Last week, AMD gathered together journalists in a conference call to update everyone on their plans moving into the first half of 2016 for their CPU and APU lineups. AMD announced one completely new product, and updated everyone on how they’re planning to sell and bundle their existing products during the year, as they prepare to exhaust inventory for the arrival of socket AM4 and their next generation of chips. There isn’t much information to get through, so I’ll make this quick.
Here’s the final plan of how things are going to go – AMD is going all-in once again with a single socket that supports every chip they’re going to make for the next two years, at the very least. Socket AM4 will service the Summit Ridge and Bristol Ridge family of processors. Summit Ridge is likely to be the high-end part of the market that gets the “FX” moniker, while Bristol Ridge will include the chips that replace the lower-tier Athlon and Sempron processors, and also covers the A-series APUs.
This is an important decision because it’s very likely that while some of AMD’s products will be full system on a chip (SOC) configurations, AMD might have two variations of the AM4 socket – one that has a chipset to support Summit Ridge chips, and one which is made for SOCs. AMD needs to give their board partners the opportunity to differentiate their products from other brands or even their own products, and having a version of socket AM4 that has chipsets with differing levels of features is a good way around this.
This means that once again consumers will have to choose between Intel’s method of needing a new socket every two years for bleeding edge features and performance, or using socket AM4 with an eye to future CPU upgrades on the same motherboard, possibly extending the life of the platform you buy on launch day. Notice that AMD is careful not to give anyone an idea of how big the socket actually is, because doing so might give away some hints about the secret sauce they’ll be employing in the future.
Here we see a summary of the new processors that AMD is putting out to market in the coming weeks. The A10-7860K and A6-7470K are from the Godavari familty of processors, which are slightly refreshed versions of the Kaveri architecture with some lithography improvements and lower power consumption. This is attractive especially when looking at the A10-7860K which has a TDP of 65 watts, a figure which is lower than the 95W TDP on existing Kaveri-based A10 chips. This could mean that it would be able to run on a 90W pico power supply without throttling, which would be big news to anyone building an ultra-small compact desktop.
The new Athlon X4 845 is an unlocked Carrizo-based processor, which is an architecture upgrade to Kaveri and has until now only been found in certain OEM desktops and in high-performance notebooks. It is manufactured on the 28nm process but is tuned for low power consumption, so the bundling of AMD’s new 95W cooler, detailed lower down on this page, might be a move to combat higher temperatures and leakage. The smaller L2 cache and PCI-Express restriction to eight lanes at 3.0 speeds means that this is probably a repurposed mobile FX-8800P APU with the graphics disabled.
It’s still going to be an interesting chip, but the low boost frequency of 3.8GHz tells me that AMD isn’t setting this chip up to be a great performer by any means. Putting it into the Athlon family certainly speaks to this idea of it being a very low-budget processor. AMD wasn’t ready to discuss pricing or availability on this particular model.
On the cooling side of things, AMD told us that the new Wraith cooler, detailed at CES 2016, will be bundled with the FX-8370 processor moving forward, which should make it less necessary to throw the cooler away for something better (if you do end up doing this, throw it my way!).
AMD also has new coolers for the Athlon and A-series processors. The redesigned cooler will ship with the A10-7860K and the Athlon X4 845, which features a slightly larger 92mm fan, a denser heatsink with heatpipes, and a slightly revised mounting bracket for more even pressure across the chip. This new cooler is rated at 95W and is referred to as the “quiet thermal solution”. I quite like the fan retention bracket, which allows you to pop on a better fan without having to unscrew anything.
The other listed A8 and Athlon X4 processors will get a slightly revised heatsink design that just features a different, quieter fan than the old stock one that would squeal when the system was chewing through high workloads. This is now rated for 65W processors, and will never be bundled with the higher-end heatsinks again.
Finally, AMD shared a short list of motherboards from their partners that have some feature parity with Intel’s latest 100-series motherboards. Various socket AM3+ and FM2+ motherboards now boast USB 3.1 Type-C connectors and M.2 SSD support. It’s great that these features are now available, though AMD’s partners are using third-party chipsets to deliver some of these upgrades. AMD could have indicated which motherboards that have M.2 slots also support NVMe booting, because this is basically a BIOS feature which requires support to be added in by the board vendor..
2016 will be an interesting year for the tech industry as a whole, and AMD will have a busy year ahead of it with a new GPU and CPU architecture to launch successfully. This update was welcome, but it’s ultimately not going to be the splash that AMD needs – that’s all down to socket AM4 and Polaris now. I’m really looking forward to that launch and so is everyone else – AMD needs a good year to show that it can still kick Intel in the shins every now and then.