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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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AMD's Ryzen star

22 May 2019

The world waits with bated breath for the upcoming announcements by AMD's Lisa Su.

Some of these announcements have been widely anticipated by computer users and the press for some time now, thanks to leaks and hints that have become the currency of many a popular YouTube video of late.

What is almost certain to be released at Computex in just days' time are the new series of motherboards designed to support the next generation of Ryzen processors. Unfortunately, the processors themselves are rumoured to be delayed until at least the 3rd quarter of the year.

Also the subject of much rumour and discussion are the 7nm NAVI GPUs, although there has been an growing belief that these may not turn out to be the game-changers that many had originally hoped for.

At the heart of all AMD's new offerings however, is the 7nm process that has placed them well and truly a step ahead of Intel, who have been stuck on 14nm for quite some time and are only now venturing into 10nm territory.

With AMD's imminent announcements, news of the latest round of speculative execution vulnerabilities in Intel's CPU line-up couldn't have come at a worse time for the company. It's starting to look as if they're about to face "the perfect storm".

It seems that at least for now (and possibly forever), the only way to really mitigate the Zombie and other attacks which are the latest based on the flaws in Intel's CPU designs, is to turn off hyperthreading.

That of course, is a real kick in the man-parts to Intel.

The only difference between some of its CPUs and their more expensive versions is the ability to perform hyperthreading. If this feature therefore, has to be disabled, those more expensive chips can no longer command the premium previously being charged for them.

And in comes the new generation of Ryzen chips which promise, not only an immunity to these speculative execution attacks, but far higher core-counts and vastly improved memory architecture, along with faster peripheral-bus support.

How the hell are Intel going to flog their flawed, low-core-count, non-hyperthreading CPUs in the face of cheaper, more secure, better-performing units from AMD?

Before the latest vulnerabilities were announced, I'd have said that Intel might have shrugged this off due to their heavy reliance on the enterprise market where CPUs are bought by the truckload for server farms and cloud-based service providers. Sadly however, these are the very services that are most likely to take a big hit from being forced to disable hyperthreading or run similar performance-robbing mitigation patches. This may well become the very sector of the market that is most likely to start taking a very close look at AMD's lineup (albeit perhaps not the Ryzen series but the more up-market Epyc products.

Meanwhile, back in the land of gamers, internet-users and content-creators, the new Ryzen lineup will certainly cause a big stir by (if rumours are correct) offering an unbeatable bang per buck ratio.

But what about those NAVI GPUs?

Well don't expect too much -- at least that's what I've heard.

It had been hoped that NAVI would do for GPUs what the next generation of Ryzen looks set to do for CPUs. The smaller fabrication process and advanced design was looking set to solve the weaknesses of AMD's Radeon line of GPUs by making them faster and less power-hungry.

Alas... it may not be so.

With the Radeon VII still being marketed and the NAVI expected to be positioned under this card (performance-wise), it's starting to look as if NAVI will be more budget-oriented than performance-based. There'll be no new challenger for the 1080ti in the NAVI line-up, although there might be some keen competition, at least price-wise) for the market up to the 1070 level.

I don't think NVIDIA will be quite as worried by AMD's new products as Intel should be.

But hey... until the formal announcements at Computex and E3 in the coming weeks, it's still just speculation.

However, is a 12-core Ryzen processor on the list for your next computer?

Might you toss out that aging video card in your current machine and throw a cheap (but very capable) NAVI card in it -- if the price is right?

What's Intel's response going to be to their current unenviable situation?

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