When Google announced its custom streaming Stadia solution, it made it clear that it had partnered with AMD to deploy a custom GPU with 10.7 TFLOPs of compute power and 8GB of HBM2 RAM. There was no mention of the CPU used, but a note in Google’s presentation referenced Hyper-Threading technology — not SMT.
PCGamesN has confirmed the implications of that clue with AMD. Ryzen and Epyc won’t be powering the CPU portion of Stadia, at least not initially. Google, of course, always has the option to change its CPU provider or bring in new equipment. Google may also have opted for Radeon GPUs but not Ryzen CPUs due to overall trends in the gaming market.
AMD’s share of the PC market is dwarfed by Nvidia — Team Red holds less than 15 percent of the market according to the Steam Hardware Survey. But there’s very little difference between a modern PC and a modern game console, and AMD’s overall market share figures look considerably different when you factor in sales of the Xbox One and PS4. If you build your games for more than one platform, you’ve got to have some familiarity with AMD’s GCN. This works to Google’s advantage, even if Stadia games are developed natively for the platform.
Ryzen doesn’t have the same built-up market share. While it’s been widely assumed that next-generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft will use AMD CPUs, the CPU inside the Xbox and PS4 families is based on AMD’s low-power Jaguar mobile chip. Ryzen’s overall gaming performance has reached parity with Intel, but if you wanted to pick the CPU solution that represented the gold standard for gaming over the past decade, Intel wins that comparison. Developers are also more likely to be familiar with Intel microarchitectures. None of this is to say that Ryzen represents a poor choice for gaming — it doesn’t — but AMD has a distinct edge in the GPU space related to its overall gaming market share that it can’t leverage in CPUs.
It’s not clear why Google played coy regarding its hardware partners at the initial Stadia launch. The company may have been finalizing partner details down to the wire, or be trying to avoid a discussion of specs and performance in favor of marketing the idea of Stadia as a service right now. Some tech companies prefer not to disclose their hardware specs at all. Both Apple and Microsoft refuse to name the model numbers of the CPUs they ship in their own hardware, as if obfuscating important information represents some kind of good. It’s also possible that Google intends to deploy both AMD and Intel hardware as it sees fit, and doesn’t want to deal with customers who think variance in performance is somehow related to whether they are using an “Intel” instance or an “AMD” instance for their game streaming.
Overall opinions on Stadia thus far have been mixed. There’s a chance it could boost gaming fidelity by allowing for multi-GPU configurations to be used in enterprise settings, where the heat and noise of stacks of cards would be a non-issue. All of this depends on Google being able to overcome issues with latency and irregular performance that have hampered other video game streaming services, however. There are also concerns about what we’d lose with Stadia — a game service that essentially locks all game code away, preventing modding and exploration, and with some significant implications for video game history preservation. Even if you firmly believe in streaming, it’s not clear that Google is going to be the company to break into this space when facing off against the likes of Sony, Microsoft, and Nvidia, all of whom have more direct experience in the space or build custom hardware to enable it.