments, on the other hand, decided that they would continue manufacturing but get out of the chip design business. Intel and Samsung are arguably the last two players with a strong commitment to both sides of the “let's make a chip” coin.

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So where do you these chip designers go? TSMC is the name that comes up most. Any given discrete GPU in the last several years has probably been produced there, along with several CPUs and SoCs from a variety of fabless semiconductor companies.

Several years ago, when the GeForce 600-series launched, TSMC's 28nm line led to shortages, which led to GPUs remaining out of stock for quite some time. Since then, 28nm has been the stable work horse for countless high-performance products. Recent chips have been huge, physically, thanks to how mature the process has become granting fewer defects. The designers are anxious to get on smaller processes, though.

In a conference call at 2 AM (EDT) on Thursday, which is 2 PM in Taiwan, Mark Liu of TSMC announced that “the ramping of our 16 nanometer will be very steep, even steeper than our 20nm”. By that, they mean this year. Hopefully this translates to production that could be used for GPUs and CPUs early, as AMD needs it to launch their Zen CPU architecture in 2016, as early in that year as possible. Graphics cards have also been on that technology for over three years. It's time.

Also interesting is how TSMC believes that they can hit 10nm by the end of 2016. If so, this might put them ahead of Intel. That said, Intel was also confident that they could reach 10nm by the end of 2016, right until they announced Kaby Lake a few days ago. We will need to see if it pans out. If it does, competitors could actually beat Intel to the market at that feature size -- although that could end up being mobile SoCs and other integrated circuits that are uninteresting for the PC market.

Following the announcement from IBM Research, 7nm was also mentioned in TSMC's call. Apparently they expect to start qualifying in Q1 2017. That does not provide an estimate for production but, if their 10nm schedule is both accurate and also representative of 7nm, that would production somewhere in 2018. Note that I just speculated on an if of an if of a speculation, so take that with a mine of salt. There is probably a very good reason that this date wasn't mentioned in the call.

Back to the 16nm discussion, what are you hoping for most? New GPUs from NVIDIA, new GPUs from AMD, a new generation of mobile SoCs, or the launch of AMD's new CPU architecture? This should make for a highly entertaining comments section on a Sunday morning, don't you agree?

Author:
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD

Some Fresh Hope for 2016

EDIT 2015-05-07: A day after the AMD analyst meeting we now know that the roadmaps delivered here are not legitimate.  While some of the information is likely correct on the roadmaps, they were not leaked by AMD.  There is no FM3 socket, rather AMD is going with AM4.  AMD will be providing more information throughout this quarter about their roadmaps, but for now take all of this information as "not legit".

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SH SOTN has some eagle eyes and spotted the latest leaked roadmap for AMD.  These roadmaps cover both mobile and desktop, from 2015 through 2016.  There are obviously quite a few interesting tidbits of information here.

On the mobility roadmap we see the upcoming release of Carrizo, which we have been talking about since before CES.  This will be the very first HSA 1.0 compliant part to hit the market, and AMD has done some really interesting things with the design in terms of performance, power efficiency, and die size optimizations.  Carrizo will span the market from 15 watts to 35 watts TDP.  This is a mobile only part, but indications point to it being pretty competent overall.  This is a true SOC that will support all traditional I/O functions of older standalone southbridges.  Most believe that this part will be manufactured by GLOBALFOUNDIRES on their 28 nm HKMG process that is more tuned to AMD's APU needs.

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Carrizo-L will be based on the Puma+ architecture and will go from 10 watts to 15 watts TDP.  This will use the same FP4 BGA connection as the big Carrizo APU.  This should make these parts more palatable for OEMs as they do not have to differentiate the motherboard infrastructure.  Making things easier for OEMs will give more reasons for these folks to offer products based on Carrizo and Carrizo-L APUs.  The other big reason will be the GCN graphics compute units.  Puma+ is a very solid processor architecture for low power products, but these parts are still limited to the older 28 nm HKMG process from TSMC.

One interesting addition here is that AMD will be introducing their "Amur" APU for the low power and ultra-low power markets.  These will be comprised of four Cortex-A57 CPUs combined with AMD's GCN graphics units.  This will be the first time we see this combination, and the first time AMD has integrated with ARM since ATI spun off their mobile graphics to Qualcomm under the "Adreno" branding (anagram for "Radeon").  What is most interesting here is that this APU will be a 20 nm part most likely fabricated by TSMC.  This is not to say that Samsung or GLOBALFOUNDRIES might be producing it, but those companies are expending their energy on the 14 nm FinFET process that will be their bread and butter for years to come.  This will be a welcome addition to the mobile market (tablets and handhelds) and could be a nice profit center for AMD if they are able to release this in a timely manner.

2016 is when things get very interesting.  The Zen x86 design will dominate the upper 2/3 of the roadmap.  I had talked about Zen when we had some new diagram leaks yesterday, but now we get to see the first potential products based off of this architecture.  In mobile it will span from 5 watts to 35 watts TDP.  The performance and mainstream offerings will be the "Bristol Ridge" APU which will feature 4 Zen cores (or one Zen module) combined with the next gen GCN architecture.  This will be a 14nm part, and the assumption is that it will be GLOBALFOUNDRIES using 14nm FinFET LPP (Low Power Plus) that will be more tuned for larger APUs.  This will also be a full SOC.

The next APU will be codenamed "Basilisk" that will span the 5 watt to 15 watt range.  It will be comprised of 2 Zen cores (1/2 of a Zen module) and likely feature 2 to 4 MB of L3 cache, depending on power requirements.  This looks to be the first Skybridge set of APUs that will share the same infrastructure as the ARM based Amur SOC.  FT4 BGA is the basis for both the 2015 Amur and 2016 Basilisk SOCs.

Finally we have the first iteration of AMD's first ground up implementation of ARM's ARMv8-A ISA.  The "Styx" APU features the new K12 CPU cores that AMD has designed from scratch.  It too will feature the next generation GCN units as well as share the same FT4 BGA connection.  Many are anxiously watching this space to see if AMD can build a better mousetrap when it comes to licensing the ARM ISA (as have Qualcomm, NVIDIA, and others). 

The Desktop

2015 shows no difference in the performance desktop space, as it is still serviced by the now venerable Piledriver based FX parts on AM3+.  The only change we expect to see here is that there will be a handful of new motherboard offerings from the usual suspects that will include the new USB 3.1 functionality derived from a 3rd party controller.

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Mainstream and Performance will utilize the upcoming Godavari APUs.  These are power and speed optimized APUs that are still based on the current Kaveri design.  These look to be a simple refresh/rebadge with a slight performance tweak.  Not exciting, but needs to happen for OEMs.

Low power will continue to be addressed by Beema based APUs.  These are regular Puma based cores (not Puma+).  AMD likely does not have the numbers to justify a new product in this rather small market.

2016 is when things get interesting again.  We see the release of the FM3 socket (final proof that AM3+ is dead) that will house the latest Zen based APUs.  At the top end we see "Summit Ridge" which will be composed of 8 Zen cores (or 2 Zen modules).  This will have 4 MB of L2 cache and 16 MB of L3 cache if our other leaks are correct.  These will be manufactured on 14nm FinFET LPE (the more appropriate process product for larger, more performance oriented parts).  These will not be SOCs.  We can expect these to be the basis of new Opterons as well, but there is obviously no confirmation of that on these particular slides.  This will be the first new product in some years from AMD that has the chance to compete with higher end desktop SKUs from Intel.

From there we have the lower power Bristol Ridge and Basilisk APUs that we already covered in the mobile discussion.  These look to be significant upgrades from the current Kaveri (and upcoming Godavari) APUs.  New graphics cores, new CPU cores, and new SOC implementations where necessary.

AMD will really be shaking up the game in 2016.  At the very least they will have proven that they can still change up their game and release higher end (and hopefully competitive) products.  AMD has enough revenue and cash on hand to survive through 2016 and 2017 at the rate they are going now.  We can only hope that this widescale change will allow AMD to make some significant inroads with OEMs on all levels.  Otherwise Intel is free to do what they want and what price they want across multiple markets.

Source of post/leak.

AMD Zen Diagram Leaked and Analysis

Subject: Processors | April 27, 2015 - 06:06 PM |
Tagged: Zen, Steamroller, Kaveria, k12, Excavator, carrizo, bulldozer, amd

There are some pretty breathless analysis of a single leaked block diagram that is supposedly from AMD.  This is one of the first indications of what the Zen architecture looks like from a CPU core standpoint.  The block diagram is very simple, but looks in the same style as what we have seen from AMD.  There are some labels, but this is almost a 50,000 foot view of the architecture rather than a slightly clearer 10,000 foot view.

There are a few things we know for sure about Zen.  It is a clean sheet design that moves away from what AMD was pursuing with their Bulldozer family of cores.  Zen gives up CMT for SMT support for handling more threads.  The design has a cluster of four cores sharing 8 MB of L3 cache, with each core having access to 512 KB of L2 cache.  There is a lot of optimism that AMD can kick the trend of falling more and more behind Intel every year with this particular design.  Jim Keller is viewed very positively due to his work at AMD in the K7 through K8 days, as well as what he accomplished at Apple with their ARM based offerings.

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One of the first sites to pick up this diagram wrote quite a bit about what they saw.  There was a lot of talk about, “right off the bat just by looking at the block diagram we can tell that Zen will have substantially higher single threaded performance compared to Excavator and the Bulldozer family.”  There was the assumption that because it had two 256-bit FMACs that it could fuse them to create a single 512 bit AVX product.

These assumptions are pretty silly.  This is a very simple block diagram that answers few very important questions about the architecture.  Yes, it shows 6 int pipelines, but we don’t know how many are address generation vs. execution units.  We don’t know how wide decode is.  We don’t know latency to L2 cache, much less how L3 is connected and shared out.  So just because we see more integer pipelines per core does not automatically mean, “Da, more is better, strong like tractor!”  We don’t know what improvements or simplifications we will see in the schedulers.  There is no mention of the front-end other than Fetch and Decode.  How about Branch Prediction?  What is the latency for the memory controller when addressing external memory?

Essentially, this looks like a simplified way of expressing to analysts that AMD is attempting to retain their per core integer performance while boosting floating point/AVX at a similar level.  Other than that, there is very little that can be gleaned from this simple block diagram.

Other leaks that are interesting concerning Zen are the formats that we will see these products integrated into.  One leak detailed a HPC aimed APU that features 16 Zen cores with 32 MB of L3 cache attached to a very large GPU.  Another leak detailed a server level chip that will support 32 cores and will be seen in 2P systems.  Zen certainly appears to be very flexible, and in ways it reminds me of a much beefier Jaguar type CPU.  My gut feeling is that AMD will get closer to Intel than it has been in years, and perhaps they can catch Intel by surprise with a few extra features.  The reality of the situation is that AMD is far behind and only now are we seeing pure-play foundries start to get even close to Intel in terms of process technology.  AMD is very much at a disadvantage here.

Still, the company needs to release new, competitive products that will refill the company coffers.  The previous quarter’s loss has dug into cash reserves, but AMD is still stable in terms of cash on hand and long term debt.  2015 will see new GPUs, an APU refresh, and the release of the new Carrizo parts.  2016 looks to be the make or break year with Zen and K12.

Edit 2015-04-28:  Thanks to SH STON we have a new slide that has been leaked from the same deck as this one.  This has some interesting info in that AMD may be going away from exclusive cache designs.  Exclusive was a good idea when cache was small and expensive, as data was not replicated through each level of cache (L1 was not replicated in L2 and L2 was not replicated in L3).  Intel has been using inclusive cache since forever, where data is replicated and simpler to handle.  Now it looks like AMD is moving towards inclusive.  This is not necessarily a bad thing as the 512 KB of L2 can easily handle what looks to be 128 KB of L1 and the shared 8 MB of L3 cache can easily handle the 2 MB of L2 data.  Here is the link to that slide.

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The new slide in question.

Source: AMD