The rivalry between Intel and AMD continued at CES this week as both companies battle for supremacy in the silicon space. Not only will these two established companies compete against each other, but this year they will also look to fend off threats from Apple, Qualcomm, and even Microsoft's often rumored ARM-based silicon.
This means that both companies use their resources where they know that competitors cannot reach them, at least not in the foreseeable future. Intel and AMD made big contributions to gaming and high performance computing, with both companies devoting large portions of their presentations to mobile chipsets. Which company was most impressive at CES? Let's break it down by the biggest announcements.
Ryzen 5000 Mobile vs. 11th Generation Intel Tiger Lake
AMD's presentation was primarily focused on bringing the Zen 3 core architecture to laptops, and the company showcased its new Ryzen 5000 mobile processors based on the 7nm process. AMD announced that this year we can expect 150 new laptop designs from its partners – such as Asus, Acer, HP, and Lenovo – powered by Ryzen 5000, a 50% jump from the 100 designs made by the Predecessors were driven. Generation Ryzen 4000 mobile CPU. That alone is a huge win for AMD, especially when it comes to high-end gaming laptops with more powerful graphics.
In the company's presentation, AMD focused on how the Ryzen 5000 fares better than Intel's 11th generation mobile processors. According to AMD's own benchmarks, the Ryzen 7 5800U outperformed the Intel Core i7-1185G7 by up to 44%. According to AMD CES Lisa Su, the Ryzen chip was 7% faster for office applications and 18% faster for digital content creation.
In addition to the performance, AMD noted the energy efficiency of the processor. We see up to 17.5 hours of battery life for general use or up to 21 hours for movie playback. If the AMD numbers are correct, it compares favorably to the M1-powered MacBook Air, which Apple claims can take up to 18 hours.
AMD also announced a new line of unlocked processors for performance games that can be overclocked as part of its Ryzen 5000 series. The processors AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX and Ryzen 9 5980HX are characterized by a design with eight cores and 16 threads. Compared to the 10th generation Intel Core i9 Mobile processor, the Ryzen 9 5900HX leads the overall CPU performance by up to 35% and, according to Su, outperforms the Intel range in terms of single-threaded performance and game physics.
In contrast to AMD, which has narrowed in the gaming and thin-and-light laptop market, Intel is throwing a far larger network with its new processors. Intel not only launched Tiger Lake at the end of last year, but is now expanding its reach to companies with new 11th generation vPro processors for business laptops and 11th generation vPro Evo laptops for the C-Suite, new ones Pentium Silver and Celeron processors on 10nm for Chromebooks and the education market as well as new 35-watt Tiger Lake H series for gamers.
The problem? The 45-watt Tiger Lake H gaming chips from Intel were a no-show. Sure, Intel gave us a little glimpse and said they were coming soon, but Intel will have missed the window for all of these new gaming laptops that are being updated.
These gaming chips will eventually offer 5 GHz boost speeds across multiple cores, eight cores, and PCIe 4 with 20 lanes to the CPU, "offering more bandwidth than any other laptop outside of our own 10th generation core family," according to Intel .
But here, too, the chips themselves are not yet here, and that gave AMD the open opportunity to get in with its Ryzen 5000 HX series. To fill this gap, many major laptop manufacturers like Lenovo and Asus have switched the majority of their laptop product lines to AMD. This includes high-end gaming laptops like the Asus ROG Zephyrus laptops, which include graphics up to an RTX 3080.
RDNA 2 Mobile versus Intel Xe
Graphics weren't a big part of either company's presentation. AMD briefly announced that its RDNA 2 graphics architecture, which powers the Radeon RX 6000 desktop graphics cards along with the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, will be available for mobile devices later this year. Laptops with RDNA 2 graphics will be released in the first half of 2021, Su said.
Although Intel has gained a foothold over its competitors with its own integrated Intel Xe graphics architecture in recent months, AMD's discrete graphics solution offers an edge over its competitor's new discrete GPU, which is primarily intended for mid-range notebooks. Gamers and creatives will likely choose Radeon or GeForce RTX as the discrete GPU over Intel Xe.
This increases the number of 11th generation Ryzen and Intel laptops that ship with Nvidia GeForce RTX 3000 series mobile GPUs. Nvidia announced that its graphics cards will be available in more than 70 professional gaming and studio RTX laptops starting January 26th.
While AMD didn't say much about its Threadripper Pro processor during the company's keynote, the high-end desktop portion offers a huge performance advantage over Intel. The new Threadripper Pro was quietly announced in a press release and is now available directly to consumers. It has up to 64 cores, 8 memory channels and a whopping 128 PCIe Gen 4 lanes.
AMD also announced quietly lower TDP alternatives to its Ryzen 9 5900X and Ryzen 7 5800X desktop processors that will be available for pre-built systems. "The Ryzen 9 5900 desktop processor and the AMD Ryzen 7 5800 are powered by the new Zen 3 core architecture with a lower TDP of 65W and provide more users with better performance," said a media report.
On the desktop side, Intel quietly introduced a new 11th generation S-Class desktop processor, codenamed Rocket Lake. These chips are still based on the old 14nm node, but Intel has backported some 10nm features to keep it competitive. Rocket Lake becomes A.I. Functions, 20 lanes PCIe 4 and Intel Xe graphics. Unfortunately, the disadvantage is that they are now limited to just eight cores, which puts them at a disadvantage compared to AMD in terms of multithreaded performance.
Compete against Apple and ARM
Intel and AMD have a radically different strategy when it comes to fending off future threats. With Apple's entry into the PC processor business with its M1 silicon for the Mac, AMD and Intel are addressing new competitors in different ways.
At CES, Intel unveiled its Alder Lake processor, which will be the company's 12th generation silicon for laptops and desktops. Intel executives noted that unlike previous processors, Alder Lake will take a heterogeneous core approach that combines high efficiency and high performance cores in the same silicon.
If that sounds familiar, this is what cell phones have been doing with the big.LITTLE approach for a while. And that's exactly what Apple did with its processors for the iPhone, iPad and now the Mac.
Intel's move led a number of tech sites to believe that it was actually emulating Apple to compete against the Mac maker. For its part, Intel never mentioned Apple or the M1 silicon in its CES 2021 presentation. The company only used benchmarks to show how the newly announced mobile processors outperform AMD's competition.
AMD, on the other hand, is taking a more holistic approach to Apple's new competition. Although the M1-based Mac products are based on Apple's proprietary integrated graphics architecture – a move away from using AMD Radeon technology on Macs with discrete graphics – AMD CEO Lisa Su still seemed upbeat, working with the one in Cupertino, California to uphold resident tech giants.
"The M1 is more about how much workmanship and innovation there is in the market," Su said at a press conference after her company's CES keynote, which she chaired. "This is an opportunity to innovate more – both hardware and software – and it goes beyond (instruction set architecture)."
She later added that there are still ways to work with Apple.
“From our point of view, there is still innovation in the PC space,” she continued. “We expect greater specialization in the next few years, which will enable greater differentiation. However, Apple continues to work with us as a graphics partner. And we work with them. "
By switching to the ARM-based M1 processor, Apple had actually reestablished its collaboration with AMD rival Nvidia – Nvidia took over the ARM business from Softbank last year.
And while AMD is best known for its discrete Radeon GPUs in the discrete graphics space, the company appears to be more open to licensing its intellectual property. Prior to CES, there were rumors that Samsung might introduce new high-end Exynos ARM-based processors for select models of its Galaxy smartphone business that use AMD's integrated graphics architecture.
Possibly AMD could also ask Apple to license its Radeon architecture as part of a future M-series silicon to promote the two companies’s GPU partnership.
AMD is gaining momentum
AMD is traditionally seen as the outsider of silicon. Due to its recent architectural advances in processing and graphics technologies, AMD is an attractive choice for gamers and PC enthusiasts. Additionally, it is increasingly becoming a focal point for basic work and gaming laptops.
Intel's answer this year is to move to a 10nm Alder Lake processor, which will be introduced later this year with an improved SuperFin process that brings together faster transistors and improved capacitors. It was wise for the company to focus on the more exciting developments, but it certainly gave AMD the opportunity to enter and develop into the laptop market.
While AMD's announcements were far less explosive than last year, they position the company well to move into the rest of 2021 with even more momentum. After Intel announced a change in leadership and considered outsourcing factories, the ball is in Intel's court. The rest of the transition to 10nm has to be a complete success or else it will be in trouble.