The Next Gen of CPU's are GPU's are the Most Important in Years

Hardware Jun 13, 2016

That's a rather ambitions title don't you think? Well to be honest with you, I think it's the truth! I think what we will see from AMD will be beneficial to everyone, be they enterprise or consumer, scientist or gamer or even the neglected market of the third world.

Why is this the case? Well lets take a look back at the recent past. In the CPU market, Intel have reigned supreme after AMD's disastrous Bulldozer architecture. Intel did what any good company would do and really capitalized on the situation! The released just before that the cracking i5-2500K and then then the iX-4XXX series CPU's which even 4 years later are awesome! But AMD floundered and improved some what on Bulldozer with Piledriver, but you can only dress shit up so well. And in a market with only two compeititors, you can see where this is going to go and who it will effect the worst.. The Consumer. And it did recently with the release of the Broadwell E chips from Intel. You can get a 10 core chip for a whopping 1700 USD! And not only that, but there are "cheaper" versions of the Broadwell E series with 8 cores but they are hugely expensive compared to their counter parts from the previous generation.

Around the same time, is what I remember Nvidia really getting their hype machine going too. So much so that even I would say I fell victim to buying a GTX 560. Which, not a bad card, but the Radeon HD 6870 was a better card and really held up better in the long run. Nvidia used it's position quickly to start to sign developers up to using it's proprietary system of developing games which has the dubious nick name of Gimpworks since it appears to gimp it's competitors card. Not that AMD's cards were in any way better or worse, they were generally on par, but they had what I at least would call better technologies , if you were will to have a bigger, beefier PSU like FreeSync, which is Open Source and free, compared to Nvidia proprietary and expensive G-Sync. But Nvidia had the market and the hype train and we all know the internet loves a good hype train!

This has all recently come to a head as I mentioned that Intel released it's 10 core processor and Nvidia released their GTX 10XX series of GPU's nicknamed Pascal. Intel charging 1700 USD for a processor costing that much when you can get better Xeon processors for cheaper is just blatant price gouging. Intel are basically seeing how much money they can get out of the consumer for a little performance gain as possible. Nvidia did something similar where they released the GTX 1070 and GTX 1080 recently with big price tags in what was a paper launch. But if you really wanted to, you could by another 100 USD to get a reverence version direct from Nvidia. If you read the tech press reviewing the cards and benchmarking them to Nvidia's Benchmark guides, vs what say, reddit users are getting, they differ wildly.

So why will AMD change this? Well there are a few reasons. Firstly and I think more importantly they have showed off their new Polaris GPU's at Computex and E3. The best so far of them is the RX 480 and at 199 USD it looks like a beast and should compete with the GTX 1070 for about 1/2 the price. And AMD isn't coming back out of it's corner swinging on the GPU front. They have a new CPU's coming too and are taking aim at Intel's big profit margins for high end chips and making what look to be only 8 and 16 core monsters that are on par with Intel's Skylake processors. We don't know pricing yet but they are expected to be again about half the price. And these products are not like Nvidia's cards that are the old architecture scaled down to 16nm or Intel's Broadwell E which is a generation old, but matured process. Neither of those things are bad necessarily, and AMD is guilty of product refreshes as we see with the R9 3XX being a refresh of the R9 2XX GPU's.

Secondly, the developers who make games generally don't just make games for one audience like PC gamer's. They make games for Console too and if you look at what the Hardware of current and future consoles are, they are all built on AMD powered hardware. The developers know exactly what they are doing with AMD systems. Not only that, the XBox One uses a variant of Windows 10 running D3D12 which uses extensive low level coding to get the most out of the system. Playstation uses a variant of AMD's Mantle ported to work with Playstation's modded FreeBSD/BSD OS and Mantle is the basis of Vulkan and both also use extensive low level coding too. So the developers making the games we will be playing in future, are using the API's of the future and are all using AMD hardware. Why would a dev use Nvidia's Gameworks development environment on Intel CPU's when they have been using AMD's GPU open on AMD CPU's behind the scenes?

Thirdly is the technology front. In all honestly, I think that Intel are head and shoulders ahead of AMD in the processor front but, they do have one advantage. In both D3D12, Mantle and Vulkan you have the ability to scale compute across processor cores as needed in a sort of dynamic provisioning. Intel are still on 4 cores and AMD are going 8 core minimum. If you compare some of the AMD Piledriver 8 core FX processors to Intel's most recent 4 core Skylake CPU's in a compute intensive game like Ashes of the Singularity, which admittedly is an AMD Gaming Evolved title, the 4 extra cores can be used can bridge the decide caused by the poor Bulldozer architecture.

Not only that but on the GPU front Nvidia's dominance of the D3D11 era came to a quick end when every D3D12 game showed huge improvement with the exception of the Tomb Raider which, was an Nvidia Gameworks title. Most of this performance improvement comes from a little feature called Async Compute where the hardware can dynamically and asynchronously and diviy up what shaders are doing between graphics and compute tasks thanks to a command processor. Nvidia claims the same can be done with a driver and in software but how you emulate a command processor and expect it to preform the same as bare metal is beyond me and to be honest, I'd love to see what Nvidia bring to the table! That said, with the gains that AMD has made by including it's its design over the years, it gives a lot of life to the the card that have it, something that can not be said for Nvidia's cards in the long run

Finally, AMD are doing something different and are targeting everyone rather than enthusiasts. AMD are looking at overall reducing the cost of computing and opening up the market. AMD are looking towards China, India and Africa as well as the western world. They see a giant market of people who would love to be playing games and they want to make as much hardware as possible available to them and do it giving the best experience possible. And unlike both Intel and Nvidia who are chasing short term profits, AMD are playing the long game.

So in short, Intel and Nvidia have spent the last few years of market dominance price gouging the consumer, but over the next few quarters when we see AMD's new GPU's and CPU's targeting the masses with great technology and the return of AMD's CPU's, it should make the market really competitive. And that can only be good for all.


Paddy Kerley

DFCS at TU Dublin's Cyber Program and talk giver TU Dublin Hacker Soc. Mostly talks about Cyberwarfare, NatSec, Infosec, Big Safari, Arms Control, North Korea, OSINT and stuff that goes boom

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