Intel Walks Back Apollo Lake CPU Recall


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Last week, Intel published a PCN (Public Change Notice) on its QDMS website declaring that certain Apollo Lake processors had flaws and would be discontinued. The initial notification the company published was straightforward: An issue had been identified with the Low Pin Count (LPC) Real Time Clock (RTC) SD Card interface on Intel Celeron N3350, J3355, J3455, and the Intel Pentium N4200 processors. According to Intel, this issue results “in degradation of these signals at a rate higher than Intel’s quality goals after multiple years in service.”

Original-Notification

Apollo Lake is the 14nm Goldmont-powered follow-up to Intel’s Bay Trail platform from several years ago. The Goldmont architecture provides a significant performance uplift compared with the old Silvermont architecture, and it pairs the newer CPUSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce design with Skylake Gen9 graphics. It’s since been succeeded in-market by its own refresh, Gemini Lake. Goldmont / Apollo Lake parts first shipped in 2016. The original plan was to replace the old B1 stepping of these parts with a new F1 stepping.

Then, after sites had begun to pick up on the announcement, it vanished. The company has now replaced it with a new PCN and different instructions for end customers.

Intel-Notification-Revision2

According to this new document, customers who do not need “Intel IOTG Long Life Product Availability” can continue to rely on the B1 stepping parts without any worry. Only customers who need a guarantee under this program, it’s implied, may need to switch from B1 to F1 steppings. The F1 parts, meanwhile, are confirmed to still match all PC hardware requirements.

There are a few more pieces to this puzzle to consider. First, Intel dealt with a very similar problem to this back in 2017, when it announced it would set up a reserve fund for repair costs related to issues with the Atom C2000 family. These parts, codenamed Avoton, had exactly the same issue — Circuit degradation can lead to early product failure.

Also in 2017, Intel extended the expected platform life for its IoT products, from seven years to 15. It may be that this is the “Intel IOTG Long Life Product Availability” that the company referred to in the text above. What Intel is saying, we think, is that only customers who expect to need platform support for the full 15 years are going to have anything to worry about. Customers who are planning to use the hardware for a length of time that corresponds to the typical PC lifecycle, on the other hand, won’t need to replace equipment.

As for why Intel pulled this PDN and replaced it with a different one, the company is likely sensitive to the idea that any of its products have reliability issues. The fact that this problem seems to be repeating — Apollo Lake chips from 2016 are having problems in 2019, just as Avoton chips launched in 2013 started having issues in 2016 — is not a positive. Hopefully, the new F1 steppings resolve this issue, once and for all.

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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.

Ryzen-Master-AMD

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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Razer’s Upcoming Intel-Powered Switch 13 Will Offer 25W Switchable TDP


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When Intel took the lid off of Ice Lake, we noted that the performance data for the CPU was complex. On the GPU side of things, Ice Lake is a huge leap forward, with substantially higher performance than anything we’ve seen from Intel integrated graphics before. The CPU, however, was a rather mixed bag. When restrained to a 15W TDP, Ice Lake CPUs weren’t necessarily faster than the Coffee Lake chips they are intended to replace and were often somewhat slower. If you give the CPU additional headroom, this problem resolves — but of course, giving the chip more power to play with has a negative impact on heat and battery life.

When Intel invited reviewers to test Ice Lake, the test systems it offered had a toggle switch to flip from 15W to 25W envelopes. That’s how PCMag and other publications were able to test the laptop in both modes, as shown below:

Users don’t usually have this kind of option. TDP ranges are typically pre-defined by the OEM and are not something that the end user can modify, for obvious reasons — cranking up laptop TDP is a good way to overheat the system if you don’t know what you’re doing and if the laptop isn’t specifically designed to run at the higher power level. To the best of our knowledge (until today), no consumer laptop could actually change its TDP values on the fly. At the Ice Lake testing event, Intel told reviewers that the Ice Lake laptops sold at retail wouldn’t have this option, either.

There appears to be at least one exception to this rule, however. The Razer Blade 13 will have an adjustable TDP that can be configured through Razer’s Synapse software. Supposedly this capability has always existed, going back to the original Razer Blade. If this is true, it’s not something the company previously seems to have highlighted — Google doesn’t bring up any results referring to an adjustable TDP on previous versions of the Razer Blade,SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce unless you count the fact that the laptop would down-clock under load in some circumstances. To be clear, the ability to run the CPU in a lower power envelope under load isn’t the same thing as being able to voluntarily put it in a higher TDP mode and operate it with additional power headroom.

Given that Intel had already told reviewers not to expect adjustable TDP ranges as a major laptop feature, this raises the question: Is this specific to Razer, or will we see more laptop manufacturers taking advantage of these new capabilities? Will Intel make adjustable TDPs a feature that high-end customers can shell out for if they want the option?

Razer’s website for the new Blade states that the system will use a 25W Ice Lake CPU, but does not mention anything about the system being adjustable within a 15W versus a 25W power envelope.

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Intel Core i9-9900KS Ships in Oct., Cascade Lake-X Nearly Doubles Performance Per Dollar


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Intel made some product announcements at a pre-IFA event in Berlin this week, including news on the Core i9-9900KS that it announced earlier this summer and an upcoming product refresh for its Core X family. Intel has been pushed onto its proverbial heels by AMD’s 7nm onslaught, and it has yet to respond to those products in a significant way. These new parts should help do that, albeit at the high end of the market.

First, there’s the Core i9-9900KS. This CPU is a specially-binned Core i9-9900K, with the ability to hit 5GHz on all eight CPU cores, and a 4GHz base clock. That’s a 1.1x improvement over base clock on the 9900K, but the impact of the all-core 5GHz boost is harder to estimate. A sustained all-core 5GHz clock speed would be substantially higher than the Core i9-9900K we have here at ET — but Intel CPUsSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce no longer hold their full clocks under sustained load. Our Core i9-9900K will turbo up to high clocks for 20-30 seconds, depending on the workload, before falling back to speeds in the lower 4GHz range when run on our Asus Z390 motherboard.

A faster Core i9 will undoubtedly improve Intel’s positioning against the Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 9 family,SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce but even a chip that could hold an all-core 5GHz boost won’t catch the 12-core/24-thread Ryzen 9 3900X in most multi-threaded applications that can scale up to 12 cores. The gap between the two parts is too large to be closed in such a manner.

What the 9900KS will do for Intel, however, is give it a little more room to maneuver in gaming performance, which is where the company is making its stand. On the desktop side of things, Intel is facing a genuinely tough competitive situation, and even the advent of 10-core desktop CPUs may not solve the problem.

Cascade Lake May Meaningfully Respond to Threadripper

For the past two years, AMD has hammered Intel with high-performing, (relatively) low-cost workstation processors. Even though Intel’s Skylake X CPUs have often punched above their weight class compared with the Core family, AMD’s willingness to shove tons of cores into its chips has secured it the lead as far as performance/dollar, as well as the absolute performance lead in many well-threaded applications.

Intel may intend to challenge this in a far more serious way this year. The company showed the following slide at IFA:

The implication of this slide is that Intel will launch new Cascade X CPUs at substantially lower per-core prices than it has previously offered. We say “implication,” however, because technically this is a slide of performance per dollar, not price. Imagine two hypothetical CPUs, one with a price of $1,000 and performance of 1x, while the other chip costs $1,500 and has 2x the performance of the first chip. The second chip is 1.5x more expensive than the first but offers 1.33x more performance/dollar.

With AMD potentially eyeing Threadripper CPUs with up to 64 cores, however, Intel may not feel it has a choice. We haven’t heard from AMD on this point yet, so much is up in the air. There seems to be a battle brewing in these segments — hopefully, Intel will bring a much more price-competitive series of parts to market.

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Intel Is Suddenly Very Concerned With ‘Real-World’ Benchmarking


Since at least Computex, Intel has been raising concerns with reviewers about the types of tests we run, which applications reviewers tend to use, and whether those tests are capturing ‘real-world’ performance. Specifically, Intel feels that far too much emphasis is put on tests like Cinebench, while the applications that people actually use are practically ignored.

Let’s get a few things out of the way up-front.

Every company has benchmarks that it prefers and benchmarks that it dislikes. The fact that some tests run better on AMD versus Intel, or on Nvidia versus AMD, is not, in and of itself, evidence that the benchmark has been deliberately designed to favor one company or the other. Companies tend to raise concerns about which benchmarks reviewers are using when they are facing increased competitive pressure in the market. Those of you who think Intel is raising questions about the tests we reviewers collectively use partly because it’s losing in a lot of those tests are not wrong. But just because a company has self-interested reasons to be raising questions doesn’t automatically mean that the company is wrong, either. And since I don’t spend dozens of hours and occasional all-nighters testing hardware to give people a false idea of how it will perform, I’m always willing to revisit my own conclusions.

What follows are my own thoughts on this situation. I don’t claim to speak for any other reviewer other than myself.

Maxon-Cinema4D

One wonders what Maxon thinks of this, given that it was a major Intel partner at SIGGRAPH.

What Does ‘Real-World’ Performance Actually Mean?

Being in favor of real-world hardware benchmarks is one of the least controversial opinions one can hold in computing. I’ve met people who didn’t necessarily care about the difference between synthetic and real-world tests, but I don’t ever recall meeting someone who thought real-world testing was irrelevant. The fact that nearly everyone agrees on this point does not mean everyone agrees on where the lines are between a real-world and a synthetic benchmark. Consider the following scenarios:

  • A developer creates a compute benchmark that tests GPU performance on both AMD and Nvidia hardware. It measures the performance both GPU families should offer in CUDA and OpenCL. Comparisons show that its results map reasonably well to applications in the field.
  • A 3D rendering company creates a standalone version of its application to compare performance across CPUs and/or GPUs. The standalone test accurately captures the basic performance of the (very expensive) 3D rendering suite in a simple, easy-to-use test.
  • A 3D rendering company creates a number of test scenes for benchmarking its full application suite. Each scene focuses on highlighting a specific technique or technology. They are collectively intended to show the performance impact of various features rather than offering a single overall render.
  • A game includes a built-in benchmark test. Instead of replicating an exact scene from in-game, the developers build a demo that tests every aspect of engine performance over a several-minute period. The test can be used to measure the performance of new features in an API like DX11.
  • A game includes a built-in benchmark test. This test is based on a single map or event in-game. It accurately measures performance in that specific map or scenario, but does not include any data on other maps or scenarios.

You’re going to have your own opinion about which of these scenarios (if any) constitute a real-world benchmark, and which do not. Let me ask you a different question — one that I genuinely believe is more important than whether a test is “real-world” or not. Which of these hypothetical benchmarks tells you something useful about the performance of the product being tested?

The answer is: “Potentially, all of them.” Which benchmark I pick is a function of the question that I’m asking. A synthetic or standalone test that functions as a good model for a different application is still accurately modeling performance in that application. It may be a far better model for real-world performance than tests performed in an application that has been heavily optimized for a specific architecture. Even though all of the tests in the optimized app are “real-world” — they reflect real workloads and tasks — the application may itself be an unrepresentative outlier.

All of the scenarios I outlined above have the potential to be good benchmarks, depending on how well they generalize to other applications. Generalization is important in reviewing. In my experience, reviewers generally try to balance applications known to favor one company with apps that run well on everyone’s hardware. Oftentimes, if a vendor-specific feature is enabled in one set of data, reviews will include a second set of data with the same featured disabled, in order to provide a more neutral comparison. Running vendor-specific flags can sometimes harm the ability of the test to speak to a wider audience.

Intel Proposes an Alternate Approach

Up until now, we’ve talked strictly about whether a test is real-world in light of whether the results generalize to other applications. There is, however, another way to frame the topic. Intel surveyed users to see which applications they actually used, then presented us with that data. It looks like this:

Intel-Real-World

The implication here is that by testing the most common applications installed on people’s hardware, we can capture a better, more representative use-case. This feels intuitively true — but the reality is more complicated.

Just because an application is frequently used doesn’t make it an objectively good benchmark. Some applications are not particularly demanding. While there are absolutely scenarios in which measuring Chrome performance could be important, like the low-end notebook space, good reviews of these products already include these types of tests. In the high-end enthusiast context, Chrome is unlikely to be a taxing application. Are there test scenarios that can make it taxing? Yes. But those scenarios don’t reflect the way the application is most commonly used.

The real-world experience of using Chrome on a Ryzen 7 3800XSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce is identical to using it on a Core i9-9900K.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce Even if this were this not the case, Google makes it difficult to keep a previous version of Chrome available for continued A/B testing. Many people run extensions and adblockers, which have their own impact on performance. Does that mean reviewers shouldn’t test Chrome? Of course it doesn’t. That’s why many laptop reviews absolutely do test Chrome, particularly in the context of browser-based battery life, where Chrome, Firefox, and Edge are known to produce different results. Fit the benchmark to the situation.

There was a time when I spent much more time testing many of the applications on this list than we do now. When I began my career, most benchmark suites focused on office applications and basic 2D graphics tests. I remember when swapping out someone’s GPU could meaningfully improve 2D picture quality and Windows’ UI responsiveness, even without upgrading their monitor. When I wrote for Ars Technica, I wrote comparisons of CPU usage during HD content decoding, because at the time, there were meaningful differences to be found. If you think back to when Atom netbooks debuted, many reviews focused on issues like UI responsiveness with an Nvidia Ion GPU solution and compared it with Intel’s integrated graphics. Why? Because Ion made a noticeable difference to overall UI performance. Reviewers don’t ignore these issues. Publications tend to return to them when meaningful differentiation exists.

I do not pick review benchmarks solely because the application is popular, though popularity may figure into the final decision. The goal, in a general review, is to pick tests that will generalize well to other applications. The fact that a person has Steam or Battle.net installed tells me nothing. Is that person playing Overwatch or WoW Classic? Are they playing Minecraft or No Man’s Sky? Do they choose MMORPGs or FPS-type games, or are they just stalled out in Goat Simulator 2017? Are they actually playing any games at all? I can’t know without more data.

The applications on this list that show meaningful performance differences in common tasks are typically tested already. Publications like Puget Systems regularly publish performance comparisons in the Adobe suite. In some cases, the reason applications aren’t tested more often is that there have been longstanding concerns about the reliability and accuracy of the benchmark suite that most commonly includes them.

I’m always interested in better methods of measuring PC performance. Intel absolutely has a part to play in that process — the company has been helpful on many occasions when it comes to finding ways to highlight new features or troubleshoot issues. But the only way to find meaningful differences in hardware is to find meaningful differences in tests. Again, generally speaking, you’ll see reviewers check laptops for gaps in battery life and power consumption as well as performance. In GPUs, we look for differences in frame time and framerate. Because none of us can run every workload, we look for applications with generalizable results. At ET, I run multiple rendering applications specifically to ensure we aren’t favoring any single vendor or solution. That’s why I test Cinebench, Blender, Maxwell Render, and Corona Render. When it comes to media encoding, Handbrake is virtually everyone’s go-to solution — but we check in both H.264 and H.265 to ensure we capture multiple test scenarios. When tests prove to be inaccurate or insufficient to capture the data I need, I use different tests.

The False Dichotomy

The much-argued difference between “synthetic” and “real-world” benchmarks is a poor framing of the issue. What matters, in the end, is whether the benchmark data presented by the reviewer collectively offers an accurate view of expected device performance. As Rob Williams details at Techgage, Intel has been only too happy to use Maxon’s Cinebench as a benchmark at times when its own CPU cores were dominating performance. In a recent post on Medium, Intel’s Ryan Shrout wrote:

Today at IFA we held an event for attending members of the media and analyst community on a topic that’s very near and dear to our heart — Real World Performance. We’ve been holding these events for a few months now beginning at Computex and then at E3, and we’ve learned a lot along the way. The process has reinforced our opinion on synthetic benchmarks: they provide value if you want a quick and narrow perspective on performance. We still use them internally and know many of you do as well, but the reality is they are increasingly inaccurate in assessing real-world performance for the user, regardless of the product segment in question.

Sounds damning. He follows it up with this slide:

Intel-OEM-Optimization

To demonstrate the supposed inferiority of synthetic tests, Intel shows 14 separate results, 10 of which are drawn from 3DMark and PCMark. Both of these apps are generally considered to be synthetic applications. When the company presents data on its own performance versus ARM, it pulls the same trick again:

Intel-versus-ARM

Why is Intel referring back to synthetic applications in the same blog post in which it specifically calls them out as a poor choice compared with supposedly superior “real-world” tests? Maybe it’s because Intel makes its benchmark choices just like we reviewers do — with an eye towards results that are representative and reproducible, using affordable tests, with good feature sets that don’t crash or fail for unknown reasons after install. Maybe Intel also has trouble keeping up with the sheer flood of software released on an ongoing basis and picks tests to represent its products that it can depend on. Maybe it wants to continue to develop its own synthetic benchmarks like WebXPRT without throwing that entire effort under a bus, even though it’s simultaneously trying to imply that the benchmarks AMD has relied on are inaccurate.

And maybe it’s because the entire synthetic-versus-real-world framing is bad to start with.

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AMD Sales Are Booming, but High-End Ryzen 3000 CPUs Still in Short Supply


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After the Ryzen 3000 family debuted on 7nm, German retailer Mindfactory.de released data from its own CPU sales showing that demand for the smaller CPU manufacturer’s products had skyrocketed. That demand continued straight through August, but product shortages may be hampering overall sales.

Once again, Ingebor on Reddit has shared data on CPUSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce sales, CPU revenue share, and average selling prices. The results are once again a major win for AMD, though overall shipments declined this month compared with July.

Mindfactory-Sept

While the absolute number of CPUs fell, AMD held virtually the same market share. Sales of second-generation products continue to be strong, even with third-gen Ryzen in-market. On the AMD side, shipments of the Ryzen 9 3900X fell, as did sales of the Ryzen 7 3700X, and 3800X. The Ryzen 5 3600 substantially expanded its overall market share. Intel shipments appear to have been virtually identical, in terms of which CPU SKUs were selling the best.

Mindfactory-Sept-Revenue

Now we look at the market in terms of revenue. Intel’s share is higher here, thanks to higher selling prices. The Ryzen 9 3900X made a significantly smaller revenue contribution in August, as did the Ryzen 7 3700X. Sometimes the revenue graphs show us a different side of performance compared with sales charts, but this month the two graphs generally line up as expected.

One place where the Ryzen 5 3600’s share gains definitely hit AMD is in terms of its average selling price. In June, AMD’s ASP in Euros was €238.89. In August, it slipped downwards, to €216.04, a decline of 10.5 percent. Intel’s ASPs actually improved slightly, from €296.87 to €308.36, a gain of ~4 percent. This could be read as suggesting that a few buyers saw what AMD had to offer and opted to buy a high-end Core CPUSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce instead. And on Reddit, Ingebor notes that low availability on the Ryzen 9 3900X definitely hit AMD’s revenue share, writing:

Except for the 3900X, all Matisse CPUs where available for most of the time and sold pretty well (not so much the 3800X, which dropped in price sharply towards the end of the month). These shortages can be seen in the revenue drop and a lower average sales price compared to last month.

For most of the month, the 3900X was unavailable with a date of availability constantly pushed out by mindfactory. Seems like the amount of CPUs they got do not suffice to satisfy their backlog of orders. The next date is the 6th of September. Hopefully the next month will finally see some decent availability. Also it remains to be seen when the 3950X will start to sell and whether it will be in better supply.

Ingebor also noted that there’s been no hint of official Intel price cuts, despite rumors that the company might respond to 7nm Ryzen CPUs by enacting them.

The Limits of Retail Analysis

It’s incredibly useful that Mindfactory releases this information, but keep in mind that it represents sales at one company, in one country. We don’t doubt that AMD is seeing sales growth across its 7nm product lines, but the retail channel is a subset of the desktop market, and the desktop market is dwarfed by the laptop market.

Statista-PC-Market-Share

Data from Statista makes the point. Even if we ignore tablets, only about 36.7 percent of the computing market is desktops. Trying to estimate the size of the PC retail channel is difficult; figures I’ve seen in the past suggest it’s 10-20 percent of the space. If true, that would suggest Mindfactory, Newegg, Amazon, and similar companies collectively account for 3.6 to 7.3 percent of the overall PC market. AMD and Intel split this space, with the size of the split depending on the relative competitive standing of each company, hardware availability in the local market, and any country-specific preferences for one vendor versus the other.

This is why you’ll see websites write stories about how AMD is dominating sales at a specific retailer, followed by stories that show a relatively small gain in total market share. It’s not that either story is necessarily wrong; they capture different markets.

Overall, AMD is in a strong competitive position at the moment. Just keep in mind that data sets like this, while valuable and interesting, only capture a small section of the overall space.

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Survey: Many AMD Ryzen 3000 CPUs Don’t Hit Full Boost Clock


Overclocker Der8auer has published the results of a survey of more than 3,000 Ryzen 7nm owners who have purchased AMD’s new CPUs since they went on sale in July. Last month, reports surfaced that the Ryzen 3000 family weren’t hitting their boost clocks as well as some enthusiasts expected. Now, we have some data on exactly what those figures look like.

There are, however, two confounding variables. First, Der8auer had no way to sort out which AMD users had installed Windows 1903 and were using the most recent version of the company’s chipset drivers. AMD recommends both to ensure maximum performance and desired boost behavior. Der8auer acknowledges this but believes the onus is on AMD to communicate with end-users regarding the need to use certain Windows versions to achieve maximum performance.

Second, there’s the fact that surveys like this tend to be self-selecting. It’s possible that only the subset of end-users who aren’t seeing the performance they desire will respond in such a survey. Der8auer acknowledges this as well, calling it a very valid point, but believes that his overall viewing community is generally pro-AMD and favorably inclined towards the smaller CPU manufacturer. The full video can be seen below; we’ve excerpted some of the graphs for discussion.

Der8auer went over the data from the survey thoroughly in order to throw out results that didn’t make sense or were obviously submitted in bad faith. He compiled data on the 3600, 3600X, 3700X, 3800X, and 3900X.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce Clock distributions were measured at up to two deviations from the mean. Maximum boost clock was tested using Cinebench R15’s single-threaded test, as per AMD’s recommendation.

Der8auer-3600

Data and chart by Der8auer. Click to enlarge

In the case of the Ryzen 7 3600, 49.8 percent of CPUs hit their boost clock of 4.2GHz, as shown above. As clocks rise, however, the number of CPUs that can hit their boost clock drops. Just 9.8 percent of 3600X CPUs hit their 4.4GHz. The 3700X’s chart is shown below for comparison:

Data and chart by Der8auer. Click to enlarge

The majority of 3700X CPUs are capable of hitting 4.375GHz, but the 4.4GHz boost clock is a tougher leap. The 3800X does improve on these figures, with 26.7 percent of CPUs hitting boost clock. This seems to mirror what we’ve heard from other sources, which have implied that the 3800X is a better overclocker than the 3700X. The 3900X struggles more, however, with just 5.6 percent of CPUs hitting their full boost clock.

We can assume that at least some of the people who participated in this study did not have Windows 10 1903 or updated AMD drivers installed, but AMD users had the most reason to install those updates in the first place, which should help limit the impact of the confounding variable.

The Ambiguous Meaning of ‘Up To’

Following his analysis of the results, Der8auer makes it clear that he still recommends AMD’s 7nm Ryzen CPUs with comments like “I absolutely recommend buying these CPUs.” There’s no ambiguity in his statements and none in our performance review. AMD’s 7nm Ryzen CPUs are excellent. But an excellent product can still have issues that need to be discussed. So let’s talk about CPU clocks.

The entire reason that Intel (who debuted the capability) launched Turbo Boost as a product feature was to give itself leeway when it came to CPU clocks. At first, CPUs with “Turbo Boost” simply appeared to treat the higher, optional frequency as their effective target frequency even when under 100 percent load. This is no longer true, for multiple reasons. CPUs from AMD and Intel will sometimes run at lower clocks depending on the mix of AVX instructions. Top-end CPUs like the Core i9-9900K may throttle back substantially when under full load for a sustained period of time (20-30 seconds) if the motherboard is configured to use Intel default power settings.

In other realms, like smartphones, it is not necessarily unusual for a device to never run at maximum clock. Smartphone vendors don’t advertise base clocks at all and don’t provide any information about sustained SoC clock under load. Oftentimes it is left to reviewers to typify device behavior based on post-launch analysis. But CPUs from both Intel and AMD have typically been viewed as at least theoretically being willing capable of hitting boost clock in some circumstances.

The reason I say that view is “theoretical” is that we see a lot of variation in CPU behavior, even over the course of a single review cycle. It’s common for UEFI updates to arrive after our testing has already begun. Oftentimes, those updated UEFIs specifically fix issues with clocking. We correspond with various motherboard manufacturers to tell them what we’ve observed and we update platforms throughout the review to make certain power behavior is appropriate and that boards are working as intended. When checking overall performance, however, we tend to compare benchmark results against manufacturer expectations as opposed to strictly focusing on clock speed (performance, after all, is what we are attempting to measure). If performance is oddly low or high, CPU and RAM clocks are the first place to check.

It’s not unusual, however, to be plus-or-minus 2-3 percent relative to either the manufacturer or our fellow reviewers, and occasional excursions of 5-7 percent may not be extraordinary if the benchmark is known for producing a wider spread of scores. Some tests are also more sensitive than others to RAM timing, SSD speed, or a host of other factors.

Now, consider Der8auer’s data on the Ryzen 9 3900X:

Der8auer-3900X

Image and data by Der8auer. Click to enlarge

Just 5 percent of the CPUs in the batch are capable of hitting 4.6GHz. But a CPU clocked at 4.6GHz is just 2 percent faster than a CPU clocking in at 4.5GHz. A 2 percent gap between two products is close enough that we call it an effective tie. If you were to evaluate CPUs strictly on the basis of performance, with a reasonable margin of say, 3 percent, you’d wind up with an “acceptable” clock range of 4,462MHz – 4,738MHz (assuming a 1:1 relationship between CPU clock and performance). And if you allow for that variance in the graphs above, a significantly larger percentage — though no, not all — of AMD CPUs “qualify” as effectively reaching their top clock.

On the other hand, 4.5GHz or below is factually not 4.6GHz. There are at least two meaningfully different ways to interpret the meaning of “up to” in this context. Does “up to X.XGHz” mean that the CPU will hit its boost clock some of the time, under certain circumstances? Or does it mean that certain CPUs will be able to hit these boost frequencies, but that you won’t know if you have one or not? And how much does that distinction matter, if the overall performance of the part matches the expected performance that the end-user will receive?

Keep in mind that one thing these results don’t tell us is what overall performance looks like across the entire spread of Ryzen 7 CPUs. Simply knowing the highest boost clock that the CPU hits doesn’t show us how long it sustained that clock. A CPU that holds a steady clock of 4.5GHz from start to finish will outperform a CPU that bursts to 4.6GHz for one second and drops to 4.4GHz to finish the workload. Both of these behaviors are possible under an “up to” model.

Manufacturers and Consumers May See This Issue Differently

While I don’t want to rain on his parade or upcoming article, we’ve spent the last few weeks at ET troubleshooting a laptop that my colleague David Cardinal recently bought. Specifically, we’ve been trying to understand its behavior under load when both the CPU and GPU are simultaneously in-use. Without giving anything away about that upcoming story, let me say this: The process has been a journey into just how complicated thermal management is now between various components.

Manufacturers, I think, increasingly look at power consumption and clock speed as a balancing act in which performance and power are allocated to the components where they’re needed and throttled back everywhere else. Increased variability is the order of the day. What I suspect AMD has done, in this case, is set a performance standard that it expects its CPUs to deliver rather than a specific clock frequency target. If I had to guess at why the company has done this, I would guess that it’s because of the intrinsic difficulties of maintaining high clock speeds at lower process nodes. AMD likely chose to push the envelope on its clock targets because it made the CPUs compare better against their Intel equivalents as far as maximum clock speeds were concerned. Any negative response from critics would be muted by the fact that these new CPUs deliver marked benefits over both previous-generation Ryzen CPUs and their Intel equivalents at equal price points.

Was that the right call? I’m not sure. This is a situation where I genuinely see both sides of the issue. The Ryzen 3000 family delivers excellent performance. But even after allowing for variation caused by Windows version, driver updates, or UEFI issues on the part of the manufacturer, we don’t see as many AMD CPUs hitting their maximum boost clocks as we would expect, and the higher-end CPUs with higher boost clocks have more issues than lower-end chips with lower clocks. AMD’s claims of getting more frequency out of TSMC 7nm as compared with GF 12/14nm seem a bit suspect at this point. The company absolutely delivered the performance gains we wanted, and the power improvements on the X470 chipset are also very good, but the clocking situation was not detailed the way it should have been at launch.

There are rumors that AMD supposedly changed boost behavior with recent AGESA versions. Asus employee Shamino wrote:

i have not tested a newer version of AGESA that changes the current state of 1003 boost, not even 1004. if i do know of changes, i will specifically state this. They were being too aggressive with the boost previously, the current boost behavior is more in line with their confidence in long term reliability and i have not heard of any changes to this stance, tho i have heard of a ‘more customizable’ version in the future.

I have no specific knowledge of this situation, but this would surprise me. First, reliability models are typically hammered out long before production. Companies don’t make major changes post-launch save in exceptional circumstances, because there is no way to ensure that the updated firmware will reach the products that it needs to reach. When this happens, it’s major news. Remember when AMD had a TLB bug in Phenom? Second, AMD’s use of Adaptive Frequency and Voltage Scaling is specifically designed to adjust the CPU voltage internally to ensure clock targets are hit, limiting the impact of variability and keeping the CPU inside the sweet spot for clock.

I’m not saying that AMD would never make an adjustment to AGESA that impacted clocking. But the idea that the company discovered a critical reliability issue that required it to make a subtle change that reduced clock by a mere handful of MHz in order to protect long-term reliability doesn’t immediately square with my understanding of how CPUs are designed, binned and tested. We have reached out to AMD for additional information.

I’m still confident and comfortable recommending the Ryzen 3000 family because I’ve spent a significant amount of time with these chips and seen how fast they are. But AMD’s “up to” boost clocks are also more tenuous than we initially knew. It doesn’t change our expectation of the part’s overall performance, but the company appears to have decided to interpret “up to” differently this cycle than in previous product launches. That shift should have been communicated. Going forward, we will examine both Intel and AMD clock behavior more closely as a component of our review coverage.

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Microsoft May Finally Launch Dual-Screen Device at Oct. 2 Surface Event


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Microsoft is holding its next Surface event in New York City on October 2 and rumors are buzzing that the company could launch its long-rumored, never-shipped dual-screen device, codenamed Centaurus. It would be a significant change of approach if the company did. After initially leading the way with a series of impressive products, Surface has been quiet (in brand terms) for the past few years. Designs like the Surface Book have been refreshed, but the last major product to be introduced under the Surface brand was the Surface Laptop. (The Surface Hub is technically branded as a Surface product, but it sells for vastly more money and isn’t really consumer-oriented.)

Microsoft has demoed Centaurus at internal events, indicating that the device may be nearing completion. We’ve seen Intel push OEMs to create some dual-screen devices — the company demoed its Honeycomb Glacier concept at Computex this year, which drew some praise (and eyeballs) for its unusual design:

That’s what Honeycomb Glacier looked like when folded flat, and it’s not necessarily all that appealing. Open, however, the laptop reportedly offered a second display that worked rather well for at least some use-cases:

Intel-Honeycomb-Glacier-Feature

Intel has also created prototypes like Tiger Rapids, a folding dual-display concept with a conventional display on one side and an e-ink panel for inking and writing on the other. That concept has been commercialized as the Yoga Book C930 from Lenovo. One major question about the new Surface devices would be this: Are they intended to be general-purpose machines for regular users, or specialty devices that appeal to narrow market segments?

Since it launched Surface, Microsoft has devoted time to both market groups. The initial Surface Pro and Surface were an attempt to push PCs into tablet form factors, with detachable keyboards, fanless operation (some models), and an emphasis on weight and battery life. Later, Microsoft branched out into more niche concepts like the Surface BookSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce (2-in-1 tablet, but with a discrete GPU), Surface Hub (corporate presentations), and Surface Studio (focused on creatives and featuring Surface Dial). Other products, like the Surface Laptop, were initially intended for users who wanted a stripped-down and limited version of Windows before Microsoft changed strategies and decided to market the system primarily to ordinary users.

Complicating this scenario is the fact that Microsoft has never actually shown Centaurus or its rumored predecessor, Andromeda, to the public. Some Surface products that have been rumored for years simply never materialize. Remember the Surface Phone? It was rumored to be right around the corner for several years, even as Microsoft tore up its plans for Windows 10 Mobile. There were even a few rumors that the company would still launch Surface Phone after shutting down its phone division, or that it would partner with a third-party company to create some kind of product. Nothing ever materialized.

Right now, the rumor mill seems to think dual screens are the juicy feature on tap for the event; if Microsoft has anything else in the till that it hasn’t shown off the company has been quiet about it. The new launch may feature products from Intel’s 10th Generation CPU family, but Surface has been historically slow to adapt cutting-edge Intel parts — it isn’t unusual for Microsoft to tap older hardware for its various updates. Ice Lake’s 10nm chips are expected to be a huge leap forward for Intel integrated graphics, however, and it would make a lot of sense for Microsoft to tap those CPUs for the Surface Pro and Surface Book. A new Surface Book might feature Intel Gen 11 graphics for the CPU, with a Turing GPU option available via a partnership with Nvidia, for example, improving both integrated and discrete performance.

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AMD Will Pay $12.1M to Settle Bulldozer CPU False Marketing Claims


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Back in 2015, AMD was sued by a pair of individuals claiming that the company lied when it sold Bulldozer products to customers. The lawsuit — which I have always believed is without technical merit — essentially conflated being disappointed with the FX family’s performance with the idea that AMD had lied by marketing Bulldozer as an eight-core CPU.

AMD has agreed to settle the case for the relatively low sum of $12.1M. According to the lawsuit, this is a sufficient sum of money to ensure that the members of the class will receive compensation of at least $35, even if up to 20 percent of the class members notify that they wish to be included in the settlement — a rather high number. The brief estimates that between 50,000 and 150,000 people may seek reimbursement for purchases of Bulldozer or Piledriver parts.

Members of the settlement class are defined as individuals who purchased “one or more of the following AMD computer chips either (1) while residing in California or (2) after visiting the AMD.com website: FX-8120, FX-8150, FX-8320, FX-8350, FX-9370, and FX 9590.”

That’s one of the ways you can tell that this lawsuit didn’t actually have any merit to it: It’s confined to AMD’s eight-core CPUs. There’s no logical reason for this to be true — if AMD actually falsely advertised its eight-core chips, it also falsely advertised its six-core, quad-core, and dual-core CPUs as well. AMD had a top-to-bottom product mix in-market based on Bulldozer and its derivatives. If the eight-core chips aren’t “real” eight-cores because they shared resources, then why are the other chips off the hook?

There’s one line in the brief that still grates on me, even though the lawsuit is settled. “According to Plaintiffs, the “cores” in the Bulldozer line are actually sub-processors that cannot operate and simultaneously multitask as actual cores.”

Bulldozer Blend

Bulldozer shared resources. It didn’t use a processor / sub-processor configuration

This is untrue. For an example of a CPUSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce with true sub-processors, look to Sony’s Cell Broadband Engine. The Cell had a Power Processor Element (PPE) and up to eight secondary Synergistic Processing Elements (SPEs). Seven of these were enabled for the PS3. As RealWorldTech wrote (concerning Cell):

The function of the PPE is to act as the host processor and perform real time resource scheduling for the SPEs. To implement those functionalities, PPE modules must be written to perform generic processing tasks and I/O handling. Then, to fully utilize the power of the CELL processor, programmers must focus their attention on the creation of SPE modules. Each SPE module should use multiple SPE threads to take advantage of the parallelism afforded by the multiple SPE’s. To simplify the task of scheduling, all SPE threads in an SPE module are always scheduled simultaneously. Furthermore, SPE threads within an SPE module are started and stopped at the same time to reduce the complexity of synchronization. However, the complexity of scheduling remains and a PPE module must handle the scheduling of the SPE’s on a module-by-module basis.

If you want an example of a CPU that has “sub-processors” that must then be corralled and properly fed in order to keep performance high, it’s Cell, not Bulldozer. Bulldozer didn’t have “sub-processors.” Bulldozer shared certain execution units and, as we’ve documented before, continued to offer improved performance when workloads scaled above four threads. It did not have an asymmetrical core configuration with one core used for scheduling workloads on all the others.

No, Bulldozer and Piledriver chips didn’t offer equivalent performance to their Intel counterparts, which is why AMD’s CPU prices were so low for much of the same time period. In 2014, an FX-9590 could be had for as little as $229. The equivalent eight-core Broadwell HEDT CPU in 2015 was well over $1000. And one of the basic rules of PC components that still generally holds true is that higher prices tend to equal generally higher performance.

The problem with this lawsuit is the same as it ever was. The plaintiffs wanted to pretend that AMD’s lower performance constituted false marketing because one AMD core offered dramatically less performance than one Intel core. But CPU cores are not defined by performance, and this lawsuit has never even attempted to articulate a technical distinction between Bulldozer and Piledriver’s resource sharing and the resource-sharing of other CPUs.

This lawsuit was never grounded in a technical argument over the definition of a CPU core. At least now it’s dealt with.

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Leak Points to Intel Comet Lake Desktops Arriving in 2020: 10 Cores, New Socket


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We’ve heard for a while that Intel might respond to AMD’s 7nm onslaught with higher core counts on desktop processors. A new leak suggests that’s exactly what the company will do, with a new chipset supporting up to 10-core CPUs built on the company’s mature 14nm process. This will supposedly require a new CPU socket, as Intel is increasing the power delivery and capability of its desktop motherboards to compensate for the higher power requirements in a 10-core chip.

The new socket is supposedly LGA 1200 and the top-end chips will offer 10C/20T configurations if rumors are to be believed. TDP is also finally rising, up to 125W. This last is something of an interesting point. Intel CPU power consumption currently has little relation to TDP if you allow the CPU to boost; TDP is measured at base clock, not boost clock. Intel may need to expand TDP to deal with adding more CPU cores, but in the past, it has kept its CPUsSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce in the same TDP brackets by cutting base clock.

intel-comet-lake-lga-1159-1200-news-again-4

Image by XFastest

Our guess is that Intel is raising TDP because it doesn’t want to do this again. Cutting its base clocks further to remain within the old 95W TDP bracket with 10 cores instead of eight is probably possible, but runs the risk of creating negative comparisons against previous generation parts or AMD hardware. Intel reduced base clock speed when it moved from the Core i7-8700K to the Core i9-9900K — the 9900K has a base clock of 3.6GHz, while the 8700K is 3.7GHz. The old 7700K had a base clock of 4.2GHz, though obviously vastly inferior performance overall.

The relatively low base clock may not have been much of a concern when AMD’s own Ryzen 7 base clocks were also in the 3.6 – 3.7GHz range, but AMD adjusted its own clock ranges slightly for 7nm. The 3700X has a base clock of 3.7GHz, while the Ryzen 3800X is 3.9GHz base and the 3900X is a 3.8GHz chip. Intel may want to bring clocks up slightly to make certain it matches on base, and the only way to do that is to nudge the TDP higher.

Image by XFastest

Supposedly the new 400-series adds another 49 pins to hit LGA1200, with the extra pins used for power delivery. There would be a few new features, like integrated 802.11ax support and presumably an easier method of integrating Thunderbolt 3, similar to what we’ve seen in mobile. 65W and 35W CPUs would still be supported (and released) on this latest 14nm revision, it’s just the enthusiast TDP bracket that would stretch up to 125W. Intel would likely try to keep the boost clock as high as possible, but I don’t want to speculate on what that will be.

Catching AMD Wouldn’t Be the Goal

Anyone who has paid attention to relative standings between AMD and Intel has already realized that a 10-core Comet Lake isn’t going to match AMD in most performance areas. The 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X is on its way, and we’ve already seen what happens when a 10-core Intel HEDT CPU takes on a 16-core AMD Threadripper: The 10-core CPU loses. Mostly, it loses by a lot.

But while this might sound faintly absurd, beating AMD in absolute multi-core performance probably isn’t the goal here. Both companies are working towards their respective strengths: For AMD, that means emphasizing multi-core while working to improve single-core, where Intel still holds a narrow advantage in some games at 1080p. For Intel, that means attempting to improve single-core while competing more effectively in multi-core. Bumping up to 10 cores and raising base clock via TDP increase probably helps the company achieve that. It’s going to take more than +2 cores to put Intel seriously back in the multi-threading game, and the company knows that.

The rumors of a 10-core Comet Lake are strong enough and have been running around for long enough that I think they’re pretty solid. We suspect this generation will see the return of Hyper-Threading as well to boost Intel’s competitive standing against AMD at lower price brackets. Without any price information, we obviously can’t opine on how the two companies will stack up, but Intel has a history of introducing better price/performance ratios at major product launches. This suggests we’ll see the company adjust its core count/dollar strategy at the next major launch.

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