Upcoming AMD UEFI Update Will Improve Ryzen Boost Clocks

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One ongoing question reviewers have been digging into for the past few weeks is the expected behavior of AMD 7nm Ryzen CPUs at high boost clock versus the actual, measured behavior. AMD promised to update the user community today, September 10, as to the expected behavior of its CPUs and what changes would be incorporated in upcoming UEFI revisions.

To briefly recap: Reports in late July showed that some AMD CPUsSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce were only reaching top boost clock frequency on a single CPU core. Last week, overclocker Der8aurer reported the results of a user survey showing that only some AMD 7nm Ryzen CPUs were hitting their full boost clocks (the exact percentage varies by CPU model). Late last week, Paul Alcorn of Tom’s Hardware published an extensive test of how different AMD AGESA versions and UEFI releases from motherboard impacted motherboard clocking. AGESA is the AMD Generic Encapsulated Software Architecture — the procedure library used to initialize the CPU and various components. Motherboard vendors use the AGESA as a template for creating UEFI versions.

What THG found was that different UEFI versions and AGESA releases have shown subtly different clocking results. Later releases have hit slightly lower boost clocks compared with the earlier versions that were used for reviews. At the same time, however, these later versions have also frequently held their boost clocks for longer before down-throttling the CPU.

There’s also evidence that the throttle temperatures have been subtly adjusted, from 80C initially down to 75 before creeping back upwards to 77. These changes would not necessarily impact performance — the CPU is boosting a bit lower, but also boosting longer — but it wasn’t clear what, exactly, AMD was trying to accomplish. During its IFA presentation last week, Intel argued that these subtle variations were evidence that AMD was trying to deal with a potentially significant reliability issue with its processors. THG was unwilling to sign on to that explanation without additional information.


AMD’s Ryzen Master tweaking and monitoring utility

While all of this was unfolding, AMD notified us that it would make an announcement on September 10 concerning a new AGESA update.

AMD’s Update

The text that follows is directly from AMD and concerns the improvements that will be baked into updated UEFIs from various motherboard manufacturers. I normally don’t quote from a blog post this extensively, but I think it’s important to present the exact text of what AMD is saying.

[O]ur analysis indicates that the processor boost algorithm was affected by an issue that could cause target frequencies to be lower than expected. This has been resolved. We’ve also been exploring other opportunities to optimize performance, which can further enhance the frequency. These changes are now being implemented in flashable BIOSes from our motherboard partners. Across the stack of 3rd Gen Ryzen Processors, our internal testing shows that these changes can add approximately 25-50MHz to the current boost frequencies under various workloads.

Our estimation of the benefit is broadly based on workloads like PCMark 10 and Kraken JavaScript Benchmark. The actual improvement may be lower or higher depending on the workload, system configuration, and thermal/cooling solution implemented in the PC. We used the following test system in our analysis:

AMD Reference Motherboard (AGESA 1003ABBA beta BIOS)
2x8GB DDR4-3600C16
AMD Wraith Prism and Noctua NH-D15S coolers
Windows 10 May 2019 Update
22°C ambient test lab
Streacom BC1 Open Benchtable
AMD Chipset Driver 1.8.19.xxx
AMD Ryzen Balanced power plan
BIOS defaults (except memory OC)
These improvements will be available in flashable BIOSes starting in about two to three weeks’ time, depending on the testing and implementation schedule of your motherboard manufacturer.

Going forward, it’s important to understand how our boost technology operates. Our processors perform intelligent real-time analysis of the CPU temperature, motherboard voltage regulator current (amps), socket power (watts), loaded cores, and workload intensity to maximize performance from millisecond to millisecond. Ensuring your system has adequate thermal paste; reliable system cooling; the latest motherboard BIOS; reliable BIOS settings/configuration; the latest AMD chipset driver; and the latest operating system can enhance your experience.

Following the installation of the latest BIOS update, a consumer running a bursty, single threaded application on a PC with the latest software updates and adequate voltage and thermal headroom should see the maximum boost frequency of their processor. PCMark 10 is a good proxy for a user to test the maximum boost frequency of the processor in their system. It is expected that if users run a workload like Cinebench, which runs for an extended period of time, the operating frequencies may be less than the maximum throughout the run.

In addition, we do want to address recent questions about reliability. We perform extensive engineering analysis to develop reliability models and to model the lifetime of our processors before entering mass production. While AGESA 1003AB contained changes to improve system stability and performance for users, changes were not made for product longevity reasons. We do not expect that the improvements that have been made in boost frequency for AGESA 1003ABBA will have any impact on the lifetime of your Ryzen processor. (Emphasis added).

Separately from this, AMD also gave information on firmware changes implemented in AGESA 1003ABBA that are intended to reduce the CPU’s operating voltage by filtering out voltage/frequency boost requests from lightweight applications. The 1003ABBA AGESA now contains an activity filter designed to disregard “intermittent OS and application background noise.” This should lower the CPU’s voltage down to 1.2v as opposed to the higher peaks that have been reported.

New Monitoring SDK

Finally, AMD will release a new monitoring SDK that will allow anyone to build a monitoring tool for measuring various facets of Ryzen CPU performance. There will be more than 30 API calls exposed in the new application, including:

Current operating temperature: Reports the average temperature of the CPU cores over a short sample period. By design, this metric filters transient spikes that can skew temperature reporting.
Peak Core(s) Voltage (PCV): Reports the Voltage Identification (VID) requested by the CPU package of the motherboard voltage regulators. This voltage is set to service the needs of the cores under active load but isn’t necessarily the final voltage experienced by all of the CPU cores.
Average Core Voltage (ACV): Reports the average voltages experienced by all processor cores over a short sample period, factoring in active power management, sleep states, VDROOP, and idle time.
EDC (A), TDC (A), PPT (W): The current and power limits for your motherboard VRMs and processor socket.
Peak Speed: The maximum frequency of the fastest core during the sample period.
Effective Frequency: The frequency of the processor cores after factoring in time spent in sleep states (e.g. cc6 core sleep or pc6 package sleep). Example: One processor core is running at 4GHz while awake, but in cc6 core sleep for 50% of the sample period. The effective frequency of this core would be 2GHz. This value can give you a feel for how often the cores are using aggressive power management capabilities that aren’t immediately obvious (e.g. clock or voltage changes).
Various voltages and clocks, including: SoC voltage, DRAM voltage, fabric clock, memory clock, etc.

Ryzen Master has already been updated to give average core voltage values. AMD expects motherboard manufacturers to begin releasing new UEFIs with the 1003ABBA AGESA version incorporated within two weeks. As we wrote last week and despite rumors from Asus employee Shamino, AMD is not portraying these adjustments to clocking behavior as being related to reliability in any way.

As for AMD’s statements about the improved clocks, I want to wait and see how these changes impact behavior on our own test CPUs before drawing any conclusions. I will say that I don’t expect to see overall performance change much — 25-50MHz is only a 0.5 to 1 percent improvement on a 4.2GHz CPU,SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce and we may not even be able to detect a performance shift in a standard benchmark from such a clock change. But we can monitor clock speeds directly and will report back on the impact of these changes.

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Ice Lake Benchmarks Paint a Complex Picture for Intel’s Latest CPU

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Intel dropped a lot of Ice Lake news today, including an embargo lift on performance data concerning the new CPU. ExtremeTech was not aware that Intel had held a testing event in which reporters from various sites were invited to benchmark Ice Lake under controlled conditions and did not include this data in our initial coverage earlier today. We have reached out to Intel to clarify the situation, given that we were on hand at Architecture Day last winter to report on the initial Ice Lake CPU architecture and have covered Intel’s foundry research and developments for the past eight years.

Now that we actually know what CPU performance factually looks like, we’ve got a much better basis for discussing it relative to Intel’s Whiskey Lake. Our sister site PCMag has done a thorough comparison of Ice Lake against Whiskey Lake, with the Core i7-8565U represented in multiple form factors and systems from different OEMs. That’s actually incredibly useful because it shows just how large the gap between laptops can be, and how important proper testing (and thermals) are.

We’re going to excerpt benchmarks from the PCMag article and highly recommend you read the full story for that publication’s in-depth analysis. Let’s start with Cinebench R15:


Right off the bat, we can see that Ice Lake has some issues in a 15W envelope. The fact that the CPU’s single-threaded performance improves by 1.22x when given room to breathe in a 25W design is evidence that CPU power consumption is throttling the core badly. There’s only a 5 percent spread between the Core i7-8565U machines as far as single-thread is concerned. When we move to multi-threading, giving the CPU 1.66x more thermal headroom results in a 1.33x improvement in performance. Comparing 15W with 15W, the older Intel CPUs are all faster, particularly the HP Envy 13.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce

In the 25W configuration, ICL wins the benchmark overall but is only 5 percent faster than the HP Envy 13. The Ryzen 5 2500U is outperformed (PCMag did not have a Ryzen 7 to compare against or an updated 3000-series APU in a mobile system).

POV-RAY shows some very interesting performance figures, in part because they’re completely different from the Handbrake distribution. The HP Envy 13, which was the fastest Core i7-8565U in Cinebench R15, is the slowest system in Handbrake (apart from the Pentium Gold, which doesn’t really count for our purposes). The Zenbook 13 is a whopping 20 percent faster than the 15W ICL testbed, though that system’s performance is on par with the Spectre X360 and Envy 13. Giving the CPU 25W to play with instead of 15W improves performance by about 24 percent, allowing ICL to beat past its rivals.

There are other results for the CPU-side available at PCMag and I’d look at them for a more complete picture. What we see in aggregate is that a 15W power envelope is a tight fit for the 10th Gen CPU family. Sometimes ICL is a bit faster than the 14nm Whiskey Lake CPUs, sometimes it’s slower, but we don’t see much evidence of improvement in the lower power envelope.

At the same time, however, we also see substantial variation in 14nm Core i7-8565U results. This isn’t surprising; Intel started giving OEMs more freedom to design SKUs back when Core M debuted, but all systems are not created equal. Certain laptops may be noticeably faster than others in certain circumstances. We recently talked about how increased variation in silicon performance explains many of AMD’s decisions around 7nm and the company’s Ryzen 7 products. This is a variation of a decidedly different sort, but that’s actually the point. Silicon companies have begun to design around variance in many ways because simply annihilating it has proven either prohibitively expensive or downright impossible.

That addresses the CPU component of Ice Lake. What about the GPU? Here, the news is much more positive.

In Rise of the Tomb Raider Low, ICL can maintain 40fps at 1366×768 and 26fps at 1920×1080. Interestingly, giving the system more headroom for power took the score down, not up at 768p and held it constant in 1080p. AMD’s lower-end Vega 8 does not compete well here, and while Vega 11 would provide some additional GPU headroom, it’s unlikely to completely close the gap. Only the MX150 and MX250-equipped laptops, with Nvidia GPUs,SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce beat out Intel’s integrated graphics.

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege is impressive, with equal performance between the 15W and 25W CPUs. Again, only the MX150 and MX250 exceed Intel’s integrated performance. AMD’s Vega 8 turns in playable performance at 1366×768 but doesn’t meet the minimum 30fps threshold we consider minimum for 1080p gaming.

All of the GPU figures basically follow this pattern. You’ll see AMD hold its ground better in some than others, but Intel is ahead on the whole. Vega 11 would improve these results, but likely not by enough to change the outcome in most games.

Implications and Conclusion

In our earlier coverage written today, I implied that one reason for Intel’s lower CPU clocks might be because Intel used a larger amount of TDP to provide GPU performance. While there’s probably some truth to this, the 15W-25W performance pattern is different for CPUs compared with GPUs. Moving from 15W to 25W almost always improves CPU performance. Moving from 15W to 25W improves synthetic GPU benchmark performance on ICL, but has a weaker impact on actual games. Only World of Tanks enCore appears to respond strongly to the additional TDP headroom, suggesting that in most cases, that additional wattage isn’t going to the GPU — it’s being used to accelerate the CPU.

Gains for Ice Lake relative to Whiskey Lake are fairly anemic, though this can vary dramatically depending on which Whiskey Lake system you own now. When there’s a 10-15 percent variance between different systems equipped with the same processor, that’s obviously going to impact how ICL compares. Overall, we’d say Ice Lake is comparable to Whiskey Lake — sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but rarely dramatically distinguishing itself one way or the other.

The GPU improvements, on the other hand, are enormous. Assuming that the Ryzen 7 3700U and 3500USEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce are a relatively modest improvement on their predecessors, AMD will need to have 7nm APUs in-market to take ICL on. We have no timeline on when that may happen. Of course, AMD is currently focused on the desktop and server spaces, which means we don’t even know when Intel’s 10nm silicon will face off against AMD’s 7nm in-market.

The third pillar is power consumption and battery life, and we don’t know yet how ICL compares on these metrics; Intel forbid testing the sample laptop for such things. Right now, Ice Lake delivers massive improvements in one area, settles for small gains to small losses in another, and offers an unknown level of improvement in the third. Gamers who want some ability to play on thin-and-lights should be the major beneficiaries of the improvements we’ve seen thus far. If this performance holds, AMD will either need to hit back at Intel on 7nm or see its long domination of the integrated mobile GPU market finally fall — which isn’t honestly a sentence I used to think I’d ever type.

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