So far as most years in the past, 2021 has been an up and down 12 months relating to the desktop CPU market. Firstly of the 12 months, the very best CPUs available on the market have been nearly unimaginable to seek out, and once they have been in inventory, it was solely above the prompt pricing. Now on the finish of the 12 months, processors are plentiful, however the needle has swung within the different course relating to efficiency. Right here’s a rundown of the enjoyable 12 months that 2021 has been.

Transient Recap: Finish of 12 months 2020

The push on the finish of This fall in 2020 was fairly substantial. Within the house of these closing three months, AMD went on a spree and launched the widest vary of its 7nm merchandise into the market. We’re speaking graphics, cell processors, ramping up enterprise CPUs, and for the needs of this text, Zen 3-based Ryzen 5000 desktop processors. Ryzen 5000 took the crown as the very best processor available on the market, as much as 16 cores, with a brand new high-performance microarchitecture. The issue was that they have been arduous to pay money for, for a very long time.

AMD wasn’t the one one on this state of affairs although. The worldwide semiconductor shortages, which most have been tied to packaging points regarding high-performance movies, meant that each Intel Comet Lake 10th Gen CPUs and AMD Ryzen 5000 CPUs and all of the GPUs have been gold mud. In search of a CPU on the time meant being fortunate at a retailer, or having watcher bots on-line.

Fortunately, the state of affairs acquired higher via 2021.

The Early Interviews from Intel and AMD

First up, the preliminary 2021 information for us at AnandTech was a pair of roundtable interviews. Between AMD CEO Dr. Lisa Su and then-CEO of Intel Bob Swan, we had the chance to probe each about the way forward for every firm in addition to the state of affairs of the semiconductor provide scarcity.

Dr. Su reiterated AMD’s dedication to x86, together with investing in its personal provide chain to make sure the long run availability of all of the 7nm merchandise it had simply launched. There was additionally point out of the Xilinx deal, the big quantity of design wins on Ryzen Cellular for notebooks and laptops, and likewise the enterprise EPYC platform.

With Swan, it was a unique type of interview – with hindsight Bob had a foot out of the door, however we didn’t know that on the time. He targeted on Intel retaining its fabs, outsourcing chips, and sub-licensing course of expertise – mainly an early model of recent CEO Pat Gelsinger’s IDM 2.0 technique.

Whereas neither of these interviews are immediately CPU information, it’s price highlighting them.

2021 Q1: January via March

Sitting right here on the finish of 2021, with Intel’s 12th Technology sitting on my desk, it’s arduous to consider that 12 months in the past, Intel was nonetheless serving us their 10th Technology platform. The primary CPU assessment out of the gate within the New 12 months was our assessment of Intel’s Core i9-10850K. This was a 10-core Comet Lake processor, constructed on the Skylake++++ platform, that Intel created as a result of its Core i9-11900K was too excessive a frequency to bin sufficient {hardware} to offer the variety of models demanded by the ecosystem (or at the least that’s the frequent idea). The 10850K was much like the 10900K however barely decrease frequency, for across the similar energy, and barely cheaper. It grew to become the popular Intel CPU for some time, simply because it was extra extensively accessible and Intel may make extra of them. It nonetheless trailed behind AMD’s newest, however each have been arduous to amass.

On the cell facet, we reviewed AMD’s Ryzen 9 5980HS. That is the flagship 35 W eight-core processor for the present technology of AMD’s thin-and-light however gaming-focused notebooks. We examined the ROG Stream X13, a 13-inch design paired with a GTX 1650 discrete graphics inside with a 3840×2400 show at 120 Hz and the premium of every little thing for that class of system. One of many criticisms of AMD’s cell platform so far was the shortage of premium experiences for thin-and-light however highly effective designs, and this type of design was a powerful design win for AMD. The query later down the road is that if/when AMD may pair its personal cell CPUs to its personal cell GPUs.

As we crossed from February to March, extra AMD information got here advantage of the Threadripper Professional 3000 household, with as much as Zen 2 cores coming to the workstation market. Whereas it launched in mid-2020, Lenovo had the unique, and it was round this time they lastly made it on cabinets for everybody to make use of. We examined the Lenovo {hardware} with the massive 64-core 3995WX, however extra end-user {hardware} for the 32-core and 24-core components. TR Professional provided the efficiency of Threadripper, however full 128 lanes of PCIe, eight lanes of reminiscence, and ECC assist.

Additionally in February, Pat Gelsinger grew to become Intel’s CEO. He shortly hosted in March an occasion that outlined Intel’s future. 

Deeper into March, and Intel launches its new 11th Technology Rocket Lake processors. These have been attention-grabbing components for the {industry}, as Intel had retrofitted its 10nm processor cores for its newest technology 14nm, because the latter on the time was providing higher frequency traits for a high-end platform. The response was lukewarm, given these processors have been themselves fairly power-hungry, and it was clear that so as to be aggressive, Intel had pushed the frequency and energy up to now exterior the optimization level it resulted in sturdy thermals. The introduction of AVX-512 to the platform, a expertise that requires a lot of energy, didn’t assist the state of affairs. Not solely this, however Intel was nonetheless behind AMD’s newest technology in efficiency.

To spherical out March, AMD launched its third technology EPYC enterprise processors. That includes the identical Zen 3 cores because the Ryzen 5000 household, the principle plus level right here was the brand new core design coupled with a slight uptick in frequency on the high-end and a re-arranging of the vary of merchandise to higher match AMD’s new market delineations. AMD went after the per-core efficiency with the F sequence in a giant approach. After we have been capable of check on retail techniques, we noticed an extra +10% efficiency, showcasing optimizations inside the lifespan of the product. With the third technology EPYC, purely from a CPU efficiency perspective, AMD has been capable of dictate the place its processors go, moderately than match the mould of the market leaders.


2021 Q2: April via June

After a busy Q1, we noticed the market quieten down in Q2. Quite a lot of main processors had been launched, and the grip of the semiconductor house was taking maintain. CPUs have been one of many first to get to some normality in availability, at the least for end-users, however it wouldn’t be till Q3 when every little thing was roughly accessible at any time. The difficulty right here is that customers not often purchase a CPU in isolation – it comes with a graphics card, reminiscence, storage, a motherboard, and maybe a show. A few of these markets, significantly graphics and shows, have had greater points than CPUs.

Nonetheless, Intel lifted the lid on its next-generation Xeon platform in April. The threerd Technology Xeon Scalable platform was Intel’s first high-powered CPU product constructed on 10nm, providing as much as 40 cores. The Ice Lake structure itself was nearly two years outdated, having been utilized in laptops, however right here it was in massive beefy silicon with a lot of reminiscence and accessible in techniques with as much as 2 sockets. Intel’s purpose right here with Xeon is to supply full options – CPU, storage, networking, reminiscence. Total, we discovered the {hardware} generationally spectacular, an uplift from 2nd Gen, with a rise in efficiency per watt and uncooked efficiency. The positives mirrored these we noticed with Ice Lake laptops in August 2019. Nonetheless the downsides have been additionally there – they’re power-hungry, even when efficiency per watt is larger. Past that, in addition they fall behind the competitors in uncooked efficiency metrics – so as to push an Intel system forward, software program must be optimized for it, or use devoted onboard Intel accelerators. Intel piled this on, ensuring a lot of industry-standard software program was optimized, however in Intel’s latest monetary calls, the demand for the high-end 40 core components wasn’t actually there, with prospects preferring to remain across the 28-core. There are strategies that this could be as a result of Intel’s yields on the 40-core are low, nonetheless it is going to be attention-grabbing to see how sturdy Intel will counsel its 2022 platform, 4th Gen Sapphire Rapids, as a direct substitute to these sticking on 1st/2nd gen {hardware}.

2021 Q3: July via September

Shifting into the second half of the 12 months, motion within the CPU house was gradual. What was maybe extra lively have been rumors of upcoming processors. Massive on the horizon was Intel’s Alder Lake desktop processors, teased in January, set to return finish of the 12 months. Simply earlier than Q3, AMD had previewed the efficiency of its upcoming V-Cache processors, promising extra gaming efficiency. Then there was additionally discuss of what Apple can be doing subsequent past its new M1 silicon. The one actual launch in Q3 was from AMD.

Following on from earlier generations of Ryzen Cellular, the launch of the desktop-focused APUs got here round 9 months later. The Ryzen 5000G household of desktop processors have been merely the cell components transformed into the AM4 kind issue, providing as much as 8 cores and Vega 8 graphics. Except for changes in frequency on condition that desktops are higher for 65 W chips, the {hardware} inside is equivalent. A standard thought is that AMD’s margins on desktop APUs is decrease than most of its different merchandise, and so there wasn’t a significant rush to make these extensively accessible – AMD didn’t even make the Ryzen 3 model for retail and just for system integrators. It wasn’t till a number of weeks after launch that we have been capable of finding the Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 simply for buy on the common retailers, however the 5700G provided intro into customers constructing a brand new system with no graphics card but, whereas the GPU {hardware} has been at a extreme demand for the final 18 months.

2021 This fall: October via December

On the tail finish of the 12 months, we ramped up the launches once more, with the push to get one thing out into the market forward of the vacation season. Making an attempt to get a CPU launch to synchronize with a vacation season is witchcraft, let’s be clear.

In October, Apple launched new MacBook Professional laptops with its M1 Professional and M1 Max customized silicon. Prolonged from its first M1 chip in 2020, the M1 Professional and M1 Max prolonged the thought with extra cores, extra cache, extra reminiscence, extra graphics, and better energy budgets for 14-inch and 16-inch laptops. Apple discontinued its relationship with Intel for this line of merchandise to herald its personal silicon, giving it management of efficiency and acceleration options that Intel couldn’t ship in a well timed method. Dropping the contract has been a blow to Intel, however for Apple prospects that may use the options beneath the hood, the M1 Professional and M1 Max are blisteringly quick. In some instances, you must carry out server {hardware} to beat them.

In our efficiency checks, the M1 Professional and M1 Max change the narrative fully concerning customized silicon and vertical integration with the OS. This {hardware} was constructed with energy customers in thoughts, and the up to date MBP with a lot of ports displays that Apple understands it has a market right here that it might personal. For people who have the workflow, Apple’s {hardware} works – the most important barrier although is (a) the value, and (b) a lot of fans are reluctant to be sucked into the Apple ecosystem, particularly if their workflow doesn’t profit. Gaming can also be an afterthought actually, till Apple designs its personal discrete GPUs.

On the finish of October, we participated in a gaggle roundtable interview of Intel CEO, Pat Gelsinger.

Again on the planet of desktop silicon, Intel launched its 12th Technology Alder Lake processors in November, marking the primary time in a protracted whereas that Intel has launched two generations in the identical 12 months. Alder Lake marked a number of vital shifts in Intel’s technique: the usage of its Intel 7 course of node (renamed from 10ESF), but in addition a hybrid structure combining efficiency cores and effectivity cores, very like smartphone chips and people from Apple within the M1 household. The thought right here is to supply efficiency when wanted, and excessive effectivity for background operations. This requires sturdy collaboration with Microsoft as effectively, as this hybrid design is tightly coupled to the working system – it is a collaboration that requires long-term administration and experience.

Intel has solely launched the high-performance components up to now, the i9-Okay, i7-Okay, and i5-Okay, with the remainder to return in early 2022. Alder Lake additionally brings Intel to DDR5, PCIe 5.0, and the brand new applied sciences that can dominate desktop computing for the remainder of the last decade. The {hardware} pulled forward of AMD’s Zen 3 processors on single-threaded and gaming duties, though lagged behind in throughput. Alder Lake can also be affected by a restricted DDR5 market, making it tough for end-users to purchase the newest reminiscence, as an alternative having to depend on the DDR4 market given the platform can assist each.

Alder Lake was seen as a win for brand new Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger, providing key efficiency in additional lifelike situations than AMD, at an analogous or higher value level – at the least for the CPU. The one thorn in Intel’s facet is that the 12th Gen platform is costlier to AMD, and a few evaluations pointed to prosumer workload energy as one thing that Intel must work on. The large pleasure goes to return when Intel showcases the remainder of the Alder Lake household within the New 12 months

2021 Q5: Subsequent Generations

Aka 2022 Q1

As we glance into the New 12 months, we begin with the annual CES present, the place AMD, Intel, NVIDIA, and Qualcomm have keynote shows, all on January 4th. We all know considerably of what we must be anticipating.

AMD: The primary query on everybody’s lips is asking the place the Zen 3 processors with V-Cache are. AMD already introduced EPYC with V-Cache to return later in 2022, however it was all the time anticipated that the desktop processors would come first, in order that’s what everybody desires to listen to about. As Intel has taken the gaming crown, fans have an interest to see if AMD can take it again with this new stacking expertise.

Past V-Cache, CEO Dr. Lisa Su has already acknowledged that we must be anticipating Zen 4 in 2022, though most individuals are placing that in direction of the tip of the 12 months, coupled with the EPYC Zen 4 launch which has already been introduced as being within the second half. We’re undecided if AMD will deal with something concerning Zen 4, however fingers crossed.

The opposite piece of the puzzle is what AMD is doing with Threadripper. We’re six months from after we thought a Zen 3 based mostly Threadripper would have been launched, so we’re hoping that one thing is talked about. Even when it’s to say that Threadripper has been put to pasture and Threadripper Professional is the long run, then a Zen 3 based mostly Threadripper Professional announcement can be welcome.

Intel: As beforehand talked about, we must always see the remainder of Intel’s Alder Lake desktop platform be mentioned, maybe introduced, and we get to see the cheaper choices for the 12th Gen platform. Past the desktop, we’re additionally trying ahead to the pocket book processors, so far mentioned in unconfirmed leaks as Alder Lake-P. Intel has already mentioned the silicon that can go into the laptops from a high-level core rely overview, however precise speeds, feeds, core counts, graphics, and pricing are nonetheless ready to be stuffed in.

CEO Pat Gelsinger with a Ponte Vecchio HPC Accelerator

Whereas not CPU-related, Intel has promised to carry its personal GPUs to market in Q1. In a adequate amount, and on the proper value, this might speed up the gross sales of the CPUs at present available in the market. There have been strategies that Intel has a lot of amount, regardless of manufacturing on TSMC N6, however there’s a query mark over how the drivers shall be on day one, together with precisely when they’ll launch. Right here’s hoping for extra element at CES.

Longer-term in 2022, next-gen Intel desktop CPUs have been rumored for the tip of the 12 months – Raptor Lake as a minor replace to Alder Lake, earlier than we lastly transfer onto Intel 4 and an EUV manufacturing course of in 2023. I’m undecided if Intel will point out any of those at CES although.


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