AMD had something to offer during 2020, with the release of fresh Ryzen desktop processors based on the all-new Zen 3 architecture – with major performance benefits – and the launch of Big Navi graphics cards.
Both new ranges have caused quite a bit of confusion, although in the case of the RX 6000 GPU, not always for the right reasons. Anyway, let’s take a closer look at those crucial launches, as well as some of the other impressive technical innovations that AMD has put up its sleeves this year, before taking a look at what Lisa Su might have on offer for 2021.
AMD Ryzen 5000: Intel’s delight (again)
The highlight of AMD this year was the launch of the Ryzen 5000 desktop processors based on the new Zen 3 architecture, which brought a huge performance improvement for these processors. The increase in IPC (instructions per clock cycle) over the Ryzen 3000 was recorded at 19% according to AMD’s own launch data, while some games felt a benefit of up to almost 40% in terms of performance.
As we noted in our review of the Ryzen 7 5800X, where the chip scored full marks, this is “easily the best gaming processor for the vast majority of people” and even beat Intel’s flagship Comet Lake 10900K by 7% in Total War: Three Kingdoms , and it is a game optimized for Intel hardware.
It’s no real surprise to see that AMD chips continue to dominate our circle of top CPUs, with the Ryzen 5000 series stealing Intel’s lightning as the best gaming processor.
AMD was already destroying Intel in terms of desktop CPU sales, and not surprisingly given the progress the Ryzen 5000 has made, these processors have pushed the company’s sales to new heights (although inventory has been and remains quite thin on the ground). Remember also that even before the launch of the new Zen 3-based chips, AMD’s Ryzen processors managed to achieve the company’s best sales in the last 13 years, no less and no more, according to one reputable analytics company.
AMD can’t seem to do anything wrong in the world of desktop processors, and it has even gotten to the point where we worry it could become a non-competitive arena if Intel continues to lag behind. Anyway, Intel’s Rocket Lake is theoretically on the doorstep – it may debut in March 2021, according to rumors, and there are promising sounds about what these next generations of processors will do for games. We’ll see, but right now AMD couldn’t be firmly in the driver’s seat anymore.
Ryzen mobile: a growing threat to Intel
AMD has also introduced some highly competitive mobile processors (or APUs as it likes to call them). Soon after the launch of the Ryzen 4000 chips, laptops began to appear that packaged them offering some great value for money.
Despite this, Intel remains very dominant when it comes to laptops, and finding a Ryzen-powered model can still be quite challenging (especially Ryzen 4000 higher-end APUs).
Further, Intel responded to the Ryzen 4000 in the form of Tiger Lake chips that arrived in late 2020 and which are themselves highly competitive CPUs. These rival AMD and Intel mobile processors have their strengths and weaknesses, depending on exactly what kind of laptop you need and what you want to do with it. But weighing the overall picture, the Ryzen 4000 and Tiger Lake are fairly evenly matched – and broadly speaking, you’re unlikely to be disappointed by models from any CPU range.
However, AMD has Ryzen 5000 mobile processors that are supposedly ready to work, and it is assumed that they will be announced at CES in January 2021. Although Intel has more powerful chips from Tiger Lake that plan to debut at the beginning of the year, than that what we’ve heard about the lineage about the Ryzen 5000, is likely AMD will return to the lead in terms of performance.
However, there is still a long way to go in the process of exhaustion required by an Intel laptop, but if the team of blues continues to lose grip slowly but surely, it could be the beginning of the end.
Big Navi offers great performance – but little stock
With graphics cards, at the end of the year, AMD fired a salvo of long-awaited new GPUs based on its RDNA 2 architecture. The Radeon RX 6800 and RX 6800 XT appeared in November, followed by the flagship Big Navi RX 6900 XT in early December. And there was good, bad and bad news.
The good news was that the overall performance of these Big Navi cards was impressive. The most affordable launch – although still a relative term at the top of the GPU – namely the RX 6800, brought 4K gaming performance into the mainstream and stood out as Nvidia’s seriously impressive RTX 3070 (even if the AMD card was disappointingly a bit more expensive).
After what seemed like AMD didn’t have a really top-notch GPU to compete with Nvidia’s flagship products for a long time, it was great to see Big Navi graphics cards appear on the scene as a fully realized, compelling and competitive alternative to GeForce for those looking to spray serious money to a monster with a framed frame. So that was all right.
What about the bad news, then? This came in the form of air search performance, which was something of a failure. You can argue about how important this really is – and many people have, because games can still look great without looking for air – but we just have to look at the path the new consoles are taking to see where the future lies. And titles like Cyberpunk 2077 and Watch Dogs: Legion on PC already prove that games with a trail of full beams can provide some breathtaking scenes.
So, the worst news? Well, it was a reality that you couldn’t buy any of these damn tickets anyway. After AMD seemed to hint that the launch of Big Navi would not fail like Nvidia’s RTX 3000 range when it came out, stock spending for Radeon RX 6000 cards was just as bad. In fact, according to some reports, AMD failed harder than Nvidia when it came to removing GPUs from production lines and into the hands of consumers.
So we saw the same dark picture as with Ampera graphics cards, in terms of scalers grabbing graphics processors in front of real customers and reselling them at miserably high prices on eBay.
It’s really irrelevant to figure out who had the worst startup – both the Ampere and Big Navi suffered from a vanishingly thin initial supply, massively outweighed by demand. And beyond looking for air – because Nvidia is still the obvious choice for this – these rival GPUs agree pretty closely, and performance issues probably won’t ultimately decide who buys them, but simply availability.
If anything is rumored, AMD may be able to release RX 6000 graphics cards in significant quantities before Nvidia – and if that’s the case, it could be a big win for Big Navi. These are of course just guesses, and in the end all we can do is wait until 2021 to roll over and see which firm actually manages to solve their production troubles first.
Smart Access Memory (SAM) was a great innovation that AMD devised by launching Big Navi cards in late 2020.
This is a performance-enhancing technology that allows the CPU to have full access to GPU memory, removing memory limitations to produce some healthy frame rate improvements (more in some games than in others – but about 10% gain, or maybe more, is feasible).
SAM debuted with AMD’s RX 6000 graphics cards and only worked with those GPUs in tandem with the new Ryzen 5000 CPU and 500 Series motherboard. So only early users with all the latest great new AMD hardware in the beginning had benefits.
However, SAM will not remain exclusive this way, as AMD is already bringing it to older motherboards, and will eventually benefit both the Intel CPU and Nvidia GPU. That’s because it’s not some proprietary AMD feature as such, but SAM is actually AMD’s own spin on PCIe’s variable BAR function – which can be widely applied to other hardware as mentioned, and has indeed already been tested on Intel’s motherboards Z490.
However, AMD is undoubtedly at the forefront here with this memory innovation and is definitely getting a big thumbs up for it – and for the fact that SAM hasn’t tried to keep exclusivity on its cutting-edge hardware within its ecosystem.
AMD’s response to DLSS – or lack thereof
As we mentioned before, when it comes to launching the Big Navi GPU, AMD has failed to compete with Nvidia when it comes to air search. And another missed hit for AMD in 2020 was the lack of rivals to Nvidia’s DLSS technology, which increases resolution to provide image quality that is very close to, say, 4K, but requires much less GPU power to generate (because it’s effectively 1440p upgraded) .
AMD is doing the same thing with the FidelityFX Super Resolution, but it wasn’t ready to launch the RX 6000 and it won’t arrive until 2021. It was kind of a disappointment, and the technology is pretty important in terms of air search because it can make up for some huge demands the latter sets to GPU (as we have seen, is vital to the performance of Nvidia’s Ampere cards in Cyberpunk 2077).
On the plus side, AMD is implementing Super Resolution as an open source and multi-platform technology. This is great news in theory, as it should make it easier for developers to incorporate into games (and into different systems), and that could mean it gets into wider use faster. Nvidia’s DLSS, on the other hand, is a proprietary technology and as a result cannot offer such great benefits.
That said, although Super Resolution looks very promising in theory, there are still a lot of questionnaires around it. We’ll really know how well it only works when the function actually runs, which may not happen for a while.
AMD had a good 2020 – you just need to look at the price of the company to see it, with it more or less doubling in sharp growth during the year. Confidence is high within AMD, and without, with good reason – but even so, there have been flaws among the glittering success stories.
AMD’s Big Navi graphics cards proved to be excellent performers and provided the company with a much-needed presence in the top GPU arena. However, they have fallen in some areas – especially the trail of air and the lack of rivals to Nvidia’s DLSS technology, which has proven to be an extremely impressive weapon in the Green team’s graphics weapons. The fact that AMD made a mistake with the launch of the RX 6000 and completely failed to meet demand was also disappointing, although Nvidia had the same problems with its new GPUs.
On the front of the CPU, if anything, AMD has gained even more momentum, especially on the desktop with its premium Ryzen 5000 processors which had a big impact in late 2020, albeit with its own supply and demand problems. The Ryzen 4000 mobile chips have also proven to be extremely impressive performers, helping AMD create some more market share for itself in the laptop world.
Finally, we must applaud AMD’s efforts to innovate with smart access memory and keep things as open as possible with this technology – faster for older hardware, plus easier to gain for its rivals – and indeed the same is true for open source FidelityFX Super Function Resolution that is still in the oven.
The latter could be a development of graphics technology that should be watched in 2021, launching large navigation cards, which could also be enhanced by the alleged Radeon RX 6700 GPU, which AMD could unveil early next year at CES. in January. We’re also expecting big things from the Ryzen 5000 chipsets for laptops that should also be released at CES 2021, passing by the rumor – it’s still whispered that we might hear something about the Threadripper 5000 for the next step in high-end desktop chips.