Skylake Now, Or ZEN It Later? Intel VS AMD, About Damn Time!
With the next CPU WAR soon to be upon us, the Intel & AMD Fan Girls and Boys have already started touting the pros of their respective "Brand Choices"! On the same note, these "Individuals" have also started bashing the other side of the CPU spectrum, with no actual reason except "____ Brand sucks, because last time they did ____". So...., which side should the power users, and gamers flock to?
Now, for those of you who have bought a fancy new $200 + mother board, a nice $150-$300 kit of memory, and a shiny new 4 core / 4 module CPU, none of those will be compatible with the new architecture (those are the brakes). On the other hand, if you invested into the LGA 2011 V3 platform, then you probably weren't looking for a mainstream upgrade anyway; although that shinny new kit of DDR4 will be compatible with either of the new architectures. The new sockets will be LGA1151 for Intel, and AM4 for AMD respectively. These two platforms will both require DDR4 memory with the exemption of smaller systems on the Intel end that will use DDR3L memory. Other than the change in memory and socket type, the chipsets on the motherboards will support the usual suspects: SATA 6Gbs, USB 3.0/3.1, and PCI Express 3.0* to name a few. The "*" in PCI Express is because Intel chose to put the controller on the CPU its self.
The Intel Skylake architecture is the "Tock" of their "Tick Tock" strategy of releases. If you are wondering what happened to the "Tick", look to the new i5s and i7s in the mobile market under the "5xxx" series of CPUs as well as Desktop machines from the likes of CyberPowerPC. Intel was struck by delays with their Broadwell architecture; therefor we are seeing Intel bring out two generations of their CPU architecture within the same year. This makes the Skylake release all the more relevant, as Intel has been selling rehashed versions of their Haswell architecture up to this point. Skylake brings the hope of improvements to both per core performance, and the reduction in temperatures which most Overclockers are hoping will bring back the "good old days", when the likes of the 2500k/2600k would allow for speeds up to 5GHZ with appropriate cooling. Intel will still be keeping the core count the same as their LGA1150 compatible lineup: Duel-Core, Duel-Core with HT, Quad-Core, and Quad-Core with HT.
ZEN is a big change for AMD, so much so that the company halted nearly all other projects to get their new architecture in the hands of consumers as soon as possible. The ZEN architecture is AMD's way of saying "our bad" after their last "New" architecture which hit stores under the name FX-8xxx fell short of beating Intel's i7 lineup, and in some cases even the i5. If you are a little lost, AMD's Bulldozer and Piledriver architectures consist of what AMD calls "Modules". These "Modules" consist of two integer cores, two integer schedulers, and two units of L1 Cache with the other resources in the module shared between the two integer cores. This was AMD's solution to compete against Intel's i7 with HT technology. Skip to present day and we now know that the whole module solution was not the best solution to multithreading/multitasking. That being said, AMD will now go with their own version of HT called Simultaneous Multithreading or SMT. The ZEN cores will also get a per core performance bump of 40% according AMD. Global Foundries has also licensed the FinFET design from Samsung to produce the ZEN based CPUs at the 14nm scale for AMD. This scale down bodes well for ZEN, as it will have a lower thermal output, and possibly higher clock speeds as a result. There is also word of the max core count of the ZEN based CPUs, including an 8-16 core APU, and a massive 32 core Opteron chip.
Skylake or ZEN? That is the question we must ask ourselves! At current standing, Intel has the lead in per core performance, and if they keep that lead with Skylake that may keep them ahead of AMD. The list of software in use today whether it be a Game or Content Creation Tool is still driven by single core performance to some degree. This became even more apparent when the Haswell-E lineup was benchmark'd, and it was revealed that there are still many applications that don't scale well past 6 cores let alone 8 or more cores. Software Developers are starting to add more support for multithreading as the core counts increase, and for every core added two threads are gained. If this trend moves faster, it may bode well for ZEN based CPUs, provided that AMD comes out with the core counts we have been anticipating. This still leaves consumers with questions unanswered, because we can not declare a winner in a bout that has not started yet. There are also several factors that may bode well for both AMD and Intel, including the not yet released retail copy of Windows 10 which has better resource management. The best advice I can impose upon the TechDolce readership is to bide your time, and wait for actual real world tests to be performed on both chips. This may be a long wait as ZEN based chips are not due to launch until early 2016, but you will save yourself buyers remorse.