What is AMD 3D V-Cache? Here’s how it could change PC gaming

AMD announced the Ryzen 7 5800X3D at CES 2022, bringing the world’s first processor with 3D V-Cache to market. It’s an interesting processor, outperforming the more expensive flagships from AMD and Intel. To understand why, you need to familiarize yourself with what AMD 3D V-Cache is, what performance it could provide, and why it matters.

3D V-Cache is just a different way of laying out a processor, which leaves more room for on-chip cache. This could be a major change for AMD, and it could impact many generations to come. We’re going to wonder if this is really the revolution that AMD announced, or if it’s just hot wind.

What is AMD 3D V-Cache?

AMD

AMD 3D V-Cache is a packaging technology that stacks additional layers of cache onto a processor. It sounds complex, and technically it is, but it’s not hard to figure out what AMD’s technology does. Instead of placing the cache next to the processor as is traditionally done, AMD stacks the cache on top to squeeze more of it onto the chip.

It’s a different way to lay out a processor, and thanks to advancements in how processor manufacturers place components on a chip, AMD is able to squeeze more cache without creating a massive processor. AMD has only framed the extra cache in the gaming realm, where the company claims it can deliver a 15% improvement on average.

To understand why, it is important to understand what the cache does. Your processor has three levels of cache, the lowest being L3 or level 3 cache. Each level of cache is smaller in size but faster in speed, acting as a string of memory for your processor that can supply instructions as they are needed.

Think of cache as a supply chain. Your RAM is like a national warehouse, the L3 cache is a regional distribution center, and so on through the L2 and L1 caches. For 3D V-Cache, we are talking about additional L3 cache, the slowest level of your CPU. This is, however, only relatively slow – each cache layer is still much faster than your hard drive or RAM.

More L3 cache allows the processor to stream and store more instructions, reducing the number of times it has to fetch instructions from RAM. Naturally, this does not provide a performance advantage in all situations. However, in scenarios where the CPU is handling multiple instructions, such as games, an additional L3 cache should provide a big improvement.

AMD CEO holding a 3D V-Cache processor.

Why not just more caching on the processor? AMD does not want to put all its eggs in one basket. Layering more cache on the CPU opens up the possibility of defeats, rendering the entire CPU useless. The 3D V-Cache is separate from the CPU die, close to the CPU but not part of it. This provides the bandwidth benefits brought by the cache being close to the processor without risk.

Currently, we only have one processor that comes with 3D V-Cache: the Ryzen 7 5800X3D. It comes with an additional 64MB of 3D V-Cache, but AMD says its packaging technology can scale up to 192MB. we’ll probably see a lot more V-Cache 3D.

3D V-Cache processors

AMD CEO presents a new processor.

3D V-Cache is a technology that should eventually make its way into AMD’s product stack. For now, we only have one processor with it: the Ryzen 7 5800X3D. It’s due out in the spring, and it comes with the same eight cores and 16 threads as the Ryzen 7 5800X. The big difference is the 64MB of 3D V-Cache, bringing the total L3 cache to 96MB.

AMD will likely release more 3D V-Cache processors soon, but they won’t come from the Ryzen lineup. Since the launch of the third-generation AMD Epyc server processors, the company has been talking about a lineup refresh that includes 3D V-Cache. AMD claims that the 256 MB of the flagship Epyc 7763 can be increased to 768 MB.

Throughout 2022, we’ll likely see 3D V-Cache be the cornerstone of AMD’s processor announcements. The first Ryzen processor appears to be a proof of concept – a working chip that can serve as a benchmark for future Ryzen and Epyc designs. Cache has a lot more impact in the data center, and AMD likely certifies the technology before rolling it out to a fleet of servers.

3D V-Cache Performance

Performance data is sparse for 3D V-Cache at this time. AMD has only announced one CPU with the packaging technology, and it hasn’t arrived yet. We rely on the data provided by AMD, and we always suggest waiting for third-party tests to be validated.

The Ryzen 7 5800X3D is an interesting processor based on what AMD has said. Instead of comparing it to the base Ryzen 7 5800X, AMD compared it to the Ryzen 9 5900X and the Core i9-12900K. Ryzen 7 processors aren’t meant to compete with Ryzen 9 and Core i9 chips, setting the tone for what 3D V-Cache can offer gamers.

Dr Lisa Su presenting AMD Ryzen 7 5800X3D.

For more details, AMD claims that the Ryzen 7 5800X3D can deliver around a 15% boost at 1080p over the Ryzen 9 5900X. In Watch Dogs Legion, AMD claims that the new chip offers a 36% increase, and in far cry 6, an increase of 24%. Keep in mind that the Ryzen 7 5800X3D comes with four fewer cores than the Ryzen 9 5900X, illustrating how much V-Cache 3D can improve performance during games.

More impressively, AMD claims the Ryzen 7 5800X3D can match or exceed Intel’s Core i9-12900K. We rate Intel’s current flagship as the best processor for gaming, but if AMD’s numbers are accurate, the Ryzen 7 5800X3D could claim that crown. In titles like Final Fantasy XIV, AMD claims to see an improvement of up to 17% over the Core i9.

While AMD’s claims are impressive, it’s important to take them with a dose of reality. AMD only shared numbers for 1080p. As resolution increases, the CPU plays less of a role in performance. It will be important to research the 1440p and 4K benchmarks once the processor launches to see how it actually compares to flagships.

A packaging revolution?

Render of an AMD Ryzen chip.

AMD sets great store by V-Cache 3D, and for good reason. We have to wait to test the packaging tech before jumping to conclusions, but AMD’s numbers are impressive and CPU cache can have a huge impact on gaming. Although we don’t have third-party tests on 3D V-Cache, we already know how Ryzen prefers fast memory.

Without going too far into the weeds, Ryzen processors use chiplets instead of a single die. By separating the CPU components, AMD chips have higher latency than their Intel counterparts. To counter this, AMD includes a large amount of L3 cache and dense interconnects. And when it comes to RAM, faster speeds further improve the situation created by AMD’s chip architecture design.

3D V-Cache takes what was supposed to be a performance deficit and turns it into a performance advantage. More L3 cache does not improve latency, but it does allow more data to be stored in the CPU instead of RAM. This, in turn, reduces total latency – the data coming from RAM and flowing to the processor – by allowing more of it to remain on the chip before being flushed out.

Technically, 3D V-Cache is more than marketing hype. That said, it will likely only offer marginal improvement at higher resolutions. The real reason to get excited about 3D V-Cache lies in AMD’s future generations of processors, where architectural improvements and 3D V-Cache could bring big leaps in performance.

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