New AMD Ryzen Architecture – Big & Little CPU Cores

Next-Gen Ryzen CPUs & APUs To Feature Hybrid Processor Core Architecture

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Eagle-eyed tech enthusiasts have spotted a patent filed by AMD back in December 2019 which indicates that at least some future CPUs and APUs by AMD will incorporate a heterogenous core architecture, which combines two different core IPs in the same processor. Intel are already bringing this technology to their Alder Lake chips which are scheduled to release in the latter part of 2021, so we will be interested to see who does it best.

If this sounds like gobbledegook, worry not, we will explain below!

Big And Little Architecture Explained - What is A Hybrid IP Architecture?

What Is A Processor Core IP?

As the name would suggest, an IP core or semiconductor Intellectual Property core is the patented intellectual property of a specific core design, in this case for CPUs and APUs. Simply put, whenever a new core design is created by Intel or AMD they patent the design. AMD’s Zen 2, Zen 3, Zen 4 etc. are all different IP cores.

What Is Big And Little Architecture For Processors?

In essence, the big and little hyrbid architecture uses faster (and larger) IP cores for the more performance-oriented tasks (in the case of AMD this would be the later Zen cores), with the less powerful, older IP cores (the earlier Zen cores) dealing with the load of the less intensive tasks in a more energy-efficient manner. The Big cores typically perform the main decision making, and various metrics are shared between both IP cores. If it is determined, based on these metrics, that a process would be better completed by the other IP, the first core is stalled, its ‘state’ is saved and transferred to the other core type, which then continues the task, freeing up the first IP for a process more suited to it.

What Advantages Does Hyrbid Architecture Bring?

As alluded to above, the big and little IP core approach should bring greater efficiencies to the overall CPU performance – giving greater performance per watt, which is particularly important in laptops and their mobile CPUs and APUs, where power is curtailed by their design.

The above is obviously a brief and simplified summary of a complex issue, but you may be able to glean more information from the images we’ve selected below which are taken from the patent record, should you wish.

Strix Point APU Release Date And Rumors

According to rumors from Twitter user Broly_X1 and others, one of the first processors we might see incorporate this hybrid architecture could be the Strix Point Ryzen APUs, which are expected to be released sometime in 2024.

The Strix Point APUs will likely feature ‘Big’ Zen 5 and ‘Little’ Zen 4 cores (designated Zen 4D). Whilst standard Zen 4 cores are supposed to be based on a 5nm process, it is postulated that these little versions may be built on the same 3nm architecture as the Zen 5 cores.

It is unclear at this stage whether or not these APUs will be limited to mobile laptop versions or whether the desktop versions will also incorporate the same hybrid big and little structure.

Obviously, these APUs are a way of release yet and concrete details are very thin on the ground, so watch this space for further updates as news comes out.