While AMD long ago ceded the high-end of the PC microprocessor market to Intel, the firm has plans for a big comeback later this year with its Zen processor architecture. In the meantime, AMD is making news with its 7th generation A-Series CPUs, which are aimed at mobile PCs, and the Radeon RX Series of VR-capable graphics solutions, which start at just $199.
“We entered 2016 with a great product lineup and growing momentum for AMD’s technologies,” AMD president and CEO Lisa Su said in a prepared statement. “Today’s launch of our 7th Generation A-Series mobile APUs, to be followed closely by new Radeon RX Series GPUs and then our next-generation ‘Summit Ridge’ desktop processor powered by our ‘Zen’ core represent key proof points of our strategy to firmly re-establish AMD as a high-performance design leader.”
Here’s what’s going on with AMD, which made these announcements at the Computex 2016 trade show this week in Taipei.
AMD A-Series CPUs
AMD’s 7th generation A-Series processor lineup are now shipping in volume to PC makers, the firm says. They offer mobile-optimized “Excavator” x86 CPU cores, integrated Radeon graphics, and come in various configurations ranging from 15-watts to 35-watts.
According to AMD, these new chips offer over 50 percent better graphics and compute performance when compared to similar Intel chips. (The FX variants go head to head with the Intel Core i7, AMD says, while the lower-end A-Series processors compare favorably to Intel Pentium and Core i3 chips.)
You’ll see these chips first in new notebook designs from Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo, AMD says.
AMD Radeon RX Series
More interesting, perhaps, AMD also announced its Radeon RX 480 graphics card, which will start at just $199 for the 4 GB model. That’s an important price point, because this is now—or soon will be, when it actually ships in about a month—the cheapest graphics card, by far, that is capable of handling virtual reality (VR) workloads.
Put another way, AMD says that this $200 part delivers the VR performance of a $500 video card.
“VR is the most eagerly anticipated development in immersive computing ever, and is the realization of AMD’s Cinema 2.0 vision that predicted the convergence of immersive experiences and interactivity back in 2008,” AMD senior vice president and chief architect Raja Koduri said in a prepared statement. “As we look to fully connect and immerse humanity through VR, cost remains the daylight between VR being only for the select few, and universal access for everyone. The Radeon™ RX Series is a disruptive technology that adds rocket fuel to the VR inflection point, turning it into a technology with transformational relevance to consumers.”
If you’ve been following the VR scene, you know that mainstream, PC-based VR solutions are very expensive. A VR headset like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive costs several hundred dollars, and they require a PC that typically costs $1500 or more. And a key cost of those PCs if of course the graphics solution. So by lowering the price of VR-capable graphics, AMD is in effect lowering the entry price of VR.
I’m considering choosing an AMD Radeon RX 480 (or perhaps a slightly better model) for my coming gaming PC build. Let me know if you think that makes sense.
While this product is still many months away from shipping, AMD also showed off its upcoming “Zen” high-performance x86 processor core, which the firm says will catapult it back into the high-end PC market. Zen processors will include 8 cores and 16 threads, and will be aimed at high-performance desktops, servers, notebooks and embedded solutions.
“Zen is very, very special project and product for AMD,” Ms. Su said. “We are in the early stages of bring-up but the product looks really good.”
With Intel stumbling badly in mobile—the microprocessor giant recently canceled its Atom processor lineup for phones and small tablets—this is a great time for AMD to strike at the remaining core of Intel’s business. But it’s not clear how long it will take AMD to get Zen into the market.