One of the more interesting announcements by AMD this year at CES was the confirmed upcoming release of Zen+, the successor to the Zen platform—and their accompanying new motherboard chipset, X470. Let’s take a look at these big announcements from AMD, and see what this means for first-generation Ryzen and Threadripper owners!
Good things in small packages?
As someone who built a new PC around a Ryzen 7 1700X, I am well aware of its strengths and weaknesses. The biggest issues most builders have come across are RAM compatibility (and performance) as well as CPU overclocking. The one thing I will say is: motherboard manufacturers are still updating the existing AM4 boards, so have no worry about that. I recently updated the BIOS on my board, which finally allowed me to unlock the full 3000MHz of my RAM; so I’m finally getting my money’s worth there!
AMD are looking to solve these issues for good with these new CPUs, in two parts: an updated 12nm processor and a new motherboard chipset.
As part of this topic, I’m sure many of you have questions about compatibility, upgrading, and so on. As such, I’m going to split the information into these two main parts: information about the CPUs, and information about the motherboard and chipset updates.
New CPU: Ryzen 2nd Generation (Zen+)
Taking a look at the CPU update slated for April 2018 first, one of the things that needs to be mentioned is the smaller die. AMD are making a big push in 2018 to transition onto smaller dies from Zen+ onward. The original Ryzen CPUs were 14nm, with the second generation shrinking to 12nm.
The first place we are going to see this is in the new 2nd-generation Ryzen CPUs in the Zen+ line, but they have also confirmed this shrinking is coming to Vega GPUs later in the year. As part of this, they’re promising higher clocks—something which is greatly needed when comparing to Intel’s single-core performance.
Along with this smaller die change comes an improvement to their Precision Boost technology. Called (shockingly) Precision Boost 2, it is now specifically governed by the CPU temperature, its current, and the load on the chip.
The aim here is to not only allow for a much more responsive automatic boost based on the real chip performance and environment, but—with there being more granularity (just 25MHz steps)—to also allow for much more even cooldown after load spikes.
Coupled with this update will be XFR 2, essentially where (thanks to the higher level of sensor control of the CPU) AMD’s own systems can handle the overclock more adeptly and accurately, versus a user setting a specific overclock. Again, this is much more of a quality-of-life addition, and is designed for people who want performance without the hassle of going into the BIOS and dialing in an overclock manually through trial and error.
The good news for first-generation adopters is that the new Zen+ CPUs are still compatible with the AM4 socket. However, some features and improvements will only be on the new chipset, so let’s get into that.
New Motherboard: X470
You might ask: why a new chipset? Well, a lot of these changes are quality-of-life updates. Essentially, these are changes coming from what the manufacturers learned during the first-gen release! Some of these are probably things you haven’t noticed unless you’re transferring a lot of data (for example, they’re improving the throughput on the USB bus).
A lot of the changes are based around overclocking and cooling. Firstly, there’s going to be a better memory layout, allowing more compatibility with CPU coolers not smacking up against VRM shrouds, as well as hopefully meaning RAM slots are no longer blocked by wide coolers—or for those using RAM with larger heat spreaders.
The other big change is support for the much higher available frequencies of DDR4 RAM. This is one of the bigger issues with the first generation, as Ryzen essentially topped out with 3200MHz RAM. This was a shame because we could see the upticks on the CPU for having the faster speeds. Early motherboard announcements show full support for up to 4000MHz, and some early prototype boards and chips at CES showed them running at 3800MHz already, so this looks like the announcements are right on the money.
The last one is relating to the CPU overclock, which has been announced as being, at the very least, “higher” on the 2nd generation. As such, there’s reduced latency for multiple board connections, as well as a more important improvement to the CPU power delivery system.
But my shiny X350/B350 motherboard!
As I mentioned above in the CPU section, the new CPUs will be compatible with the first-generation boards, as they still use the AM4 socket. The difference here is that you will need to do a BIOS update to make this compatible. What is unknown precisely right now is which of these X470 board updates will be included in BIOS updates for the previous-generation chipsets. Have no doubt: we’ll get to know that closer to March!
All told, this is a very interesting time for AMD. They know they had a good 2017 with Ryzen, and they’re looking to build on that success. I’d be worried if I were Intel right now, as—based on the cooling limitations of their 8th-Generation CPUs—they’re probably close to their limit on that architecture. It will be interesting to see what Intel does next. Meanwhile, AMD is coming out swinging with significant updates. (Did I mention there’s a 2nd-generation Threadripper coming later in year off the back of this as well?)
It doesn’t end with Zen+ either. Zen 2, their 7nm processor, has been marked as ‘on schedule’ and they’re working with samples. That would potentially imply a 2019 release. Plus, as I mentioned at the top of the article, Radeon have learnt from the mistakes of Vega and are coming out not only with a smaller die for it, but Navi has now been confirmed as on-track too. So look out, NVIDIA!
But what do you think about this? Are you an Intel fan waiting for Intel’s response, an AMD fan excited for AMD’s releases, someone on one side with a different position, or are you neutral—just hoping that all of this competition means lower prices and faster chips for everyone? Let me know in the comments!