The Next-Generation of GPUs, CPUs, and Things in Between

The last few weeks have provided much insight to the future of performance-oriented compute, graphics, and the benefits of competition.  The current gaming flagships of the nVidia GeForce GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 have been evaluated and appear to rule the high end roost for the remainder of 2016.  Instead of immediately launching an alternative, AMD has taken the tact of producing the reasonably priced Radeon RX480.  This offering, which is based on the Polaris 10 architecture, provides equivalent performance to cards that cost more, both from the cash and operational or power perspectives.

These competing solutions tackles different ends of the market, and provide a much superior price-to-performance ratio than the outgoing generation of GPUs.  First and foremost, the adapters that have hit the market or will become available shortly have superior power profiles.  AMD’s offering will effectively mitigate the most considerable issues that have persisted with the iterative branding strategy – power consumption and heat generation.  The choice to boost clocks and memory capacities prior to the release of the Fury line in Q3 2015 resulted in add-in cards that could easily double as a space heater and a profit center for the utilities.  If the RX480 delivers the claimed performance using a 150W TDP profile, it will open up many possibilities for promoting the adoption of VR.  When the GPU is capable and costs 50-60% less, funds that normally get allocated to this building block can be reallocated toward the necessary headset hardware.

nVidia’s approach differs in the fact that they were gunning for pole position with the demonstrated performance of the new GTX wonder twins.  The memory snafu that tainted the perception of the GTX 970 has not persisted with the GTX 1070.  Both cards beat the previous generation’s high-end offerings at a fraction of the price.  While this approach doesn’t enable the potential extension of VR to the masses, the longevity and viability of these solutions is worth the price of admission.  Regardless if you prefer Team Green or Team Red, the consumer wins.  This is the benefit of having healthy competition and understanding the end markets that are being serviced.

Intel, on the other hand, missed the mark with their latest HEDT processors from our perspective.  These Broadwell-based offerings feature something close to parity for the three lower tiers (i7-6800K, i7-6850K, and i7-6900L) from the price and performance perspective.  The fourth entry in this line has us baffled, as it’s priced well out of the reach of most sane consumers.  The i7-6950X is the first 10-core CPU released on the Socket 2011-3 platform, and can be yours for the low price of $1723.  For one mortgage payment, or a few months of car payments, you can own a CPU that crushes on multi-threaded benchmarks, yet falls behind when single-threaded performance matters.

The saving grace to offset this overpriced HEDT processor comes from the release of the Xeon E3-1500 v5 series.  Quick summary: Iris Pro GPU sharing, awesome for video transcoding/encoding/VDI applications, and you can’t buy it in a socket-based format.  We’re using a Xeon E3-1200 v5-based server as part of our local infrastructure, and have been pleased with the performance and memory limits that come with this platform.  Making the E3-1500 v5 series a drop-in replacement for LGA 1151-based platforms would open up some mid-cycle refreshes or enable organizations to introduce these capabilities using hardware platforms that they’re already using, have certified, and can support.

When you combine bad pricing with inappropriate decisions that either gouge the prospective customer base or prevent the adoption of Iris Pro graphics for newer, focused use cases, the outcome will not be favorable.  Factoring in the announced layoff of 12,000 workers, the elimination of smartphone SoCs, and the replacement of the tick-tock cadence with process-architecture-optimization, a window of opportunity has presented itself for AMD to get back on track with the release of their Zen-based processors.  The lack of competition from AMD since 2011 has placed Intel in the position it currently holds.  We desperately need “the next big thing” from both of these companies in the CPU space, and it can’t get here fast enough.

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