Sidenote: The AMD Ryzen 5000 Series Announcement

Today, AMD finally announced the Ryzen desktop CPUs based on the new Zen 3 core design, and it was a hell of an announcement.

Firstly, the basics. The lineup is called Ryzen 5000 as speculated, and features a top-to-bottom revamp of the existing Zen 2-based lineup, with 6, 8, 12, and 16 core parts all launching on November 5th. Pricing across the board is up by $50 per SKU, with the 6-core part coming in at $300 up to the 16-core at $800. IPC uplift was pegged by AMD at 19%, with higher clock speeds offering further increases in performance, such that the 12-core Ryzen 9 5900X offers an average 26% performance boost in gaming (per AMD’s own benchmarks, so grain of salt) over the current 3900XT part, and offers a smaller boost in gaming performance over Intel’s i9-10900k (which loses all of the AMD-provided benchmarks except Battlefield V, which has very odd performance scaling on the new CPUs per the benchmarks AMD showed). If AMD’s benchmarks hold water (and they generally were accurate during the last generation desktop CPU launch), then the new Ryzen parts are the highest single-core performance on the market, and continue the Ryzen tradition of being the better multicore performers.

Clockspeeds improve slightly over the last generation, with the product stack starting at 4.6 GHz boost for the 6-core and going to 4.9 GHz for the 16-core. Base clocks hover in the high 3 GHz range except for the 16-core at 3.4 GHz, which is fine, since Ryzen never really sits at base clock at all (I’ve never even seen my 3900X lower than 4 GHz). TDP remains the same with the 6-core at 65W and all other parts at 105W, but no disclosure as of yet about included coolers.

The announcement was kept down to the gaming level and so a lot of the architectural details were left out of the presentation, but AMD’s CTO Mark Papermaster’s slides did show a few details of how they’ve further pushed performance. Besides the unified 8-core CCX design they previously discussed, the new CPUs benefit from changes to load/store performance, a wider issue width in both floating point and integer engines, and what they call “Zero Bubble” branch prediction – I am not a programmer or a hardware engineer and so I can’t tell you what that means, but my assumption is that improvements to branch prediction accuracy could further improve performance (although, it is also a space in which to be very cautious, as overzealous branch prediction has been one of the key causes of Intel’s vast wealth of security vulnerabilities).

As far as rumors? Some panned out – higher prices, generally higher IPC (although most predictions fell short of the actual mark on that), higher clock speeds (although no mention of boosting durations or boost clock stability), and then on the rest, predictions fell through. No 10-core part, predicted launch dates were incorrect, the staggered rollout prediction was wrong, no increases to TDP, and that pretty neatly summarizes that portion of things.

There was no announcement of new chipsets for motherboards, which logically tracks as the 500-series chipsets were still rolling out earlier this year. Since it took until June 2020 for B550 to come out at all and there is room for motherboard manufacturers to offer updated designs for B550 and X570 chipsets, AMD left it alone. I’m curious to see what effect this has on the market, though – if a BIOS flash is required at launch (and it likely will be), then rookie enthusiast techies may want to stay away until later, and given the slow pacing in the last two generations for existing boards to roll into retail with updated BIOSes, I’d be nervous about that as well. Last fall, B450 boards still weren’t updated for the third-gen parts out of the box – a build I did for a friend required me bringing a second-gen CPU I had on-hand to flash the BIOS, before swapping to his actual CPU (I destroyed the pins on my CPU doing a cooler swap poorly during that process too, but luckily it was a Ryzen 3 2200G, so not a huge loss!). The increased prevalence of BIOS flashback options on 500-series boards should help, and by limited Zen 3 CPUs to 500-series boards (with 400-series support only for existing owners via beta BIOSes from the motherboard maker), my hope is that AMD has been providing microcode with the necessary components to boot a Zen 3 CPU right out of the box for a while now.

Asus and MSI, so far at least, are the only manufacturers announcing that they’ll have refreshed 500-series boards that offer Zen 3 BIOSes out of the box. Since I wanted an Asus Crosshair VIII Hero Wifi, the announcement of the “Dark Hero” variant of the board with no chipset fan and a darker aesthetic has my interest, and I would struggle to recommend anything MSI given the company’s behavior, especially when this week had the story that they were reselling their own RTX 3080 cards on Ebay at a 2x markup!

AMD ended the announcement with a tease of the Radeon RX 6000, showing a physical card design in-hand and showing a very limited benchmark set which looked great, but was not attributed to any individual card in the lineup, making it harder to get excited about. It looks promising, and 10/28/2020 will be interesting for that reason, but I don’t give the Radeon group a lot of leeway with performance since their teases have not paid off for almost 6 years now. I think they’ll be competitive this generation, but I cannot bring myself to be excited about that announcement…yet.

Overall, I’m really quite excited with this lineup. With Ryzen, AMD has been chasing and gaining on Intel at an alarming pace, accelerated by Intel’s complete lack of new product innovations. In Q1 2021, Intel is set to launch Rocket Lake CPUs, which will have a backported 10nm core design to offer their first new core technology advance in 5 years, but the mobile versions of this design out in the wild already show improved IPC but lower clock speed. AMD already wins IPC with Zen 2, and Zen 3 improves that further while also pushing clockspeeds much, much closer to Intel’s current parts. Either way, the next year is going to be very fascinating for gamers in the CPU space!

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