AMD details upcoming 12nm CPUs, Ryzen APUs, and 7nm Vega

With CES kicking off this week, all the major names have announcements, and AMD is no exception. Tonight, AMD revealed official plans for the coming year's roadmaps, which include a couple of surprises. Let's start with the stuff we were expecting first.

In April, AMD will release updated versions of it's Ryzen processors, currently called 2nd generation Ryzen. We don't have much in the way of specifics, other than the fact that this "Zen+" architecture is a refinement of the existing Zen architecture, and that it uses the new 12nm manufacturing process—which is a half-step update from the previous 14nm node. Both 14nm and 12nm Ryzen parts will continue to be manufactured for now, and there will also be 2nd generation Threadripper parts that use the Zen+ architecture.

Just as a fun fact, if you're trying to picture how tiny 12nm is, a typical human hair is around 7000nm thick. So we're getting down to sizes nearly 1000 times smaller than a human hair.

As for what Zen+ brings in terms of performance, we know AMD intends for the chips to hit higher clockspeeds than the 1st gen Ryzen parts, and that they will feature Precision Boost 2 technology to help in that regard. There don't appear to be any other substantial changes to the underlying architecture, though AMD may have a surprise or two in store. The first new Ryzen parts are expected to launch in April, with updated 2nd gen Threadripper CPUs and Ryzen Pro APUs using the new architecture arriving in the second half of the year.

It's not just about Zen+, however, as Zen 2 and Zen 3 (using 7nm process technology) are looking like solid products for next year and 2020. Zen has been the biggest improvement in AMD CPU architectures since the first Athlon and Athlon 64 products, and it provides a strong foundation for future architectures. AMD also pointed out that it's Ryzen processors have so far proven immune to the Meltdown and Spectre exploits.

Along with the updated processors, AMD will also have a new X470 chipset. The new chipset will not be required, and existing X370/B350/A320 chipsets will support the new processors. AMD says X470 will be "optimized for 2nd generation Ryzen" and that it will be a lower power part, but has not revealed anything more. Considering some of the early growing pains with the AM4 platform, the new chipset may help to further improve performance, stability, and features.

Somewhat buried in the previous year of CPU launches, AMD also released quite a few new APUs that combine Zen processor cores with Vega graphics. Most of these APUs have been in the mobile space, including the Ryzen 7 2700U, Ryzen 5 2500U, and the soon to arrive Ryzen 3 2300U and 2200U. These primarily target ultraportable laptops with 15W TDP, packing up to 4-cores/8-threads and 10 Vega CUs.

Coming next month, AMD will roll out desktop Ryzen APUs, though interestingly AMD will initially have only Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 3 parts. The Ryzen 5 2400G will run at up to 3.9GHz with 4-cores/8-threads and 11 CUs, a 65W TDP, and a price of $169. The Ryzen 3 2200G has 4-cores/4-threads and runs at up to 3.7GHz, with 8 CUs, a 65W TDP, and a price of $99. Obviously, both will offer lower performance than a 6-core or 8-core Ryzen desktop part with a discrete graphics card, but for budget-friendly builds that still offer decent gaming performance the Ryzen APUs will be attractive.

The advantages of AMD's Ryzen APUs in the mobile market will obviously come thanks to lower prices and power requirements, since AMD has also created a relatively high performance custom RX Vega M chip that Intel will be shipping in 8th Gen Core CPUs. Intel doesn't appear to have any current plans for a desktop oriented 8th Gen G-series part, however, so that will remain AMD's domain.

Finally, AMD surprised me with the announcement of an upcoming 7nm Vega part for this year. AMD has previously stated that it will be skipping the 10nm node entirely and going direct to 7nm, but I still wasn't expecting parts quite this soon. There's a catch, however, as AMD says the 7nm Vega parts will initially be destined for machine learning Radeon Instinct products, presumably with consumer variants coming later.

AMD mentions new deep learning operations support for 7nm Vega, which could be something similar to Nvidia's Tensor Cores in GV100. AMD also mentions the 7nm "Navi" architecture, currently penciled in for 2019, and a "next-gen" 7nm+ architecture for 2020. There was no specific timeframe given, so we don't know if 7nm Vega will arrive earlier in the year or later, but I'd lean toward the latter.

Taken as a whole, AMD had a great 2017. Ryzen may not dominate in every area, with gaming in particular being a weak spot, but bang-for-the-buck it's difficult to argue with the Ryzen CPUs. On the graphics front, cryptocurrency continues to cause supply issues, and while Vega ended up being too expensive, too power hungry, and not quite as fast as we would have liked, variants of Vega are moving into new markets. AMD intends to take its momentum from 2017 and carry that through 2018, with aggressive roadmaps and some interesting products. We look forward to continued competition for the coming year.

Jarred Walton

Jarred's love of computers dates back to the dark ages when his dad brought home a DOS 2.3 PC and he left his C-64 behind. He eventually built his first custom PC in 1990 with a 286 12MHz, only to discover it was already woefully outdated when Wing Commander was released a few months later. He holds a BS in Computer Science from Brigham Young University and has been working as a tech journalist since 2004, writing for AnandTech, Maximum PC, and PC Gamer. From the first S3 Virge '3D decelerators' to today's GPUs, Jarred keeps up with all the latest graphics trends and is the one to ask about game performance.