This week AMD gave us an introduction to Zen as it slowly reveals more and more of this highly-anticipated PC and Server processor. I’ve been following this for some time and I know a number of the PC and Server OEMs are very excited about this part, partially because Intel is clearly focusing on a lot of things having nothing to do with what it builds. Recently it feels like Intel is on the wrong side of the “PC is dead” argument, so having AMD step forward to fill that gap is being very well received.
Let’s talk a bit about Zen this week.
Back in the 1990s AMD and Intel fought far harder than they have for the last decade or so across a variety of battlefields. What happened was that both companies lost their way for a bit as they were driven by their respective boards to chase the mobile opportunity and the market that Apple largely created with the iPhone. Intel being vastly larger was able to weather this mistake better, even though it burned billions more in failed attempts to create a competitive Intel smartphone.
AMD didn’t ever come as close to having that kind of an offering though it did thrash around in an attempt to create an ARM-based server part with a similar lack of success. Unfortunately, it also stumbled on its existing server lines, and AMD has largely been out of the top end of both PC processors and server processors for an extended period as a result.
AMD did become dominant with game systems and currently is in both the Xbox and PlayStation, which have been doing surprisingly well in a market that is awash with set-top box products.
However recently Intel began a hard pivot towards the expanding potential of things like drones, autonomous cars, AI (artificial intelligence), and IoT (the Internet of Things)—providing an opportunity for AMD, which remained focused on PCs and creating a new server part to move back into the market.
The Zen Move
We saw the result this week and it was impressive. A completely new x86 design based not on the workloads of the past but those we have today. Tuned for gaming—but with significant server potential in test benchmarks—it appears very competitive.
Until this part starts shipping and we can do some independent testing, making detailed comparisons would be premature. But, one that stood out was against Intel’s most powerful gaming CPU. With a test part AMD demonstrated it is more than competitive and it will have its gaming part out before the end of the year suggesting AMD will have an interesting surprise for Intel, and a nice surprise for a lot of gamers come year end.
What made this all happen was a combination of things. A CEO who was near legendary at IBM for her skill, coupled with a team of engineers pulled from across the industry and focused like lasers on creating a new powerful processor to power the next generation of PCs.
AMD appears to have created a powerful part with Zen and it comes at a time when its largest competitor is focused on other market segments. This has created an amazing opportunity, but one that wouldn’t exist had AMD not put together one of the most powerful engineering teams I’ve ever seen and stayed tightly focused on the markets it knows.
For some reason this reminds me a bit of “the Ballad of the Noob”—a song about how an experienced Worlds of Warcraft Player was beaten by a novice player because the experienced player thought himself invincible and the novice just didn’t give up. Maybe after all of this is over I’ll have to write “The Ballad of AMD”, making this outcome even more legendary. Regardless, watch for some fireworks in the fourth quarter as, I expect you’ll see as I have, that AMD has truly risen to the opportunity to drive some excitement into the PC market.