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With an Eye Toward Ruffling Intel, AMD Debuts Ryzen Processors

Feb. 22, 2017
The new processors could stoke the fires of AMD's fading competition with Intel, which has faced a cooling personal computer market.
(Image courtesy of Anne Jacko, Creative Commons).

Last year, Advanced Micro Devices lost $497 million while it prepared its latest generation of computer processors. Though it was an improvement over its $1.18 billion loss in 2012, the deficit served as a reminder of the hole it had dug for itself over the last decade.

But on Wednesday, the company took the first step in an attempt to reverse its fortunes. It revealed three new processors based on its Zen architecture, which has been in development for four years. The technology could stoke the fires of AMD's fading competition with Intel, whose chips dominate the personal computer and server markets.

"Zen was a complete new design. We started it from a clean sheet of paper," said Lisa Su, AMD's chief executive, in an event in San Francisco to reveal the new Ryzen processors. "This is, without a doubt, our best product lineup in over a decade," she added, pacing the stage in black heels and medium blue jeans.

The three processors perform on par with Intel's fastest desktop processors while using less power, though AMD has done all the performance tests on the chips. First known by the code name Summit Ridge, the chips are rendered in 14 nanometers. The eight Zen cores inside them pump out 52 percent more instructions per clock than AMD's previous architecture.

The new product family breaks sharply from Intel on pricing. The most advanced of the three chips, the 1800X, costs only $499, which is less than half of Intel's 6900K processors priced at $1,050. The other two processors are priced much closer to comparable Intel chips.

AMD rose to prominence as a second-source supplier for companies buying Intel products. When the licensing deal between the two companies ran out in 1990, AMD started making Intel clones and later its own products, which would rival Intel's technology for personal computers and servers. But the company started slipping around a decade ago.

But Intel's personal computer business has also stumbled recently. Last year, the chipmaker said that it would cut around 12,000 jobs to sharpen its focus on cloud computing and connected devices, while its latest generation of chips, Kaby Lake, received mixed reviews. One reviewer for ArsTechnica was so unimpressed that he said the product "is what happens when a chip company stops trying."

AMD focused on making Ryzen a high-performance part, Su said. The chip uses artificial intelligence to model the code being executed so that it can quickly load instructions and boost the computer's throughput. The chip also contains a power management system to monitor and control temperature, clock frequency, and system voltages.

Though the Ryzen 7 processors are not going on sale until next Thursday, the chips can be pre-ordered from 185 online retailers, including Amazon and Newegg in the United States. Other retailers will sell the chips in Europe and China. They will be sold individually or on motherboards.

These are not only chips based on the Zen architecture that will be released this year. AMD is expected to start selling Opteron server processors in the second quarter and graphics-computer hybrids called APUs are expected to follow in the second half of the year.

William Wong contributed reporting.

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