AMD touts Zen die size advantage at ISSCC

AMD has had a tough time competing with Intel's CPUs over the last few years. The modular philosophy in AMD's construction-core processors could never find the type of integer-heavy parallel workloads it needed to shine. At the same time, Intel continually extended its consistent advantage in manufacturing technology every year, while pushing AMD out of the mobile and server markets almost entirely.

The red team claims it's now back and ready to compete in every CPU metric, including logic gate density. In a paper published as part of the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC), the company claims that its Zen cores have a 10% advantage in die size compared to "Competitor A's" processor built on a 14-nm process.  EETimes' Rick Merritt says this is a reference to Intel's Skylake sixth-generation Core CPUs.

  Zen Competitor A
Tech 14nm 14nm
Cores 4 Cores, 8 Threads 4 Cores, 8 Threads
Area 44mm2 49mm2
L2 512KB, 1.5mm2 per core 256KB, 0.9mm2 per core
L3 8MB, 16mm2 8MB, 19.1mm2
CPP (nm) 78 70
Fin Pitch (nm) 48 42
1x Metal Pitch (nm) 64 52
Standard 6t SRAM (mm2) 0.0806 0.0588
Metal Layers 12 with MiM 13 with MiM

Table data: ISSCC via EETimes

A logic gate density advantage over Intel would be quite an impressive feat, but this news requires a little bit of seasoning. These figures come from AMD alone, since Intel doesn't release die size information. All of Intel's Skylake CPUs carry onboard graphics, but the IGP portion reportedly has not been counted in these measurements. Intel engineers may be the only persons truly capable of identifying exactly what parts of the die are specific to the IGP. Intel's die could also include logic for features like vPro that may not be present in Zen.

Smaller die sizes typically lead to cost savings for silicon manufacturers, though other factors also impact manufacturing costs. The fact that Intel runs its own manufacturing plants while AMD relies on third-party manufacturing from companies like Global Foundries and Samsung surely plays a role in determining AMD's production costs.

Merritt goes on to comment on the techniques AMD has reportedly employed to reduce Zen's switching capacitance by 15% when compared to existing chips. Zen is apparently the first design where AMD used metal-insulator-metal (MIM) capacitors, a move that's said to allow reduced processor voltage and more fine-grained control over per-core frequency and voltage.

AMD has claimed several times that Zen will compete toe-to-toe with Intel's desktop offerings when it comes to performance and power consumption. Now, the red team is saying that it is more than competitive with Intel with respect to silicon density. We can't wait to get Ryzen chips in the lab and tell you how AMD's latest squares up against Kaby Lake.

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