A product does not remain stable over time, whatever the type, over time it receives small updates and improvements that are marked in various iterations of it. In the world of processors, these iterations are called stepping, and in this article we are going to explain what it consists of and how it affects our CPUs and GPUs.
You just bought a new CPU or GPU, suddenly you look at the silkscreen of the chip package and at the end of the model there is a letter followed by a number, that is the stepping and indicates the revision of the processor you just bought. But does it tell us something else? Read on to find out.
What is stepping on a CPU or GPU?
Any piece of hardware does not remain static over time, but receives revisions over time, both in variations prior to its launch and in versions after the official launch. To understand what we mean, it is enough with the simile of the book press that launches a print run of an edition, errors in the book are corrected between editions and the next edition is launched with the errors already corrected.
The editions of the same processor are called Stepping and are identified by a letter and a number. Where the letter indicates major changes in the design of the chip, while the number marks small changes. Normally when a design goes to the pre-mass manufacturing period, no apparent flaws are discovered in the original design of the code in Verilog or VHDL.
There have been processors that have not changed their architecture from a stepping A to a stepping B, but they have reorganized the arrangement of their components. In other cases, new elements have been added that were not initially planned but the fact of adding them does not imply a change over the rest of the design.
Why are we interested in learning about it in CPUs and GPUs?
The answer to this is simple, with each new iteration of a processor what is sought is to improve its economic efficiency. To understand this we have to take into account that in the first batch of wafers from a processor those that reach the highest speeds will be less per wafer and therefore due to their scarcity they may have a higher price.
If the design is improved to more easily reach high speeds, the number of CPUs or GPUs that come out per wafer with a higher value and sale price in the next stepping is higher, since the market value almost remains and varies. very little.
How does it affect us? Easy, more advanced processor stepping usually means the ability to achieve higher clock speeds than stipulated, apart from a greater range for overclocking. So if you are one of those who seeks to get the most out of the CPU or GPU that you are going to buy, it is important to know the stepping.
Stepping in in the prefabrication of CPUs and GPUs
Many times you have seen that in the news at HardZone we talk about processors that have been tested in a benchmark, but that they have several months to go. These versions of a processor usually correspond to a very low stepping, since it is fresh off the design table.
In prefabrication, what is done is to request the minimum order of a processor from the foundry and for it to send the units back to you to test and evaluate them. It is in the evaluation where the manufacturer will see if the processor reaches the expected performance to launch it as soon as possible.
These CPUs or GPUs are tested on test PCs in labs, where a series of performance tests are performed many times ending up in repositories and feeding information on upcoming releases from Intel, AMD, NVIDIA, and other designers and manufacturers. So these tests and the rise of the results are what many of the “insiders” of social networks are hooked on as a basis to know the existence of future CPUs and GPUs that have not been previously presented or mentioned by the manufacturers.
A processor that does not achieve the necessary performance in pre-manufacturing often returns to the design table quickly. If the defect is too big and requires a too deep change in the time that takes it to compete with a CPU or a GPU, the most normal thing is that this design ends up being discarded.
How can I check it on my PC?
To know it is very simple, you do not have to open your computer and take a photo of the screen printing printed on the chips, which is also a solution. But it is as easy as downloading CPU-Z to obtain the data of the processor and GPU-Z of the graphics chip in our PC.
With both applications you can know the stepping of your CPUs and GPUs. And how can they know? Well, due to the fact that software overclocking tools need to know what the stepping of each processor is, since it is necessary so that the voltage and clock speed values are adequate to avoid the use of values above those that it tolerates. the CPU or GPU you have installed in your system.
It can also help us to know if we have received any version that has been controversial due to its defects in its launch. Which is important when buying second-hand hardware and not encountering unpleasant surprises such as hardware that may have failed.
Early stepping is highly sought after among collectors
Although you may not believe it, there are people who collect hardware and precisely a type of hardware that is highly sought after with the first shipments or revisions and therefore with the lowest stepping, especially because it can be a prototype of a product that has never been released. market.
For example, the image in this section corresponds to an Intel Larrabee, the GPU that Intel did not launch on the market and was canceled in favor of the Xeon Phi just over a decade ago. It is extremely rare hardware for never having been released. It is not the only case and within the world of hardware there are several different ones. Most cannot be used, but they are collectibles, but they are highly sought after for their rarity.