AMD builds semi-custom SoC with Zen and Vega for Chinese gaming market

Subject: Graphics Cards, Processors | August 3, 2018 - 04:41 PM |
Tagged: Zen, Vega, SoC, ryzen, China, APU, amd

This story originally appeared on

Continuing down the path with its semi-custom design division, AMD today announced a partnership with Chinese company Zhongshan Subor to design and build a new chip to be utilized for both a Chinese gaming PC and Chinese gaming console.

The chip itself will include a quad-core integration of the Zen processor supporting 8 threads at a clock speed of 3.0 GHz, no Turbo or XFR is included. The graphics portion is built around a Vega GPU with 24 Compute Units running at 1.3 GHz. Each CU has 64 stream processors giving the “Fenghuang” chip a total of 1536 SPs. That is the same size GPU used in the Kaby Lake-G Vega M GH part, but with a higher clock speed.

The memory system is also interesting as Zhongshan Subor has integrated 8GB of GDDR5 on a single package. (Update: AMD has clarified that this is a GDDR5 memory controller on package, and the memory itself is on the mainboard. Much more sensible.) This is different than how Intel integrated basically the same product from AMD as it utilized HBM2 memory. As far as I can see, this is the first time that an AMD-built SoC has utilized GDDR memory for both the GPU and CPU outside of the designs used for Microsoft and Sony.

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This custom built product will still support AMD and Radeon-specific features like FreeSync, the Radeon Software suite, and next-gen architecture features like Rapid Packed Math. It is being built at GlobalFoundries.

Though there are differences in the apparent specs from the leaks that showed up online earlier in the year, they are pretty close. This story thought the custom SoC would include a 28 CU GPU and HBM2. Perhaps there is another chip design for a different customer pending or more likely there were competing integrations and the announced version won out due to cost efficiency.

Zhongshan Subor is a Chinese holding company that owns everything from retail stores to an education technology business. You might have heard its name in association with a gluttony of Super Famicom clones years back. I don’t expect this new console to have near the reach of an Xbox or PlayStation but with the size of the Chinese market, anything is possible if the content portfolio is there.

It is interesting that despite the aggressiveness of both Microsoft and Sony in the console space in regards to hardware upgrades this generation, this Chinese design will be the first to ship with a Zen-based APU, though it will lag behind the graphics performance of the Xbox One X (and probably PS4 Pro). Don’t be surprised if both major console players integrate a similar style of APU design with their next-generation products, pairing Zen with Vega.

Revenue for AMD from this arrangement is hard to predict but it does get an upfront fee from any semi-custom chip customer for the design and validation of the product. There is no commitment for a minimum chip purchase so AMD will see extended income only if the console and PC built around the APU succeeds.

Enthusiasts and PC builders have already started questioning whether this is the type of product that might make its way to the consumer. The truth is that the market for a high-performance, fully-integrated SoC like this is quite small, with DIY and SI (system integrator) markets preferring discrete components most of the time. If we remove the GDDR5 integration, which is one of the key specs that makes the “Fenghuang” chip so interesting and expensive, I’d bet the 24 CU GPU would be choked by standard DDR4/5 DRAM. For now, don’t hold out hope that AMD takes the engineering work of this Chinese gaming product and applies it to the general consumer market.

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August 3, 2018 | 07:38 PM - Posted by BobFusedBoutThat (not verified)

"(Update: AMD has clarified that this is a GDDR5 memory controller on package, and the memory itself is on the mainboard. Much more sensible.)

That's much more realistic. AMD really needs to hire some Copy editors with technical knowledge of their products their promotional/news materials are full of errors lately.

Well that's good for Semi-Custom that's part of AMD's EESC accounting/division. But Epyc revenues will be putting those other revenue streams to shame PDQ, and I'll include Professional GPU Compute/AI Accelerator products in with Epyc Revenues because that's where the highest markups are for AMD to counter any lower markup consumer/console PC/GPU gaming revenues that will not remain the revenue leader at AMD much longer. That AI market for Epyc along with Radeon Instinct is going to be AMD's real bread and butter.

The only guestion about GDDR5 and the Zen cores making use of GDDR5 also is what about any latency hiding for Zen and GDDR5? The bandwidth is sure there but latency is different for Graphics Oriented memory. I hope that AMD has Increased the Zen CPUs L3 cache size for this semi-custom SKU.

August 4, 2018 | 01:15 AM - Posted by collie

Question. It this destine to be a windows/directX progect, or are we looking at something more custom os-ish?

August 4, 2018 | 10:27 AM - Posted by NoRedmondOSAndAPIsTatNeedApply (not verified)

Windows/DX is a M$ only sort of thing and the Chinese will be using some form of Linux/BSD based OS just as Soney uses for its PS4 system. I'll bet that Vulkan will be what the Chinese maker will be using and also some DX## to Vulkan translation layers that already is available like DXVK and Wine for running lagacy games.

There will be a PC version Using this APU also and why should that be tied to M$'s spying that many want to avoid. Sony and The Chinese are not going to be using DX/anything M$ based.

The PS4 runs Orbis OS, a modified version of FreeBSD that's similar to Linux and runs an operating system called Orbis OS, which is a modified version of FreeBSD 9.

The Chinese will be wanting to use Vulkan and that's a good thing as that will be supported for Phones also with the Vulkan API being a truely cross Platform Graphics API, unlike DX11/12 and Apple's Metal.

August 5, 2018 | 01:35 AM - Posted by collie

Very interesting, first I gota point out I'm one of the oldies here, I know windows/dx is m$, and as much as I want to be out of the Win spectrum, I game, DX is, thanks to shit tones of $ manipulation, it's still current best API for the bestest modern games. Sorry. Not because it's technologically superior, just cuz they created an artificial monopoly. Sorry.

Now that that's outa the way, I have very little knowledge of the Chinese gaming market, since the 90's anyways. Do they not use windows as the primary pc os? Most developed country's around the world, India and japan included, primarily use localized windows on most of their pc's, even tho consoles and mobile devices represent a whoping majority share of their connected devices.

So I'm wondering, do you have experience or personal study of the Chinese pc/gaming world, or inside info, or are you just purely speculating, WHICH IS OK, this is a free and open form for hardware enthusiasts to chat about things that the rest of the world finds incomprehensible/boring as fuck, just curious.

August 5, 2018 | 11:43 AM - Posted by CriticalInstallMassIsWhatThisSemi-CustomAPUWillBring (not verified)

Look at SONY and the PS4 games run fine on the PS4 on a version of the BSD operating system for SONY to not have to use windows and give M$ 30% off of the top with that M$ store thing, along with the spying and the selling of user metrics. So SONY for the Japanese/world market does not owe M$ SQUAT. And there you have the motivation for SONY a Japenese/Worldwide Electronics maker and the Chinese Maker of this console will not want M$'s hooks into its cash flow action any more than SONY wants or needs M$ in its cash flow action.

Now on the PC market and any of this same Chinese Company's Linensed semi-custom AMD SKU that's another matter. But the Chinese are wanting to reduce their dependency on all technology not local to the best of their ability, hense that Licensing deal with AMD via AMD's semi-custom division for consoles and PCs that make use of this APU product.
The Chinese could use Linux or BSD they are all basically *nix like OSs in their basic design. I'd think that the Chinese will want their OSs used to be non Redmond based and that's for financial/ecosystem reasons mostly, even though the Chinese will be claiming national reasons.

The good thing about using Linux and BSD for this product is that any AMD Zen/Vega APU based Gaming PC will benifit from that massive install base of this Semi-Custom APU, or any Zen/Vega APUs. So that's going to be great for Linux/Vulkan gaming worldwide, and BSD gaming also if the Chinese choose a BSD variant for their console. Vulkan will most definitely be the Targeted Graphics API and That will allow this company/games makers to target games for the Android phone/tablet market also.

Really it's the money that's talking for this Chinese Company, and SONY and the rest of the Non M$ console/phone/tablet based world that is the biggest market for games, Much bigger than only the PC market for games. Look at Nintendo's switch, it runs a BSD Kernel based OS and Vulkan is the graphics API.

Why target Windows and DX## when the Linux/BSD Kernel based OS install base on Consoles/Phones/Tablets using the Vulkan Graphics API amounts to so much more billions of devices worldwide.

Sure there are Chinese PC gamers uing Windows but that's not going to remain so for much longer as more Linux/BSD based games start to arrive that target this console and any PCs that may make use of the same APU, and any PC's that may be using the same Semi-Custom APU, or any Zen/Vega APU. The Chinese market and Billions invested in the Linux/BSD OS kernel based Console/Phone/Tablet gaming market will do more for that alternative to Windows OS options than has ever happened in the EU on PCs/Laptops.

I'm sure there will be games developers that will be getting their hands on one of these if they do not already have a development platform. They will want to get a start in advance of the remainder of the console world switching over to Zen/Vega APUs! And this product based on Zen/Vega will accelarate SONY's and M$'s adoption sooner rather than later for some Full Zen/Vega console APUs of their own in order to remain competative.

Games will more quickly become optimized for Zen/Vega as the sheer numbers as these New Zen/Vega consoles come to market in advance of the entire AMD based non M$ OS based Console market moving on to using Zen/Vega semi-custom based APU products and targeting the Vulkan Graphics API.

This is great news for Valve and their Steam OS option as that software will port over with minimal work. I think that Valve could get a better Steam Machine via a semi-cuatom deal with AMD for some new APU variant and that's going to become much more feasible ecnomically. Because now that this Chinese Console will enter the maket in China and probably most of Asia and India, and elesewhere, using Zen/Vega based hardware the demand will be there.

Who Knows if these Consoles will not be sold in the EU, in addition to Asia/India and even the US. Most Consoles come out of the factories in China/Asia anyways for markets world wide. And now there are Three Big AMD APU console makers with one now fully on Zen/Vega Hardware. It looks like the Console peasants will inherit the earth via the Chinese/World markets. Lord Gaben is sure ready for some possible action to come his way and Steam OS has got Valve ready for that.

Vega graphics via the total numbers of untis of APUs that are now based on Zen/Integrated-Vega graphics will have the largerst install base of CPU/Integrated-Graphics hardware very soon no questions now. Hell even Intel has some Limited Vega/Polaris hybrid graphics that will probably be updated before Intel brings its own non-integrated graphics to market. Once the Games/Gaming Engine makers tweak for Rapid Packed Math on this New Semi-Cuatom APU the rest of the console world will be moving up their next generation Zen/Vega Semi-Custom release schedule in order to compete, ditto for Targeting Vega's Explicit Primitive Shader Hardware for better gaming performance on that New Console.

August 4, 2018 | 10:45 AM - Posted by NakedDieLunch (not verified)

Some Riddit user has posted a ChipHell image of the die on the mainboard, I hope that Bulidzoid can get some analysis going for that.

"AMD SoC for Zhongshan Subor Pictured"

August 4, 2018 | 08:35 AM - Posted by Tralalak (not verified)

The Chinese market has become very interesting for x86 / x86-64 join venture manufacturers.

1. Shanghai Zhaoxin Semiconductor Co., Ltd. join venture company with VIA Technologies Inc. (VIA Alliance Semiconductor Co Ltd) powered and designed by Centaur Technology.

2. Chinese-designed "Dhyana" x86 processors based on AMD's Zen microarchitecture are beginning to surface from Chinese chip producer Hygon (Tianjin Haiguang Advanced Technology Investment Company Ltd., join venture company with Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.) for Chinese server market.

3. Chinese company Zhongshan Subor Advanced Tchnology Co. Ltd to design and build with AMD semi-custom SoC Zen and Vega for Chinese gaming market.

August 6, 2018 | 03:43 AM - Posted by JohnGR

Oh, this is something it should have been done years ago. An FM2+ A8 7600 APU, for example, with a bigger integrated GPU and GDDR5, on a single motherboard, could have sell really well as an HTPC option or a Steam machine.

I wonder if AMD couldn't have done that because of their agreements with Sony and Microsoft. Maybe they couldn't offer hardware options that would compete directly, in hardware, with those two consoles. Or maybe they didn't had the money back then for a project like this. Or maybe would would have to wait for 14nm first. Who knows.

August 7, 2018 | 10:53 AM - Posted by ItsSureCostlyAndCostsHaveToGetPaidSomehow (not verified)

Anandtech has an Update article and the console is using a custom skinned version of windows 10 on this console SKU only and the PC version gets regular 10 on that variant that will also make use of the same semi-custom APU. But just how much that will be tied into MS's gaming ecosystem on the console variant is not known.

AMD really needs to double down at 7nm on some HBM2 or even eDRAM on its APU offerings. Even a single stack of HBM2/eDRAM at 1GB would help acting in concert with integrated Vega's HBCC as HBC(Highe Bandwidth Cache).

AMD should be making any Zen2 based consumer SKUs with even larger cache levels so as to reduce the need for as many slower, and latency inducing, system DRAM accesses as possible on any executing thread, espeically any draw call threads on its APUs or even CPUs.

Hell if there could be a MB standard that would support GDDR5/6 on the MB available to Integrated Graphics in concert with regular system DIMM based DRAM, that would be great, but it would be very costly/too costly. Once HBM2 becomes relatively cheaper it should be available for both CPUs and GPUs including SOCs/APUs with integrated graphics. Vega can make use of any faster tier of memory as High Bandwidth Cache via that HBCC IP that's included on discrete Vega and Raven Ridge Zen/With Vage graphics.

Gaming Consoles may just be where gaming is going if the PC Motherboard makers do not start adoption of DDR5 or faster DRAM standards sooner, ditto for PCIe 4.0/5.0 made use of sooner rather than later.

HBM2 and MCMs and Systems on a Module/Interposer made up of CPU/GPU/HBM2 die chiplets and enough bandwidth to feed the graphics and the CPU's cores at low latency. Slower system DRAM needs to be made into second tier memory with all CPUs/GPUs using HBM2/Newer as last level cache at the lowest latency possible, maybe even mixed with some on die eDRAM for gaming oriented CPUs/SOCs/APUs.

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