The world of desktop class x86 CPUs just got interesting. After what feels like an eternity (actually, it’s more like five years), AMD has finally created a line of CPUs that can go head to head with Intel. That alone is news worth celebrating. Competition is always good. Competition in CPUs was downright needed.
But the reason for the hype is different. It’s not that AMD’s top end Ryzen 7 series (eight-core, 16-thread, overclockable CPUs) can beat out Intel’s Core i7 lineup. It’s the fact that it can do so at less than half the price ($330–$500). In the past, AMD’s processors have trumped Intel’s either in performance or in price. But it’s never been both. Not in this way. The reviews are in and AMD has mostly delivered on the hype.
But there are some caveats. Let’s dive in.
1. Ryzen 7 Is Legit
The AMD Ryzen series comprises of Ryzen 3, 5, and 7 (equivalent to Intel’s i3, i5, and i7). Ryzen 7 is the top of the line, Ryzen 5 sits in the middle, and Ryzen 3 is for budget-minded customers. Right now, the focus is mostly on the Ryzen 7 series which is made up of Ryzen 7 1700 ($339), 1700x ($399), and 1800x ($499).
All three processors have eight cores and 16 threads. None of them come with a built-in GPU. The top of the line variant (1800x) runs at 3.6 GHz clock speed and has a 4.0 GHz boost. If you’ve got proper cooling, you can engage what AMD calls the “Extended Frequency Range,” taking the turbo up to 4.1 GHz.
Ryzen 7 1700x is the mid variant CPU, with 3.4 GHz clock and 3.8 GHz boost, along with Extended Frequency Range. Both the 1800x and 1700x come with a 95-watt power output, and there’s no cooling system attached.
Ryzen 7 1700 is the entry point CPU at just $329. It’s still eight cores and it comes with 3.0 GHz clock and 3.7 GHz boost. It’s rated at 65-watt power output (which is quite low for a desktop PC) and AMD’s Wrath Spire cooling system comes built-in.
Ryzen is based on AMD’s Zen platform which AMD has been working on for the past four years. It’s AMD’s first good microarchitecture since Bulldozer — and it’s half the size. A number that’s been thrown around a lot is how Ryzen is 52 percent faster at IPC than the previous generation. IPC stands for instructions per cycle and it’s a standard way to measure the performance of a CPU. A gain in IPC means the CPU can handle more computations, making it faster.
Ryzen CPUs are also quite a bit smarter. AMD has built software intelligence that it calls SenseMI. SenseMI is a set of features that monitors the CPU at all times, makes minor adjustments and precision tunes the performance boost. All in all, the current crop of Ryzen processors are smarter, more efficient, powerful than anything AMD has done before.
2. Ryzen Beats Out Intel’s Equivalents
As I said above, the hype comes from the fact that Ryzen 7 outperforms comparable i7 models, which sometimes cost twice as much (Core i7 6900K comes in at $1,050).
PCWorld completed a detailed comparison between the AMD Ryzen 7 1800x, Intel i7-6900K, i7-6800K, i7-7700K, and AMD Ryzen 7 1700, and the results are enlightening. In a Cinebench 15 multi-threaded test, the 1800x scores 1,606 points compared to 6900K’s 1,545. What’s even more interesting, though, is that AMD’s $329 1700 chip scores 1,416, only a tad bit slower than the i7 6900K — a processor that’s three times the price. When it comes to the single threaded test, though, the Intel Core i7 7700K wins out thanks to its higher clock speed (4.2–4.5 GHz).
When it comes to Blender (a software used for film effects), the 1800x comes in slightly slower than the 6900K. Which, at half the price, isn’t so bad.
Moreover, in Handbrake, when encoding videos, Ryzen 1800x’s eight-core chip wins out as well. You can read the detailed breakdown with all the nitpicky details over at PCWorld.
And the story is the same when it comes to the other two models in the series (although the difference isn’t quite as stark).
While they’re still not released, we do know that both Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 3 will be priced lower than their Intel competitors and will offer better performance. The Ryzen 5 series will feature six- and quad-core CPUs, starting at $175. They will be available in Q2 2017. The Ryzen 3 series will feature dual-core processors which will sell at under $149 when they release in the second half of 2017.
3. Professionals and Creators Get More Bang per Buck
It’s the rendering and multi-threaded tasks where the Ryzen series really shines. If you’re looking to build a performance PC to handle graphic design, film rendering or editing work, Ryzen will give you more performance per dollar. You’ll be able to get the same level of performance as the Intel i7 6800K chip, but at $500 cheaper. Additionally, you’ll be able to spend the leftover dough buying a better GPU or a 4K monitor.
4. Gaming Is a Different Story
It’s not that AMD Ryzen’s performance in gaming is bad or mediocre, it just doesn’t live up to the hype. And there are a lot of variances depending on the game, the attached hardware, and software optimization. For example, in the latest Rise of the Tomb Raider game, the Ryzen 1800x performed quite a bit slower than the Intel i7 6900K.
Ars Technica tested other games, like Metro Last Night, Hitman, and Ashes of Singularity, where the story remains the same. The 1800x consistently clocks in a lower frame rate than the Core i7 6900K. However, it looks like AMD is aware of the issue and it could be solved using better software optimization.
AMD has recognised that its gaming performance needs improving, and says it expects “higher performance to occur throughout Q1 and Q2” as it works with developers and engine-makers to get Ryzen up to snuff.
5. The Ecosystem Is Ready on Day One
It’s not just AMD who’s ready with a production line to serve up the high demand of Ryzen 7 processors. According to AMD, 82+ motherboards support Ryzen from day one. Furthermore, 19 PC manufacturers already have Ryzen options. Subsequently, the numbers will only get better with time.
List of all AMD Ryzen CPU and motherboards from all OEM. https://t.co/wQYqxS7OYs Ryzen R5 1500 + Asrock A320M Pro4 is my favourite combo.
— Saurav Srivastava (@gx_saurav) February 17, 2017
Can AMD Deliver on the Hype?
All things considered, AMD does seem to be poised to actually make a considerable impact in the desktop CPU market this time around. Now, all we have to do is wait and watch. Let’s see how the PC community responds.
Your move, Intel.
Are you going to buy the AMD Ryzen 7? Or are you going to wait a couple of months? How excited are you about AMD’s comeback? Share with us in the comments below.