Linley Newsletter: February 14, 2019

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Issue #639

February 14, 2019

Independent Analysis of Microprocessors and the Semiconductor Industry

Editor: Tom R. Halfhill

Contributors: Linley Gwennap, Mike Demler, Bob Wheeler

In This Issue:

- Intel Zaps Some Coffee Lake GPUs

- Bitmain SoC Brings AI to the Edge

- AMD Brings 7nm GPUs to PCs

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The two-day conference will feature curated technical presentations from leading chip and IP vendors, including several new announcements. Popular sessions include keynotes by industry thought leaders and analysts from The Linley Group as well as panel discussions. Our events are a great place to meet industry experts and network with your peers during breaks, lunches, and the exhibition and reception on the first evening of the conference.

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Intel Zaps Some Coffee Lake GPUs

By Tom R. Halfhill

Sometimes less is more, so Intel is shipping new PC processors without integrated graphics, following a similar move by AMD last year. Designated with an "F" suffix in the model name, these desktop processors in the 9th-Gen Core S-series employ the same die as existing Core S-series products (Coffee Lake) but disable the on-chip Intel GPU. In addition to competing with AMD's similarly configured Ryzen 2000-series processors, the new chips should run cooler, increase the effective capacity of Intel's overtaxed fabs, and attract gamers and content creators who prefer the higher performance of external graphics cards.

With little fanfare, Intel rolled out five of these processors in the Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, and Core i9 tiers. Some began shipping in January, and the rest will follow later this quarter. All are manufactured in the company's newest 14nm++ technology. They have four to eight CPUs, base clock frequencies of 2.9GHz to 4.0GHz, and thermal design power (TDP) ranging from 65W to 95W. Their microarchitecture is unchanged from other Coffee Lake designs. The flagship Core i9-9900KF, like its integrated twin, offers the highest boost frequency (5.0GHz) of any PC processor and is the only F-model with Hyper-Threading.

By disabling the GPU, Intel is targeting gamers and others who use discrete graphics cards from AMD or Nvidia. It also increases fab capacity, because Intel can salvage some die that have defective logic in that die area. With the long-delayed 10nm technology still many months away, and the 14nm fabs struggling to meet demand, the F-models effectively boost production yields.

Microprocessor Report subscribers can access the full article:

Bitmain SoC Brings AI to the Edge

By Bob Wheeler

With the Bitcoin-mining gold rush over, mining-ASIC firms must reinvent themselves. For leader Bitmain, that means building an AI business while continuing to invest in mining ASICs. After developing two neural-network-accelerator chips under the Sophon brand, the company in 4Q18 shipped its first SoC designed for edge systems. The Sophon BM1880 can function as a standalone SoC, or it can serve as a low-power coprocessor. Bitmain offers several low-cost developer kits using the chip, including a USB stick.

The BM1880 comprises multiple CPUs along with a tensor processing unit (TPU) and video engine. Dual Arm Cortex-A53 CPUs handle application code while a single RISC-V CPU performs real-time duties. Bitmain rates the TPU, which includes 2MB of SRAM, at one trillion operations per second (TOPS) for 8-bit-integer (INT8) data. Designed for surveillance cameras, the video engine can decode two 1080p H.264 streams. The chip provides numerous I/O interfaces for memory, host, camera, and audio connections. Packaged in a 14mm FCBGA, the BM1880 dissipates 2.5W (typical) using a 28nm process.

The BM1880 competes with Intel's Movidius Myriad X processor, which targets the same vision-processing applications, offers similar AI performance, and dissipates the same power. Myriad X differs, however, by handling raw video from up to eight MIPI camera interfaces, whereas the BM1880 handles streams from USB-video-class (UVC) cameras. Technical merits may prove secondary, however; China is the largest market for surveillance cameras and Chinese OEMs may prefer a domestic chip supplier.

Microprocessor Report subscribers can access the full article:

AMD Brings 7nm GPUs to PCs

By Tom R. Halfhill

AMD's new Radeon VII GPU for PCs handily outperforms its predecessor, the Radeon RX Vega 64. The company says Fortnite fans should see 25% more performance, and other popular games show 35% to 42% improvements. Video editors should see gains of up to 27%, and the consumer GPU scores 62% higher on OpenCL LuxMark.

As the first 7nm graphics processor for PCs, the Radeon VII heralds a coming wave of 7nm GPUs that will quicken the competition with Nvidia and Intel. We expect AMD to unveil its next-generation Navi GPU at Taiwan's Computex show in June.

Specifications reveal that the consumer-market Radeon VII is the same chip as the Radeon Instinct MI50 and MI60 announced last November for data-center servers and high-performance computing. All these 7nm Vega20 chips have a 331mm^2 die containing 13.2 billion transistors and a 4,096-bit memory bus, which supports 16GB of second-generation High Bandwidth Memory (HBM2) and up to 1TB/s of peak bandwidth. To avoid cannibalizing sales of the higher-price data-center products, the Radeon VII disables the PCI Express 4.0 interfaces and some acceleration logic for 64-bit floating-point math.

Although the consumer market for a 300W GPU that costs $699 is relatively small, it's important to AMD. It's a segment in which the company excels, and it helps fund the development of new graphics processors that reap even higher prices in the faster-growing data-center market. The Radeon VII satisfies the existing demand for more performance and foreshadows even better things to come when the sixth-generation Navi debuts in 7nm technology.

Microprocessor Report subscribers can access the full article:

About Linley Newsletter

Linley Newsletter is a free electronic newsletter that reports and analyzes advances in microprocessors, networking chips, and mobile-communications chips. It is published by The Linley Group. To subscribe, please visit:

Domain: Electronics
Category: Semiconductors
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