The Apple 2021 Fall iPhone Event Live Blog 10am PT (17:00 UTC)

It’s that time of the year again – Apple’s fall iPhone event, where we expect the Cupertino company to unveil its newest generation family of iPhones – likely the iPhone 13 series.

Last year’s iPhone 12 series introduced a new industrial design, and we generally expect Apple to iterate and refine upon the form of last generation’s phones. The industry rumblings are that we might be seeing some new generation OLED panels for the Pro models and high refresh rates for the first time. Cameras remain a mystery on whether Apple will upgrade things this generation.

Naturally, we also expect Apple to introduce a new generation processor in the form of the A15. Apple’s latest iterations of SoC silicon have been ground-breaking and industry leading, and we very much expect the new chip to further push the envelope in performance and efficiency.

The live blog will start along with the event at 10am PT / 17:00 UTC / 19:00 CEST.

Source: AnandTech – The Apple 2021 Fall iPhone Event Live Blog 10am PT (17:00 UTC)

The ASRock Z590 OC Formula Review: An Iconic Brand Revival

Whether overclocking the CPU is your cup of morning tea/coffee/something stronger or not, there are specific motherboards built by professional overclockers and engineers designed to squeeze out as much performance as possible. For example, while the regular everyday PC user might groan at the thought of spending $500 on a Z590 motherboard with two memory slots, boards such as the ASRock Z590 OC Formula pay homage to the art of overclocking. As such, legendary overclocker and ASRock employee Nick Shih has overseen the design and creation of one of the best series of motherboards for overclocking. The OC Formula has been ASRock’s brand for their pinnicle performance motherboards for generations – it seemed dead as we hand’t seen it in a while, but it as come back with some blazing style. The latest iteration has had a facelift and comes with a wave of features – but can ASRock strike the right balance between enthusiast and conventional? Let’s find out in our review of the Z590 OC Formula.

Source: AnandTech – The ASRock Z590 OC Formula Review: An Iconic Brand Revival

Next Gen NVMe SD Card Review: The SM2708 Controller Serves it Hot and Fast

Flash-based removable media has a host of use cases in products ranging from content capture devices to portable game consoles. Behind the standards of these is the SD Association, and we saw the introduction of an NVMe-based SD Express standard (SD 7.0) in 2018, with a SD 8.0 follow-up in 2020. SD cards, as well as card readers based on these new standards, have been making the rounds at various trade shows since 2019. However, none went on to appear in the retail market. That is about to change in the coming months, with both ADATA and Lexar announcing plans to launch their SD Express 7.1 cards within the next few quarters. The cards from both vendors are based on the Silicon Motion SM2708 controller. Read on for a detailed look at what the controller brings to the table for flash-based removable storage.

Source: AnandTech – Next Gen NVMe SD Card Review: The SM2708 Controller Serves it Hot and Fast

The MSI GE76 Raider Review: Tiger Lake Plus Ampere Equals Framerate

Let us pretend we are desktop people, thinking about building a new system. What would we look for? If we are after a gaming system, clearly we need a big GPU. A very beefy CPU is a nice touch as well if we want to keep the GPU fed. Plenty of memory, lots of storage, and maybe lots of ports for expansion. Add in a nice RGB keyboard, perhaps a high refresh display, and lots of cooling. Now let us imagine we pack that into a 2.9 kg / 6.4 lb package. That seems impossible, doesn’t it? What if we added in a 99.9 Wh UPS as well? Now that is really crazy. Let me present to you the MSI GE76 Raider, which brings all of this together into the 2021 version of MSI’s Raider series of gaming laptops.

Source: AnandTech – The MSI GE76 Raider Review: Tiger Lake Plus Ampere Equals Framerate

IBM Power10 Coming To Market: E1080 for ‘Frictionless Hybrid Cloud Experiences’

Last year IBM presented details about its new Power10 family of processors: eight threads per core, 15 cores per chip, and two chips per socket, with a new core microarchitecture, built on Samsung’s 7nm process. New technologies such as PCIe 5.0 for add-in cards, PowerAXON for chip-to-chip interconnect, and OpenCAPI for a super wide memory support made Power10 sound like a beast, but the question was always about time to market – when could customers get one? Today IBM’s Power10 E1080 Servers are being announced, aimed squarely at the cloud market.

Source: AnandTech – IBM Power10 Coming To Market: E1080 for ‘Frictionless Hybrid Cloud Experiences’

Does an AMD Chiplet Have a Core Count Limit?

When it was announced that AMD was set to give a presentation at Hot Chips on its newest Zen 3 microarchitecture, I was expecting the usual fare when a company goes through an already announced platform – a series of slides that we had seen before. In the Zen 3 presentation this was largely the case, except for one snippet of information that had not been disclosed before. This bit of info is quite important for considering AMD’s growth strategy.

Source: AnandTech – Does an AMD Chiplet Have a Core Count Limit?

China's SMIC To Build a GigaFab for $8.87B: An Answer to the Shortages

As a result of being on the US Entity list, SMIC’s blacklisting has caused troubles in the company developing and deploying leading-edge fabrication technologies. As a result, it has been forced to focus on mature nodes, which still have plenty of use in long-life cycle parts for electronics and the automotive industry. On Friday the company announced plans to build China’s first GigaFab, a 300 mm production facility with planned capacity of around 100,000 wafer starts per month (WSPM). The fab will cost nearly $8.87 billion.

Building Up Capacity for Mature Nodes

The new fab will be located near Shanghai, in the Lingang Free Trade Zone (FTZ), and will be built as a partnership between SMIC and the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government. The fab will process 300 mm wafers using mature production technologies, such as 28 nm and above. These nodes are typically used for various chips with a very long lifecycle, and which are in short supply now. Over the past few months various leading PC makers complained about deficit of cheap components like display driver ICs (DDICs) or Wi-Fi controllers and these chips are made using 28 nm and larger nodes. Other industries, such as the automotive industry, have been crying out for new supplies – given China’s rather large car market, there is pent up demand for more sources of fundamental electronic components.

SMIC did not indicate when it expects the new fab to go online, but it is reasonable to expect it to become operational two or three years down the road. Despite this the company also did not increase its CapEx of $4.3 billion for 2021 from the number it announced earlier this year, perhaps indiciating that this will be a 2022 project when it starts. Once this happens, SMIC will be able to make a significant contribution to the global supply of semiconductors produced using mature fabrication processes. 

The new fab will be China’s only GigaFab for logic semiconductors (it has several for DRAM, which is considered separate). Here we are using TSMC’s terminology for ‘GigaFab’, which is a 300mm fab with a production capacity of 100,000 or more wafer starts per month.

Earlier this year SMIC initiated a project to build a 300mm fab near Shenzhen for $2.35 billion. That fab is set to eventually achieve production capacity of around 40,000 wafer starts per month and use 28 and larger fabrication technologies. This smaller fab will start operations sometimes in 2022, as semiconductor capacity demand by local companies in China is growing.

In a bid to equip both fabs, SMIC inevitably has to use equipment produced by the U.S.-based makers, such as Applied Materials, Lam Research, KLA, and Axcelis. All of them applied for export licenses to supply SMIC since the foundry is in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Entity List earlier this year. While we do not know if they were granted, the very fact that SMIC announces a fab with an unprecedented capacity (for China and SMIC) indicates that it believes it can equip its production facilities with proper equipment, either from the US or elsewhere.

As always, SMIC will share ownership of the fab with authorities, in this particular case in the Lingang Free Trade Zone with co-investors. SMIC will own a controlling 51% stake, Shanghai Municipal People’s Government will own less than 25% and the outstanding 24% will be controlled by other investors set to be ‘mutually found by SMIC and the local authorities.’

Just In Time

Mature process technologies, such as 40/45 nm, 55/65 nm, and 150/180 nm have been SMIC’s livelihood, so expanding capacities for 300mm based processes (anything from 28nm to 45nm – larger process nodes tend to be on 200mm wafers) makes a great sense for the company. Furthermore, the company is investing additional money in 200mm fabs that use specialized nodes (90+nm) to produce chips for mixed-signal & RF, MEMS, and PMIC applications.

Based on SMIC’s financial report for Q2 2021, demand for its 28 nm technology has been fluctuating in the recent quarters, whereas demand for its 14 nm FinFET technology remained at a rather low level. It’s worth noting that SMIC isn’t the major 28nm player in China here – TSMC and UMC lead the market. But as more applications migrate to this node, demand for chips is increasing, and SMIC’s 28 nm will account for a larger portion of its revenue, which is growing despite its restrictions.

SMIC’s fab utilization rate has always been rather high, but in Q2 2021 it rose to 100.4%, which essentially means that the company had to reduce its expected time on maintenance and focus more on production. This is a risky decision, so to avoid such moves in the future, SMIC needs to expand its capacities and with two all-new fabs it is doing this rather aggressively.

SMIC does have a 14nm process node with FinFETs, and is expanding this as well. In the first half of 2020 SMIC’s 14nm-capable capacity was around 4,000 WSPM (based on the company’s data from back then). By now, this capacity has increased to 15,000 WSPM, according to a CnTechPost story, which has not verified by the company itself.

Not Alone

SMIC is definitely not alone with its production capacity expansion plans – GlobalFoundries, TSMC, and UMC are also financing in additional capacity for mature processes. TSMC is investing in its fab near Nanjing, China. GlobalFoundries is expanding its Fab 8 in upstate New York and is installing new equipment in its Fab 1 near Dresden Germany boost its capacity. 

But with such a huge demand for chips, it is inevitable that foundries will pull in some incredible amount of cash to fund their future development, which is exactly what SMIC is doing. 


Related Readiing

Source: AnandTech – China’s SMIC To Build a GigaFab for .87B: An Answer to the Shortages

Did IBM Just Preview The Future of Caches?

At Hot Chips last week, IBM announced its new mainframe Z processor. It’s a big interesting piece of kit that I want to do a wider piece on at some point, but there was one feature of that core design that I want to pluck out and focus on specifically. IBM Z is known for having big L3 caches, backed with a separate global L4 cache chip that operates as a cache between multiple sockets of processors – with the new Telum chip, IBM has done away with that – there’s no L4, but interestingly enough, there’s no L3 either. What they’ve done instead might be an indication of the future of on-chip cache design.

Source: AnandTech – Did IBM Just Preview The Future of Caches?

Western Digital Reimagines HDD – Flash Integration with OptiNAND

The last few years have seen plenty of new innovations come up in the hard-disk drive market. For quite some time, the HDD technology roadmap was shared industry-wide – vendors introduced new technologies at different points in time, but they were all similar in nature. As a recent example, HGST (now, Western Digital) was the first to market with helium-filled HDDs, but both Seagate and Toshiba followed up with similar drives within a few years.

Prior to 2017, there was consensus that heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) would help drive the increase in storage density for HDDs after traditional perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) ran out of steam. Western Digital sprang a surprise in Q4 2017 by announcing the decision to go with microwave-assisted magnetic recording (MAMR) for future HDDs. Seagate, in the meanwhile, has been all-in on HAMR and also launched 20TB HDDs based on the technology for enterprise customers (those HAMR drives are yet to hit retail, though). In the meanwhile, Western Digital was promising MAMR drives for 16TB+ HDDs, but eventually back-tracked in favor of energy-enhanced PMR (ePMR). Toshiba, on the other hand, introduced flux control-MAMR (FC-MAMR) in its MG09-series of enterprise 16TB and 18TB HDDs.

At the HDD Reimagine event today, Western Digital is introducing OptiNAND – a novel architecture involving the integration of an embedded iNAND UFS embedded flash drive (EFD) on the drive’s mainboard.

In conjunction, the company is also announcing that it has been sampling its first 20TB non-SMR drives based on OptiNAND-enabled ePMR to select customers, and that it would be adopting the OptiNAND platform moving forward for all 20TB+ HDDs. The company also sees a path to 50TB OptiNAND-enabled ePMR drives in the second half of the decade.

While the company did not quantify the amount of NAND in its OptiNAND drives, they are stressing the fact that it is not a hybrid drive (SSHD). Unlike SSHDs, the OptiNAND drives do not store any user data at all during normal operation. Instead, the NAND is being used to store metadata from HDD operation in order to improve capacity, performance, and reliability.


Western Digital’s OptiNAND announcement also conveys the fact that their 20TB 9-platter HDDs will continue to use energy-enhanced PMR (ePMR). In addition to the use of a triple-stage actuator to enable more accurate positioning of the heads over the tracks, the OptiNAND aspect is being touted as the key to enabling 2.2TB capacity for each platter.

The increase in areal density is being achieved by cramming the tracks on the platter closer together (increased TPI), while also moving out some of the metadata (both factory-generated and mid-user operation) out from the platter to the NAND. In particular, Western Digital made a mention of the repeatable run out (RRO) recording of the head jitter / error position as the spindle revolves. This data (running into multiple gigabytes) is generated in the factory during manufacturing. It is typically stored in the disk, taking up space that could have potentially been used for user data. The OptiNAND architecture moves this to the NAND in the EFD.

One of the key challenges to packing tracks closer together is the concept of ‘adjacent track interference’ (ATI). This results in the need to periodically refresh data in the platter’s tracks as it could get corrupted by writes to adjacent tracks. Currently available HDDs triggered these refreshes on a track-by-track basis based on the recording of write operations at the track-level. One of the downsides to increasing areal density by increasing the TPI is the need to do more frequent refreshes. From refreshing once in 10000 write operations in early HDDs, the narrow tracks now need to be refreshed as frequently as once every 6 writes. Beyond a certain point, it doesn’t make sense to increase TPI any further because the increase in the frequency of ATI refreshes has an extreme impact on performance. In present-generation HDDs, these refreshes have been triggered at the track level by recording write operations at that hierarchy. The OptiNAND architecture allows the write operations to be recorded at the sector level. This means that the refresh operations are more spread out both temporally and spatially, allowing the tracks to be packed closer together without sacrificing performance. In turn, this increases the areal density.


Consumers can operate HDDs with the write cache in the device enabled or disabled. Irrespective of the cache enablement, the HDD has to buffer up the incoming data. In the disabled case, the amount of data that could be buffered up is dependent on the amount of data that can be safely flushed out to non-volatile storage in the case of an emergency power-off (EPO) situation. The presence of significant NAND capacity in the HDD means that the drive can use the rotational energy present in the platters to flush out more data in the DRAM into the NAND (Present-day HDDs dump out the DRAM data into serial flash – around a couple of MBs worth – in an EPO situation). The ability to buffer out more data in this case means that the performance of write-cache enabled case and write-cache disabled case approach each other in OptiNAND-enabled HDDs.

Western Digital also claims that the ‘write cache enabled’ case can benefit on the performance front. This is an indirect result of the reduced refresh rates (referencing the observations in the previous sub-section on how OptiNAND handles adjacent-track interference) that allows the HDD to spend more time in servicing user data requests. Again, there was no quantification of the improvement in IOPS for different access patterns over non-OptiNAND HDDs in Western Digital’s event.


The aspects of OptiNAND used to enhance the performance of the drives in the write caching disabled state also contribute to enhancing their reliability under EPO conditions. By including faster non-volatile storage compared to serial flash, Western Digital claims that up to 50x more data can be flushed out compared to previous-generation HDDs.

Concluding Remarks

Western Digital claims that the vertical integration possible with the HDD technology from the WD / HGST side along with the flash technology from the SanDisk side is essential for the creation of a platform like OptiNAND.

There is bound to be a cost-premium associated with the drives due to the NAND integration. New recording technologies (like HAMR and MAMR) require significant investment into the design of the recording heads as well as platters, and need to be revamped every few generations. On the other hand, technologies like OptiNAND are independent of the underlying technology.

Without exact quantification of the increase in areal density enabled by OptiNAND, it is not possible to provide comparative comments on the Capacity aspect of Western Digital’s OptiNAND trifecta – except that the company is now able to introduce 20TB hard drives to the market with the same ePMR technology used in its 18TB drives (around 2.2TB/platter).

The Performance aspect should be easier to evaluate when OptiNAND drives hit retail. While the benefits for the ‘write caching disabled’ case (where the NAND can act as a safe cache in an EPO situation) are easy to verify (essentially acting the same as the ‘write caching enabled’ case), the pure ‘write caching enabled’ case should be much more interesting to analyze against competing drives of the same capacity.

Western Digital indicated that all of their 20TB+ HDDs moving forward will be OptiNAND-enabled. This will be across all market verticals – cloud deployment, enterprise drives (Gold), storage for surveillance recording (Purple line), and NAS (Red line). It must be noted that the company has a 20TB SMR drive already in the market that is not OptiNAND-enabled. The new HDD architecture with its flexible SoC and high-performance NAND integration can also be used to enable customer-specific enhancements in the future. The ability to use the NAND to dynamically remap sectors can increase areal density and improve performance much more in SMR drives. Based on this, we can expect OptiNAND-enabled SMR drives to gain significant capacity advantage over CMR drives in comparison to what is being seen in the market currently.

The HDD industry is not yet in dire need of CPR, but Western Digital’s usage of OptiNAND to address the Capacity, Performance, and Reliability trifecta is yet another unique aspect in the innovation-rich hard-disk drive market. Western Digital has both HDD and complete flash technology (from NAND fabrication to controller) in-house, while the other HDD vendors do not have that advantage. As such, it might take the other vendors some time to catch up on the advantages of using NAND for HDD metadata.

Source: AnandTech – Western Digital Reimagines HDD – Flash Integration with OptiNAND

Intel Xeon Sapphire Rapids: How To Go Monolithic with Tiles

One of the critical deficits Intel has to its competition in its server platform is core count – other companies are enabling more cores by one of two routes: smaller cores, or individual chiplets connected together. At its Architecture Day 2021, Intel has disclosed features about its next-gen Xeon Scalable platform, one of which is the move to a tiled architecture. Intel is set to combine four tiles/chiplets through its fast embedded bridges, leading to better CPU scalability at higher core counts. As part of the disclosure, Intel also expanded on its new Advanced Matrix Extension (AMX) technology, CXL 1.1 support, DDR5, PCIe 5.0, and an Accelerator Interfacing Architecture that may lead to custom Xeon CPUs in the future.

Source: AnandTech – Intel Xeon Sapphire Rapids: How To Go Monolithic with Tiles

Multi-chip Intel Core i9-11900K Overclocking Review: Four Boards, Cryo Cooling

Back in March, Intel unveiled its 11th generation of desktop processors codenamed Rocket Lake. In its lineup, the flagship desktop chip is the Core i9-11900K, with eight cores, sixteen threads, and a current selling price of $545 at Amazon. Along with obvious performance advantages that come with the flagship model, including higher turbo frequencies, Intel has put a lot of its latest technologies into Rocket Lake including Thermal Velocity Boost (TVB) and Adaptive Boost (ABT) – the idea here is to to give the best possible performance out of the box. In this article, we take four retail Intel Core i9-11900K processors and four premium Z590 motherboards, including the ASRock Z590 Taichi, the ASUS ROG Maximus XIII Hero, the GIGABYTE Z590 Aorus Master, and MSI MEG Z590 Ace, and overclocking them. Is overclocking worth it on Intel’s Core i9-11900K? Let’s find out.

Source: AnandTech – Multi-chip Intel Core i9-11900K Overclocking Review: Four Boards, Cryo Cooling

Seagate FireCuda Gaming SSD Review: RGB-Infused USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Storage

The gaming market has experienced significant growth over the last decade. In addition to boosting PC sales, the peripherals market associated with the segment has also expanded. Installed sizes for games now regularly run into hundreds of gigabytes, thanks in large part to support for increased resolutions and more detailed graphics. The data also needs to be loaded into memory as fast as possible in order to improve the gaming experience.

Unsurprisingly then, gamers want the fastest possible portable SSDs to store their games. The 20 Gbps transfer rates promised by USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 has an instant appeal in this market segment. Keeping this in mind, many vendors have introduced USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 bus-powered portable SSDs targeting the gaming crowd. Last year, we looked at Western Digital’s WD_BLACK P50. Seagate’s FireCuda Gaming SSD was available in the market around the same time, but it didn’t make it to our testbed in time for that review.

We recently got the Seagate offering into our latest testbed, and took the opportunity to refresh the numbers for the WD_BLACK P50 with our latest test suite as well. Read on for our hands-on review of the Seagate FireCuda Gaming SSD.

Source: AnandTech – Seagate FireCuda Gaming SSD Review: RGB-Infused USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Storage

ASRock Industrial NUC BOX-1165G7 Mini-PC Review: An Ultra-Compact Tiger Lake Desktop

Intel introduced the Willow Cove micro-architecture with their Tiger Lake processors in the latter part of 2020. These were designed to span a wide range of performance levels and applications, with TDPs ranging from as low as 7W up to 65W.

While mobile systems are the prime market for the 7W – 15W SKUs, higher TDP processors have found themselves in a number of different form-factors ranging from notebooks and UCFF mini-PCs to full-blown gaming desktops. Many ultra-compact mini-PCs based on Tiger Lake have been introduced by different vendors in the last few quarters. Competitively speaking, the Tiger Lake UCFF PCs come in at a time when systems based on AMD’s compelling 7nm Zen 2-based Ryzen 4000U series of processors are already well-established in the market.

Can Tiger Lake shift the value proposition metric back towards Intel? Read on for our review of ASRock Industrial’s flagship ‘NUC’ based on Tiger Lake – the NUC BOX-1165G7.

Source: AnandTech – ASRock Industrial NUC BOX-1165G7 Mini-PC Review: An Ultra-Compact Tiger Lake Desktop

The Noctua NH-U12S Redux Cooler Review: Bringing Noctua's Best To a Lower Price

In today’s review, we are taking a look at Noctua’s NH-U12S Redux, a price-optimized version of their highly popular NH-U12S tower CPU cooler. The NH-U12S Redux has been redesigned to bring the same kind of Noctua performance, but at a retail price of just $50, making it more affordable to the masses.

Source: AnandTech – The Noctua NH-U12S Redux Cooler Review: Bringing Noctua’s Best To a Lower Price

Hot Chips 2021 Live Blog: Machine Learning (Graphcore, Cerebras, SambaNova, Anton)

Welcome to Hot Chips! This is the annual conference all about the latest, greatest, and upcoming big silicon that gets us all excited. Stay tuned during Monday and Tuesday for our regular AnandTech Live Blogs. 

Source: AnandTech – Hot Chips 2021 Live Blog: Machine Learning (Graphcore, Cerebras, SambaNova, Anton)

Hot Chips 2021 Live Blog: Machine Learning (Esperanto, Enflame, Qualcomm)

Welcome to Hot Chips! This is the annual conference all about the latest, greatest, and upcoming big silicon that gets us all excited. Stay tuned during Monday and Tuesday for our regular AnandTech Live Blogs. 

Source: AnandTech – Hot Chips 2021 Live Blog: Machine Learning (Esperanto, Enflame, Qualcomm)