The High-Level Zen Overview

AMD is keen to stress that the Zen project had three main goals: core, cache and power. The power aspect of the design is one that was very aggressive – not in the sense of aiming for a mobile-first design, but efficiency at the higher performance levels was key in order to be competitive again. It is worth noting that AMD did not mention ‘die size’ in any of the three main goals, which is usually a requirement as well. Arguably you can make a massive core design to run at high performance and low latency, but it comes at the expense of die size which makes the cost of such a design from a product standpoint less economical (if AMD had to rely on 500mm2 die designs in consumer at 14nm, they would be priced way too high). Nevertheless, power was the main concern rather than pure performance or function, which have been typical AMD targets in the past. The shifting of the goal posts was part of the process to creating Zen.

This slide contains a number of features we will hit on later in this piece but covers a number of main topics which come under those main three goals of core, cache and power.

For the core, having bigger and wider everything was to be expected, however maintaining a low latency can be difficult. Features such as the micro-op cache help most instruction streams improve in performance and bypass parts of potentially long-cycle repetitive operations, but also the larger dispatch, larger retire, larger schedulers and better branch prediction means that higher throughput can be maintained longer and in the fastest order possible. Add in dual threads and the applicability of keeping the functional units occupied with full queues also improves multi-threaded performance.

For the caches, having a faster prefetch and better algorithms ensures the data is ready when each of the caches when a thread needs it. Aiming for faster caches was AMD’s target, and while they are not disclosing latencies or bandwidth at this time, we are being told that L1/L2 bandwidth is doubled with L3 up to 5x.

For the power, AMD has taken what it learned with Carrizo and moved it forward. This involves more aggressive monitoring of critical paths around the core, and better control of the frequency and power in various regions of the silicon. Zen will have more clock regions (it seems various parts of the back-end and front-end can be gated as needed) with features that help improve power efficiency, such as the micro-op cache, the Stack Engine (dedicated low power address manipulation unit) and Move elimination (low-power method for register adjustment - pointers to registers are adjusted rather than going through the high-power scheduler).

The Big Core Diagram

We saw this diagram last week, but now we get updates on some of the bigger features AMD wants to promote:

The improved branch predictor allows for 2 branches per Branch Target Buffer (BTB), but in the event of tagged instructions will filter through the micro-op cache. On the other side, the decoder can dispatch 4 instructions per cycle however some of those instructions can be fused into the micro-op queue. Fused instructions still come out of the queue as two micro-ops, but take up less buffer space as a result.

As mentioned earlier, the INT and FP pipes and schedulers are separated, but the INT rename space is 168 registers wide, which feeds into 6x14 scheduling queues. The FP employs as 160 entry register file, and both the FP and INT sections feed into a 192-entry retire queue. The retire queue can operate at 8 instructions per cycle, moving up from 4/cycle in previous AMD microarchitectures.

The load/store units are improved, supporting a 72 out-of-order loads, similar to Skylake. We’ll discuss this a bit later. On the FP side there are four pipes (compared to three in previous designs) which support combined 128-bit FMAC instructions. These cannot be combined for one 256-bit AVX2, but can be scheduled for AVX2 over two instructions.

AMD Zen Microarchiture Part 2 Fetch and Decode


View All Comments

  • tipoo - Wednesday, August 31, 2016 - link

    Bulldozers engineering samples were 2.5GHz and that shipped stupid high clocked. Zen ESs being 3GHz doesn't worry me. Reply
  • Cooe - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    Holy CRAP did history ever make you look like an absolute freaking idiot! xD Reply
  • extide - Monday, August 29, 2016 - link

    Well, they have already shown an 8-core Zen running at full load at 3Ghz with their regular OEM heatsink/fans, and those are rated at 125W TDP max, so we do already know that's possible. Reply
  • defter - Wednesday, August 24, 2016 - link

    It's 40% IPC improvement, not 40% overall improvement. If you improve IPC by 40% and achieve 85% of the clock speed, the total improvement will be only 20%.

    Since AMD hasn't talked about clock speed we can assume that it will be lower than Bulldozer.
  • euskalzabe - Wednesday, August 24, 2016 - link

    Let me fix that for you: "Since AMD hasn't talked about clock speed we can assume..." absolutely nothing and can only wait until the final product is released. Reply
  • retrospooty - Wednesday, August 24, 2016 - link

    Actually he is right and probably understating it. If AMD says it qill have 40% IPC improvement, it is probably not true, or true only in a few select benchmarks. If AMD left out the clockspeed it is almost definitely going to lower. AMD has zero credibility with pre-release performance claims. Nothing AMD says can be takes at its word until retail units (not engineering samples) are independently tested. Reply
  • Azix - Wednesday, August 24, 2016 - link

    why the flying fork would the clock speed be lower? I hope you dont mean lower than they have shown, that would make no sense.

    Bulldozer engineering samples were maybe 2.5Ghz or 3Ghz. Additionally, talking about actual clock speeds would be to give away sku information. How they plan to structure the product line etc.
  • Outlander_04 - Thursday, August 25, 2016 - link

    Both intel Broadwell-e and Zen were at 3 Ghz for the comparison .
    Broadwell-e maxes out at 3.6 Ghz , but most models are at 3.2 Ghz .
    Dont let your prejudices cause you to jump to conclusions.
    Zen could easily be released running at higher clock rates
  • silverblue - Wednesday, August 24, 2016 - link

    Imagine for a second that Zen was clocked like the FX-8320E, that is a 3.2GHz base with 4.0GHz boost. Would a 40 to 50% average IPC boost make Zen competitive?

    For all we know, Zen could be conservatively clocked, paving the way for Zen+ with moderate tweaks and increased clocks; a bit like Piledriver vs. Bulldozer, as opposed to Phenom II vs. Phenom.
  • looncraz - Wednesday, August 24, 2016 - link

    Zen will clock very close to 4Ghz out of the box - AMD kept most of the speed-demon elements of Bulldozer, such as the long pipelines. They also used dedicated, simple, schedulers - which is where frequency limits are frequently found... and they also put the L3 cache on a different clock bus, meaning it might operate at a different frequency from the cores... again.

    The engineering samples are always clocked low, so if they are running at 3Ghz for a demo, then they will be able to achieve at least 3.4~3.6Ghz, with 4Ghz boost clocks on eight-core CPUs. Quad core units will obviously go higher, still. That is why half the cores still has 70% of the power draw - it's operating higher up the frequency curve. 3.8Ghz base, 4.2Ghz boost for the top quad core SKU seems very likely given what is known.

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