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AMD CEO Dr. Lisa Su talks new Ryzen 4000 chips and out-performing Intel

AMD CEO Dr. Lisa Su talks new Ryzen 4000 chips and out-performing Intel


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AMD CEO Lisa Su at CES 2020
AMD CEO Lisa Su at CES 2020

We’re still rolling out our Vergecast interviews from CES 2020 this month, and this week we have a chat with AMD CEO Dr. Lisa Su.

Dr. Su led AMD’s press conference live at CES in Las Vegas to reveal the company’s new Ryzen 4000 series of processors based on the company’s 7nm Zen 2 architecture. She later sat down with Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel to talk further and answer some listener questions.

Nilay and Dr. Su talk about the performance of the new chips, the competition with Intel for consumer laptops, and if AMD is going to take on the high-end market dominated by Nvidia’s GPUs.

Below is a lightly edited excerpt of the conversation.

Nilay Patel: So let’s talk about 7nm for a minute. You’re saying it’s the first 7nm x86 part. There has obviously been a lot of moving in the industry toward 7nm. Does it just get you more performance in a smaller form factor? Does it get you more performance per watt? How are you thinking about that process shift?

Dr. Lisa Su: Yeah, the idea with technology is you have to make a set of choices three to five years in advance, and it is what design choices you make and what manufacturing choices you make. And 7nm is just the best manufacturing technology that’s available in the industry today.

So what that helps you with is you get to put a lot more transistors in a smaller space, and that helps you with power efficiency, that helps you with just overall raw performance that you can put in a given silicon area. And what that translates into for the user is just more bang for your buck. So if you’re going to buy a $1,000 laptop, you want it to have the most computing horsepower you can have, and 7nm gives you more.

So that process shift is something your competitor Intel has not been able to do for some time. They run, obviously, an integrated company where they do their own fabrication. AMD is now a fabless company. Are you thinking of that as a core strategic advantage for AMD, that you’re farming out manufacturing elsewhere? Or are you working with the fabs closely to get to 7nm in that way?

Well for us, it’s really about knowing what we’re really, really good at. And our core competency is in design and designing great products, whether you’re talking about PC products or gaming products or server products. We partner on the manufacturing. We actually think that’s an advantage because if you think about it, when you use sort of a leading-edge foundry, they’re actually working for the industry.

And so things like ramping yields and getting to the best cost points and really figuring out the kinks in a technology, we actually get to do it as an industry. And so we have... we’re early in 7nm. We’ve had a lot of products. I mentioned yesterday in our press conference that we have about 20 products both in production and development, which is a lot for a given technology node, but it’s going really well, and so we’re pleased with it.

So onstage yesterday, you referred to the performance jump of the 4000 series as “disruptive performance,” which is a great phrase that I like. It implies that I will suddenly use Excel faster. Everything’s going to change when I look at Google Docs. But the graph you showed is a pretty huge jump inside the envelopes of these chips. I think you quoted 59 percent in GPU performance, 59 percent improvement. It’s faster than Ice Lake, up to 15 percent faster in some of the measures that you are quoting. How’s the battery life when you’re looking at performance jump this way?

The battery life will be very, very good. The battery life will be very good. And you know what? Our goal is to make sure that you see it and as the systems come out over the next number of weeks, you’ll see some of those systems and measure the battery life for yourself. In our tests, the system’s very good, and we call it all-day battery life. All-day battery life meaning we’ve seen cases up to 18 hours. Now, obviously, you have to see it in your applications, but we feel very good about the battery life.

So you announced the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7, which we got to see. There’s over a hundred laptops coming out with these processors this year. How is that conversation going in sort of the consumer laptop space?

Yeah, it’s one of those things. We’ve been on a journey with the Ryzen brand and the Ryzen products in PCs. If you look in the desktop, for example, we introduced the first-generation Ryzen, people were happy. Second-generation Ryzen, they felt even been better about the product. With the third generation of Ryzen and mobile, we’ve just gotten tremendous traction in the desktop space, and we’re looking at something similar in the mobile space. Which is, our current, our second generation of Ryzen mobile is a very, very good product and we’ve sold quite a bit of them. We’ve gained nice share throughout the last, actually, throughout the last seven or eight quarters.

Third-generation Ryzen mobile is a step function. I mean, it’s just a lot, lot better. And so we’re very excited to see what 2020 brings. It also means that our partnerships with the OEMs have gotten deeper, and so they’re designing more for our product. And you saw that in some of the unique design that Asus has done around our Ryzen 4000 series. You mentioned Lenovo, Dell has a nice design. There are many designs that will come out over the next couple of months. So we’re very excited about it. And I think the partnerships with our OEMs are the best they’ve ever been.

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Weekly tech roundup and interviews with major figures from the tech world.