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AMD 5nm vs. Intel 7nm: Whose CPUs Will Win?


 

Time traveling is always a risk. When you go to the past, there’s the usual dangers like making sure you don’t talk to your past self, not stepping on any bugs so you don’t trigger the butterfly effect, etc… and when you go to the future, there is the danger that your expectations could be a million miles off of what actually happens.

Well, that second type of time travel is what we’re risking today: we’re gonna take a speculative leap forward in time, to discuss AMD and Intel’s CPUs of the future!

We’ll do our best to base our speculations on available evidence, in the hopes that they won’t be a million miles off of reality (maybe only a thousand miles). So, let’s take a look at some future manufacturing tech, and see who might come out on top in the next era of the ongoing battle between red and blue.

 

Time Travel, Go!

The plan here is that we’re going to compare and contrast some upcoming smaller die packages from both AMD and Intel. This will be a mix of currently released schedules, some informed estimates on performance, and a small dose of Magic 8 Ball usage.

Now, what are we waiting for? Let’s dive into the juicy upcoming details!

Intel 7nm (Meteor Lake)

Overview

Unfortunately for Intel, they’re the ones playing catch-up at the moment. Their last few generation have been been progressively eclipsed by contemporary releases in AMD’s impressive Ryzen lineup. Their most recent 11th-gen CPU releases have only really been popular for those on a budget, as everything from them (including this current generation) are priced as low as they can stomach to overcome the relatively unexciting performance figures on offer.

This isn’t the whole picture, though; it does help them—quite a bit, presumably—that they’re the only brand with consistently available stock, with AMD still struggling to keep up with demand for its processors (more on that later).

Regardless of whether these couple small points in Intel’s favor are outweighed by AMD’s multi-generation dominance, there is light at the end of the tunnel for Intel:

Meteor Lake looks close to its final design stage, with Intel’s new CEO Pat Gelsinger announcing that they will have this nailed down (at least as far as IP is concerned) later this year.

Now, sadly, that does mean we’re going to be looking out to 2023 for this release. Yet what will the 7nm release get us?

This is a tough one to tell for sure, especially in light of the ‘back-engineered 10nm design to 14nm’ for Intel’s 11th gen, which has been met with a solid ‘meh’ from the tech field.

Unlike with that release, however, Meteor Lake looks like a solid attempt by Intel to get back into the swing of things.

“But it’s not Intel ‘making’ the CPU!”

Some were surprised that this development is in partnership with TSMC. The manufacturer should be well known to AMD and Apple fans, but Intel has traditionally made its own CPUs.

Going to TSMC to make their upcoming parts is important for 2 reasons:

  1. At least internally, Intel are not afraid to cut their losses on a design. Part of the problem with 10nm was Intel trying (and failing) for so many years to get it to work. This demonstrates to a lot of Intel’s partners that they now prefer to just get a good product out the door.
  2. TSMC has a proven track record. Honestly, at this point, when you’re dealing with such small margins in the design manufacturing process, it makes sense to go to a company which is already successfully shipping small architecture designs.

What Improvements to Expect

Generally speaking, the first generation on a new process will see modest improvements. For Intel, the big targets for it now are probably cooling and power delivery. However, there could be some reasonable IPC improvements along with this (but nothing too crazy).

Where the 7nm process comes into its own, though, will be in the improvements Intel are touting with its ‘Foveros chip-stacking’ design. This should in theory allow them to jump up in core count to once again go like for like with AMD (if not higher), all while being far cooler and more power-efficient when than Intel’s beyond-aged 14nm process.

What’s more, once Meteor Lake is released, the aim is for Intel to get back to their “Tick-Tock” approach to shrinking and then optimizing the company’s chip technologies about every two years.

My Magic 8 Ball Prediction

“Don’t count on it”

So, here’s what I think will happen. The flagship desktop system CPU by Intel may look as follows:

The, Ahem, “Intel i9-14900K”

Cores/Threads: 12 core, 24 thread

Base Clock: 4.2GHz

Boost (single core): 5.75GHz

Boost (all core): 5GHz

L3 Cache: 30MB

TDP: 105W

Cost: $499

There is an awful lot of speculation here, but some details—like the cost—are things I’m more comfortable guessing, because Intel will have to be at least a touch aggressive on pricing (based on the rapid price cuts on their 11th generation).

I hope that the jump into 7nm will allow Intel to push their clocks higher (both single and all-core), which, along with IPC improvements and the jump back to higher core counts (thanks to the smaller die), will make them competitive again.

Let’s be honest, Intel could use something along those lines right now! But even in a couple years, we probably wouldn’t complain.

However, I’m saying the Magic 8 Ball reports ‘Don’t count on it’ because I’m not entirely convinced Intel can reach these idealized expectations. In fairness to them, AMD struggled with their first-gen Zen CPUs. It was only really their 2000- and 3000-series Ryzen options where they started to gain steam, and 5000-series chips where things took to the skies. That’s a lot of iteration before being top dog. Which Intel really needs to do to get things right, and get back to the top of the pile.

 

AMD 5nm (Zen 4 / Zen 5 “Raphael”)

So, with AMD already using TSMC too, as you might imagine the pandemic has been a spanner in the works for their long-term plans.

On paper, Zen 3 is a success. It has been a wildly popular launch, and is a great way to effectively sign off on this generation of CPUs running on the AM4 socket. It’s a return to form for team red, and a good situation for builders to be in, as competition gives us far more performance for our money.

What’s interesting with AMD now, though, is that they’re almost competing with themselves at this point. I say ‘almost’ because Intel (despite their issues) are definitely still competitive.

The AM4 socket has not been without issues for AMD. They had to quickly backtrack on chipset compatibility with B450 vs B550. And now consumers have to internalize the news from AMD that everything after Zen 3 will require a socket change.

What Improvements to Expect

A Zen 4 Genoa engineering sample reportedly performed 29% faster than existing Zen 3 CPUs at the same clock speeds and core counts.

So, although Genoa is the EPYC (server) design, the core architecture is more-or-less what will be in Zen 4 desktop solutions too. This should rightfully scare Intel, as they’ve only just got themselves more or less back on-par with single-core performance in their 11th-gen CPUs. Zen 3 (specifically the 5950X) still rules the roost here. So, if the improvement is even vaguely close to 29%… watch out, Intel.

As with the previous generation’s improvements, we can expect some reasonable clock advances (let’s see 5GHz+ on the box, please) while also seeing some modest improvements to cooling and power delivery.

So, When is it Coming?

Original plans had EPYC chips “Genoa” and the mainstream CPUs “Raphael” making an appearance in late 2022. However, as mentioned above, TSMC (like every other manufacturer) has struggled hugely to meet demand through 2020 and 2021, and there’s no easy estimates available on how long before things are normalized.

To add a bit of spice to the mix, though, my personal prediction is that this will slip into 2023, right on time to compete with Intel’s 7nm offering.

My Magic 8 Ball Prediction

“It is decidedly so”

So, here’s what I think will happen. The flagship desktop system CPU by AMD may look as follows:

The, Ahem, “AMD Ryzen 9 6950X”

Cores/Threads: 16 core, 32 thread

Base Clock: 4.0GHz

Boost (single core): 5.4GHz

Boost (all core): 4.95GHz

L3 Cache: 64MB

TDP: 105W

Cost: $749

 

Like with my Intel guess, there’s an awful lot of speculation here. The price for this monster, I think, might come back down a touch from the current 5950X’s $799 price, just so it’s not sitting way out there on its own island. Then again, AMD doesn’t really need to do this, so who knows!

I hope that the continued development into 5nm won’t result in more cores, but rather more optimization of the CPU itself. (At this point, AMD’s high-tier chips have far more cores than most programs know what do with, so developers need some time to play catch-up.) Improving the IPC and boost clock performance would be a huge bonus, although I suspect I may possibly be over-estimating the scale of that jump in boost clocks.

That is why, although fundamentally the core should become a little more efficient when going down to 5nm, the TDP stays the same as our current generation. That push for higher boosts is going to need some power to support it for sure. It’s more about how far AMD can push that balance that by 2023.

Basically, a lot of these guesses come down my own suspicion that AMD will remain on top of the pile into 2023. They have a proven design now, and they’re improving on it with each generation of Ryzen. 5nm was always the “end” of the journey as far as they’ve told us so far. Yet, with TSMC testing their 3nm process, it might not be too long into the future before we see Ryzen chips on that…

 

Who is Going to Win the CPU War of the Future?

You know, it was only four years ago that I was writing about the release of a Ryzen product for the first time.

Think about that for a moment. In four years, AMD went from essentially nowhere in the mainstream CPU space to the absolute top competitor. They had a plan, and (pandemics notwithstanding) they have stuck to it.

Intel, on the other hand, who now stands as the master of a bygone era, just cannot seem to catch a break. Their 11th-gen CPUs, while fine, don’t really do much to inspire buyers quite like how AMD has been doing in recent years.

It is due to this recent track record that I’m giving my prediction on the winner of the short-term fight to AMD. Looking forward from now to 2023, they are likely to remain in a far better space than Intel as they are showing no signs of slowing down (at least for now).

That said, think again about what I just said. The market changed dramatically in four short years. In four years more, it could very well have happened again. Therefore:

Final Magic 8 Ball Prediction

“Ask again later”

Yet what do you think?

Am I simply being an AMD fanboy? Are Intel hiding something major to change the game that I’ve overlooked?

Let me know in the comments!

 



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