AMD is testing new ‘hybrid’ CPUs to take on Intel, and I’m very excited

AMD CEO Lisa Su holding up an AMD Ryzen 7950X processor
AMD CEO Lisa Su might have a trick up her sleeve to unseat Intel from the CPU throne. (Image credit: AMD)

It’s finally happening! After two generations of getting roundly obliterated by Intel in overall CPU performance, it looks like AMD is finally working on an answer to Intel’s incredible hybrid processor core architecture - and that could mean an end to Intel’s long-running market dominance in the CPU space.

For those not in the know, the hybrid core architecture (similar to Arm's big.LITTLE architecture, and first introduced in Intel’s 12th-gen desktop processors, which we raved about in our reviews) essentially employs two different types of CPU cores to improve overall performance: ‘performance’ cores that carry the processor’s primary workloads, and ‘efficiency’ cores that quietly take care of background tasks to free up system resources.

This architecture proved itself worthy immediately, and has kept Intel sitting at the top of our best processors list for a while now - the current king of the CPU hill is the Intel Core i9-13900K, which also uses the hybrid design. While AMD arguably has the gaming edge thanks to its fancy 3D V-cache tech (seen most recently in the Ryzen 9 7950X3D), Team Red is still lagging with its standard cores.

That could all be about to change, though. As Tom’s Hardware reports, a fresh leak has revealed an as-of-yet unnamed AMD engineering sample, which CPU expert @InstLatX64 believes is a trial run of a hybrid-core processor. If true, this could be a huge leap forward for AMD; while we don’t know when it could arrive, equipping the best Ryzen processors with a hybrid-core equivalent would create a very tangible threat to Intel’s throne.

Analysis: This is big news, but let’s not get carried away

Digging into the details of the leak a little, we can see that the CPU in question - which is named ‘100-000000931-21_N [Family 25 Model 120 Stepping 0]’ has twelve threads spread across six cores. @InstLatX64 claims these are two high-power Zen 4 cores and four energy-efficient Zen 4c cores, meaning this could be the rumored hybrid ‘Phoenix 2’ CPU that allegedly surfaced last year, as reported by German tech news site 3DCenter.

The Phoenix 2 chip, which apparently isn’t related to AMD’s existing Phoenix APU, is claimed to use the same 12-thread configuration as this newly-leaked engineering sample along with RDNA 3 integrated graphics. As Tom’s Hardware noted, there has been some dispute over the exact details, and AMD has not been forthcoming with information - indicating that its own hybrid core architecture is not yet ready to be unveiled.

However, the circumstances of this leak suggest that Phoenix 2 may be nearing a big reveal: it came from the MilkyWay@Home database, a distributing-computing project (similar to the well-known Folding@Home) which leverages unused system resources on participants’ computers to carry out massive computational tasks - in this case, creating an incredibly detailed 3D model of the Milky Way. A mystery CPU was first hooked up to MilkyWay@Home in early March 2023, meaning that it’s already functional and the sample might actually be being tested by someone outside AMD, so this could be a quiet but intentional leak.

In any case, AMD has yet to comment properly on its own hybrid architecture, so we can only speculate wildly as to when Phoenix 2 might actually arrive. But considering that AMD’s Ryzen CPUs already put up a decent fight against Intel’s Core line without hybrid cores, I think Intel needs to start worrying. As a PC gamer, AMD has long been my chipmaker of choice, and this could prove to be the death knell for Intel in the gaming space - unless, of course, Team Blue bites back by revealing its own counter to AMD’s 3D V-cache!

Christian Guyton
Editor, Computing

Christian is TechRadar’s UK-based Computing Editor. He came to us from Maximum PC magazine, where he fell in love with computer hardware and building PCs. He was a regular fixture amongst our freelance review team before making the jump to TechRadar, and can usually be found drooling over the latest high-end graphics card or gaming laptop before looking at his bank account balance and crying.

Christian is a keen campaigner for LGBTQ+ rights and the owner of a charming rescue dog named Lucy, having adopted her after he beat cancer in 2021. She keeps him fit and healthy through a combination of face-licking and long walks, and only occasionally barks at him to demand treats when he’s trying to work from home.