At the AMD Epyc 2 launch, I saw the future of the PC

The Epyc/Ryzen-powered Microsoft Virtual PC solution demo was the first time I saw the Microsoft Virtual PC functioning – and it was awesome. Cloud-based virtual PC instances are the future of the PC, and apparently, it’s coming faster than most of us think.

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[Disclosure: Microsoft and AMD are clients of the author.]

Epyc 2 is a server part, so you might be wondering how I saw the future of the PC at the Epyc launch event. Well, one of the demos was of the coming Microsoft Virtual PC platform, which is a server instance for a virtualized desktop. While I’ve written about it before, this is the first time I’ve ever seen it. Mike DeNeffe – an old friend of mine from the Transmeta days (Transmeta was the company that forced Intel into developing a truly mobile part) – set the thing up, and it was impressive.

I’m a huge fan of Virtual Windows. Because I use and review a large number of PCs, there is seldom a month that goes by that doesn’t have me setting up a new PC. And, as easy as that has become, the idea of simply logging into a new machine and instantly having all my stuff there the way I want it is the holy grail for me. So I’m eagerly waiting for this platform to roll out.

The launch

The Epyc 2 event was amazing – largely because AMD didn’t just show a small performance increase and their typical price advantage. They showcased a massive performance increase and, particularly at the top end, a massive performance advantage. I’m talking twice the performance at half the cost. AMD brutalized Intel at the launch not just because of the stats but because they had a major brand vendor stand up after each segment and rave about this performance.

I’ve been going to these for years. Typically what you get is that the vendors are from Switzerland and even when AMD has had an advantage they talk like parents afraid to let their underperforming child look bad. Not this time. Regardless of the vendor I spoke to – and this included virtually all of the major server and cloud providers – they just gushed about AMD’s part and how it would change dramatically what they were bringing to market.

Cray was perhaps the most fascinating because, according to them, their new supercomputer based on this technology will not only outperform the top 100 existing supercomputers, but it will accomplish in seconds tasks that used to take nearly a month.

AMD got thereby deploying a massive number of cores, leading with PCIe 4, giving the part a huge cache boost, and improving the part’s fabric just as massively. AMD also hasn’t had the security or trust issues plaguing Intel and eroding vendor and customer support. This effectively sets up what looks to be one of the most one-sided battles since the US invaded Panama.

Graphics surprise

Since this was an Epyc CPU launch, I didn’t expect any graphics content. But AMD makes both high-performance CPUs and high-performance GPUs. You can partition out the CPU but, until now, you had to dedicate a GPU – making scaling a solution like the Virtual PC with decent graphics problematic. AMD demonstrated they can now segment the GPU as well as providing partial GPU instances as well as partial CPU instances…dramatically lowering the cost for Virtual PC while significantly increasing the performance. This was all in line with the theme for the event: more performance and lower cost.

When Virtual PC goes live, you’ll get a level of performance beyond what most desktop PCs in production get, a level of scaling we have never seen before and a cost level for the provider lower than many imagined was possible.

But what about the experience?

Virtual Windows gets superpowered

In short, the experience was awesome. They showcased high-end workstation loads performing latency-free using this technology. Granted the “latency-free” part will depend heavily on the network, but with the advent of 5G – which is a very low latency technology – and efforts over the last several decades to eliminate latency, this should be achievable when the product finally goes live.

But imagine a PC instance that would dynamically apply resources to assure you got all the performance you needed, whether you were doing email or analyzing DNA. You could get a full workstation level of performance on your iPad.

I’m pretty sure I heard angels singing. This is because the solution is not only higher-performing, but patches are applied remotely, so you don’t have to worry about them, there is no boot time (the instances can remain live in the cloud), and I never again have to configure an OS (because, in the end, this is all about my needs, wink-wink).

How do you spell awesome?

I’ve been looking forward to living on a virtual desktop ever since I stopped using an IBM terminal. I hated the terminal, but I loved the instant-on, low maintenance and lack of needing to set stuff up every time I had to replace it (and, with a terminal, that was something like a decade of service life).

When I saw the Sun Ray 1 in the 1990s, I thought we were close, but we weren’t. I also got excited about Thin Clients, which mostly went nowhere. I didn’t think I’d live to see the day that I’d have a true appliance-like PC experience, but, damn, at the Epyc 2 launch, I got excited all over again.  

I’m told this will roll out in beta in around three months (and I hope I’m on the list). I can hardly wait!

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