The fact that AMD hasn’t been seen to be competitive for the past few years is a source of consternation for its fans – but even if you’ve never been fond of AMD’s products there’s still lots to cheer about its resurgence.
I’ve been rocking Intel processors and Nvidia graphics cards for a while now (an Intel Core i7 6700K and GTX 1080 in case you’re wondering), and while I love them dearly, I'm also very excited about AMD’s new show of strength.
Why? Because there has been a feeling that Intel and Nvidia have been resting on their laurels, thanks to their market share and perceived lack of competition, and that has resulted in new releases from those companies being rather uninspired. Ever more powerful, sure, but where’s the innovation?
Competition is good
Take Nvidia’s recently-unveiled GTX 1080 Ti. It looks set to be an amazing – and powerful – GPU, but was anyone really surprised when they saw the iterative ‘Ti’ release, which is based on the same Pascal architecture as last year’s Titan X? While the amount of graphics memory the 1080 Ti will come with was a surprise at 11GB, it’s still GDDR5. So far, so safe.
What we need is a disruptive competition that lights a fire under Nvidia and Intel, causing them to react, to innovate, to excite, and it now looks like AMD is once again ready to take up that mantle – after all, ‘disruption’ was a key word used by AMD a lot this week.
So, AMD’s Vega architecture will drop GDDR5 for HBM2 memory, which AMD claims brings a 50% smaller footprint for better compute-task handling, which may force Nvidia to respond with some technical innovations next year.
The price may soon be right
It’s not just about the technological disruptions either, but the price. AMD has always been aggressive on price, but these last few years both Nvidia and Intel haven't had to worry about AMD offering attractive products at lower prices, which has meant they’ve pretty much had carte blanche to charge whatever they want – so we’ve seen prices increase faster than we have performance gains. That’s a pretty rum deal for us consumers.
However, AMD has released its Ryzen 7 series at some seriously competitive prices, with the AMD Ryzen 7 1800X nipping at the toes of (and sometimes surpassing) the twice-as-expensive 8-core Intel Core i7 6900K in terms of performance.
With this level of competition, we should hopefully see Intel (and Nvidia when AMD’s Vega graphics cards launch later this year), cut prices in response – and in fact it appears that prices for Intel chips are already dropping. So, even if you want to stick with Intel, you’ll still benefit from a reinvigorated and competitive AMD.
But it’s not just cold hard figures that make me so happy that AMD is back in the game. I fondly remember the first time I built an AMD-powered PC, back in 1999, with an AMD Athlon processor.
I was blown away by how much cheaper it was compared to Intel’s processors, and how powerful it was. Sure, I may have switched back to the ‘blue team’ since then, but it’s great to see the creator of my beloved Athlon get back to doing what it does best.
AMD's deliberate choice to name that CPU 'Athlon' came from the Greek word athlos, which means ‘contest’. A contest between two (or more) companies at the top of their game is exactly what the CPU and GPU markets needed, and at long last it looks like that’s what we’re going to have – and us consumers are going to reap the benefits.