The word zen conjures up images of harmony and tranquility, but AMD's new Zen 3 based processors are set to really shake up the CPU space, nothing tranquil about it.
A little under four years ago, the first Zen generation was big news because it offered good price to performance and was a very compelling value for those needing a lot of computing course. But the biggest headline, of course, was that AMD chips no longer absolutely sucked compared to their Intel counterparts.
This time around, AMD hasn't just made something decent. It looks like they have snatched the single threaded performance crown away from Intel, which has alluded them for over a decade. So what is it about Zen 3 that's allowed team red to pull ahead?
Zen 3 is actually based on the same seven nanometer process as Zen 2, meaning that this isn't a generational improvement that comes from just cramming more transistors onto a chip. Instead, AMD made a few key improvements to the architecture with branch prediction being one of them.
Branch prediction is a key feature of virtually all modern processors and it helps the CPU predict which instructions it will have to execute next before requests from other parts of the system arrive.
This feature is responsible for a large amount of the overall performance of modern CPUs, as well as the infamous Spectre and meltdown bugs.
AMD's new branch predictor not only has more bandwidth, but it can also recover from misses more quickly. That basically means that the CPU can more easily write itself when the branch predictor makes an incorrect prediction.
Another big change is to the cache. In case you're not familiar, CPU cache is a small amount of very high-speed memory that's built right into the CPU die and is intended to contain the data that the CPU needs to process lickety-split.
Zen 2 had four CPU cores accessing a shared 16 megabyte level three cache. Well, Zen 3 doubles those numbers with each CCX core complex, having up to eight cores, sharing 32 megs of cache.
AMD says that this makes both core to core and core to cache communication more efficient. But what does this all add up to in terms of performance?
AMD is boasting that Zen 3 has an instructions per clock increase of 19% over the previous generation, hence the big single threaded performance boost which is still by the way very important for gamers.
AMD's internal benchmarks indicate that their top end Zen 3 offering beats an Intel Core i9 10,900 K in 20 out of 30 games tested.
Of course, you'll want to take first party benchmarks like these with a grain of salt. AMD is pretty confident though that it is finally mostly achieved parody or even nudged ahead of Intel overall saying that average 10 ADP gaming performance is up 26% versus Zen 2. And outside of raw gaming performance, AMD is also claiming that its six cores Zen 3 chip beats at 10 core 10,900 K in a single-threaded Cinebench run. So team red is using that to appeal to content creators.
As for enthusiasts, AMD says you should be able to push your RAM up to four gigahertz. A bit higher than Zen 2. Do remember however that if you're planning to pair your chip with an older 400 series chip set, you'll probably be waiting until sometime early next year for a compatible bios.
The first few chips in the product stack are listed right here and they range from the six core 12 thread Ryzen 5 5,600X for 300 bucks all the way up to the 16 core 32 thread Ryzen 9 5950X for $800. Now some of these prices are actually more expensive than their Intel equivalents, but keep in mind that with the IPC improvements, AMD still thinks they'll be in a strong price to performance position.
Now it does remain to be seen as Intel's next generation Rocket Lake desktop chips are due in the first quarter of 2021. But are you going to wait and see how team blue fires back or pick up a Zen 3 chip right now? Let us know down in the comments and remember to set aside some of your CPU money so you can still buy your mother-in-law a Christmas card.