AMD’s new logo for their Zen processor family was shown off during their Computex live stream, and it reminds me not of a tranquil garden, but rather of Ouroboros, the mythical dragon eating its own tail in a symbol of death and rebirth. In a manner of speaking, this symbol represents cyclicality, the notion that there’s a pattern to things in life, and that the dragon needs to kill itself before being reborn anew. Perhaps it’s a nod to AMD’s return to performance compute markets in the desktop segment, as they take the fight back to Intel for the first time since then-CEO Rory Read threw up the white flag and told investors that AMD was no longer competing against Intel. In any case, Zen is coming in 2016, and that logo is the first sign of the branding AMD is likely to use to signify its comeback.
AMD CEO Lisa Su stepped onto the stage at the end of the Computex briefing to fill everyone in on how Zen was doing. With exception to AMD’s Vega architecture, Zen is probably the most talked-about unreleased product from a silicon manufacturer in recent memory. Thankfully, things still seem to be on track after radio silence about the project for just over five months, and AMD is sampling Zen chips to priority, high-end customers starting next month.
Before the end of Q3 2016, they’ll have sampled more partners in a larger rollout, and it’s possible that Q4 2016 will finally see the chip’s launch on the new socket AM4 platform. We have yet to see anything about socket AM4, however it can’t be far away now. AMD has just released their Bristol Ridge APUs for mobile platforms, so they can’t stall for too long.
For the first time, actual Zen silicon was also shown to the public. Although the processor’s package didn’t seem to have any pins on the rear, we’re still in the dark about whether Zen will use a pin-grid array (PGA) socket or move to LGA just like Intel (engineering sample chips can go either way early on). The heatspreader and packaging is pretty close to the dimensions on current chips on socket AM3+, and this chip has almost identical dimensions. It’s difficult to figure out anything else about Zen from this early tease, but at least those of you on custom water loops and who own expensive, heavy CPU coolers can use your old equipment with the new hotness.
There is, otherwise, nothing new about Zen from a performance standpoint, and AMD is playing their cards very close to the chest. Zen’s launch will miss Intel’s Kaby Lake launch by a few months, and Intel will be selling those chips like hotcakes on the market while AMD fans cling in desperation to their wallets, holding out for the one that will save AMD from going completely bust.
If AMD comes close, even by 5% to Intel’s Haswell single-core performance, they’re easily capable of upping the clock speeds a bit and selling Zen in direct competition with Skylake, Broadwell-E, and Kaby Lake. The second half of 2016 is going to play host to a very close, hotly contested race indeed.