Hands on with AMD’s fab new Ryzen CPU

Rejoice, for AMD’s new Ryzen CPU is here. And it’s good. Thank science for that. Another dud from AMD didn’t bear thinking about. Instead, we get to ponder just how good Ryzen is and indeed how good it truly needs to be. It isn’t the very fastest CPU money can buy or the greatest gaming CPU ever. But that’s just dandy. It’s still going to blow the PC processor market wide open and force Intel to seriously up its game.

If you want the background to AMD’s new chip and a broad overview on what makes it tick, head over here. The task this week is to get a quick feel for what Ryzen is actually like.

The chip I’ve played with briefly is the middling model of the launch trio, the Ryzen 7 1700X. Like the other two Ryzen chips AMD is making available at launch, it’s an eight-core beast that crunches two software threads per core. Hexa-core and quad-core models are coming, but aren’t quite ready for launch day.

The 1700X clocks in nominally at 3.4GHz with a potential 3.8GHz turbo mode. The ‘X’ suffix, incidentally means it sports AMD’s new XFR auto-overclocking feature, a bit more on which in a moment. For the record the other two chips are the 3.0GHz/3.7GHz 1700 and the 3.6GHz/4GHz 1800X.

Pricing for the 1700X is £399. The 1800X rocks in around £499 and the 1700 is yours for £329. Stick a $ sign in front of those numbers and you have the US price, which is both impressive and depressing depending on your point of view.

Without further ado, then, let’s get busy. I couldn’t resist firing up the fairly pointless Cinebench synthetic benchmark first, just to see those 16 threads in action. Fly my pretties:

Not that it matters much for the real world, but this thing flies in a multi-threaded benchmark like Cinebench. To give you a feel for just how quick it is, it’s nearly two and a half times faster than the incumbent gamer’s choice, the Intel Core i5-7600K. Yowsers.

Of course, multi-threading is only half – or should that be 15/16ths – of the story. AMD’s big failure with its previous FX processors was single-threaded performance and it just so happens that games are particularly sensitive to just that.

In Cinebench’s single-threaded mode, the Ryzen 7 1700X is between 10 and 20 per cent slower than various gaming-relevant Intel CPUs, with about 10% of that due to a slight comparative deficiency in Ryzen’s architecture and the other 10% thanks to clockspeed.

Indeed, it was rumoured prior to launch that clock-for-clock and core-for-core, Ryzen would be roughly a match for Intel’s Haswell-generation chips – the Core iSomething 4000 series chips, in other words. And so it proves in Cinebench.

Anyway, I mucked around with a few other canned benchmarks, all of which delivered similar kinds of results. Ryzen monsters quad-core Intel chips in multi-threading. In fact, it’s on about a par with Intel’s own eight-core beast, the 6900K for multithreading. Lest you have forgotten, that’s more or less a £1,000 chip.

But what, you cry, of games? Don’t panic, the news here is decent, too, if somewhat preliminary and indeed patchy. You can read detailed benchmarks elsewhere, but to give you one example, in Total War: Attila using the same video card and settings, the Ryzen 1700X cranks out an average of 39 frames per second to 40 from a Core i5-7600K. I got similar results in several other titles.

The first caveat to that is that I was running everything at 1440p and high detail settings, which tends to push things towards being GPU limited, even on an Nvidia GTX 1080. The handful of games I ran may also have somewhat flattered Ryzen. Among others, Tech Report’s gaming numbers show that Ryzen can be a fair old bit off the current Intel pace in some games. Part of that is clockspeed, part of it is architecture and part is probably optimisation. You can be sure that few if any games exist that have been compiled to run well on Ryzen.

Really broadly, then, Ryzen looks like a goer for games but it will occasionally lag the best Intel chips in certain games, sometimes because the game doesn’t scale well across lots of cores and on occasion probably because it’s poorly optimised for Ryzen’s processing peccadilloes. In that sense, these early eight-core chips are somewhat suboptimal for games with the possible exception of multi-tasking. If you want to game and stream your exploits at the same time, for instance, Ryzen looks like a killer solution. But a high clocked six-core Ryzen of the near future might be the best AMD bet for gamers.

If there is a disappointment, it’s overclocking. All Ryzen CPUs will be unlocked for easy overclocking. But to cut a long story short, they don’t overclock. Well, barely. I squeezed an extra 100MHz out of my chip and that was with water cooling. M’colleagues elsewhere in the reviewersphere report similar findings. Oh, and the XFR auto-overclocking feature doesn’t improve on that. It may be of interest in future when Ryzen chips with more headroom appear. For now, it’s fairly redundant.

That said, the 1700X I tested tended to max out at only 3.5GHz in multi-threaded workloads when running at standard rather than overclocked settings rather than the 3.8GHz promised by the chip’s turbo mode. So, that 100MHz overclock was actually more like 400MHz in practice. But I’m not sure I actually care. My feeling coming in was that if Ryzen really was roughly on a par with Haswell and ran at about 3.5GHz, that would be plenty to put the frighteners on Intel. It does just that, so frankly I for one am satisfied.

Incidentally, if you’re wondering about operating temps, have a scan of the web. I was only able to run my test chip with water cooling, so the 41 degrees C idle and 51 degrees under load aren’t hugely helpful for the bulk of us that run fairly standard air coolers.

What we have then is a chip that isn’t far off Intel for gaming and absolutely obliterates it for multi-threading performance when you factor in pricing. Regards the latter, this chip is literally half the price of Intel’s eight-core 6900K. Staggering.

Of course, it’s still bloody expensive at £399. Moreover, you’re never actually going to feel the difference versus the plain old £329 Ryzen 7 1700. So of the initial launch chips, the 1700 is the obvious choice. It’s an awesome all-rounder for the money.

However, I still think the sweet spot for most RPSers will likely be the future six-core model. It’ll crank out the same gaming performance (well, in most games) as the eight-core model, just for less money, along with both pretty snazzy multi-threading for content creation and some multi-threading headroom to come as games gradually scale better across multiple cores.

Where all this leaves Intel is of course an interesting question. My sense in recent years is that readers have tired of the press bashing Intel for sandbagging, but for my money Ryzen completely confirms that narrative. It makes Intel’s product line up look cynical and overpriced.

Personally, I can’t see Intel slashing prices anything like enough to offset the yawning gap between it’s six and eight-core CPUs and Ryzen. In reality, it doesn’t matter much to Intel. Desktop CPUs aren’t all that important and in any case, the likes of Dell will keep cranking out systems for mainstream punters and nobody will care much or notice much.

What Intel may do is hurry up the mainstream six-core model for the LGA1151 socket that appeared on its roadmaps recently. Suitably clocked and priced, that would put Intel in a reasonable if still not ideal competitive position.

In the meantime, I think enthusiasts will make something of a stampede towards Ryzen. It’s just such a compelling value proposition, even if it remains somewhat unproven. It wouldn’t surprise me to find a few bugs emerging (I hear it’s a bit pernickety when it comes to certain memory configs, for instance) or a few weak spots in its performance profile shake out as the PC community probes its capabilities. AMD is but a small company and it probably doesn’t have the manpower to completely finesse this new architecture first time around. Of course, if that’s correct the upside is that scope remains for future revisions to turn a good chip into a great one.

Anyway, this is an initial hands-on, not an entirely definitive and forensic investigation. I’ll have a look at the platform / motherboard part of the Ryzen story in a future post – PCI Express connectivity with Ryzen chips is an emerging concern, for instance. Overall, Ryzen is impressive even if the harsh reality is that the one group of PC users for whom Ryzen is probably least immediately compelling are gamers. But if I was buying a CPU right now, it would still be the base model eight-core Ryzen. It’s not perfect and for pure gaming Intel still makes the best CPUs. But it’s a really nice all-rounder for the money.

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48 Comments

  1. Konservenknilch says:

    Sigh of relief.

  2. Sakkura says:

    Yeah I’ve got my sights set on an R5 as well. 6 cores, 12 threads, Haswell IPC, but with the price tag of a Core i5 (4 cores, 4 threads, though Intel is apparently changing that to 4c8t soon). Fast enough single-threaded, big boost multi-threaded.

    And the timing’s about right for all of us on a Sandy or Ivy Bridge Core i5 (or below) to upgrade.

    • blur says:

      Yuuuup. My 2500k is finally showing its age these days. Any CPU upgrade would necessitate motherboard and RAM as well, so the next batch of Ryzen releases definitely look like they might hit the super sweet spot.

  3. Gnoupi says:

    I’m actually a bit surprised to read that. The consensus on all other reviews I read is that it’s not ideal for gaming, performance wise, compared to the concurrency. And that it only passes them in “ideal” multithreaded conditions (video processing/rendering).

    • dangermouse76 says:

      My reading seems to suggest. That 1440p evens out the FPS comparisons as they push the work to the GPU.
      But when looking at 1080p gaming with these chips the i7 seems to have a larger margin over Ryzen. Edit: As this article seems to bare out.

      So yeah these chips dont blow me away for gaming. That may not be their purpose, but still.
      So yeah very interested to see what the Ryzen i5 competition will look like.

      • dangermouse76 says:

        Also this is brand new from scratch work from AMD so optimisations from devs and AMD may help bring that gap down.

        • Sakkura says:

          I wouldn’t count on big improvements, but at least the situations where SMT hurts performance should be going away. Maybe a few percent on top of that, here and there.

    • Jeremy Laird says:

      You must have missed these excerpts!:

      “Ryzen looks like a goer for games but it will occasionally lag the best Intel chips in certain games, sometimes because the game doesn’t scale well across lots of cores and on occasion probably because it’s poorly optimised for Ryzen’s processing peccadilloes. In that sense, these early eight-core chips are somewhat suboptimal for games with the possible exception of multi-tasking. ”

      “Tech Report’s gaming numbers show that Ryzen can be a fair old bit off the current Intel pace in some games.”

      “the harsh reality is that the one group of PC users for whom Ryzen is probably least immediately compelling are gamers”

      “for pure gaming Intel still makes the best CPUs”

      For the most part, if you run at high res and graphical detail, the gap is inconsequential in most games. Where games are CPU limited, the gap is a lot more obvious. Plus there are one or two anomalies, to boot.

      I think you’ve probably absorbed my generally upbeat tone but ignored the detail of what I wrote.

      • Gnoupi says:

        I shouldn’t be reading/commenting past 22, obviously. Apologies for my approximate reading and thanks for pointing out those paragraphs to me :)

        • ZippyLemon says:

          Off topic but, as an English teacher living in Germany, I’m curious and would like to ask: by “past 22” do you mean “past the age of 22” or “after 10pm”?

          The way language can glitch like this, causing tiny ambiguities, is really fun for me to dissect!

          PS almost certainly you meant “after 10pm”, and I would caution you that ’22’ is not an intuitive way for native speakers to write time. 2200, 22:00 and 10pm all read correctly :)

        • Premium User Badge

          Harlander says:

          Yeah, after 22 you should be getting ready for the Carousel.

          Renew! Renew!

    • carewolf says:

      Very few games push the CPU and the few that do are multithreaded. What other reviews do to make Intel look better is take something that is close to pushing the CPU but is single-threaded because it usually doesn’t matter, run it in a low resolution like 1080p and then pretend FPS over 100 matters. Then a Kaby Lake is faster than Ryzen, because it does indeed have better single threaded performance.

      • Unclepauly says:

        There is much more than “a very few” games that push the cpu. When you go online multiplayer the burden on the CPU increases alot for a large percentage of games. The problem here is that online multiplayer is almost impossible to benchmark consistently. Games with a huge amount of players just compounds the issue.

        • Premium User Badge

          randomclass says:

          Also games like Paradox’s grand strategy games, from CK2 to HoI4. They all seem to be laggy in late game, in SP or MP, and it’s all down to CPU, not GPU.

    • ravenshrike says:

      The issue is that the reviews are all over the place with a few more or less matching the 7700k even at 1080p, with others horribly bombing. Most of that is teething issues from the new architecture(Although the on-die memory controller throughput is a bit weak. That needs to be improved by at least 50%, preferably doubled in the next refresh). In three to six months the performance numbers will almost certainly look much better as BIOSes, opcode, and MS drivers are improved, with even some games getting patched to work with Ryzen’s quirks. You’ve got to remember that the Haswell and Broadwell and Lake chips are all very mature at this point with more similarities than differences between them.

  4. kud13 says:

    A few years back I picked up an AMD FX 4350- also an 8-core 4.0 Ghz base for something ridiculous like 250CAD (this was right before the dollar spiked up). The reason for AMD was I had an AMD-based mobo and I was upgrading piecemeal.

    Gotta say, I haven’t had any problems with any “modern” games on it since (GPU was a bottleneck for a while, but now I’m running Nvidia 1070). However, Age of Empires 2 HD (that does not support multi-threading, period) DOES make it huff and puff (as opposed to, say, Witcher 3).

    So I guess we still gotta wait for AMD to come up with powerful single-thread chips.

    • Sakkura says:

      8 cores? Then you mean FX-8350, the FX-4350 is 4 cores.

      While Ryzen is still not quite on par with Intel in single-threaded performance, it’s very close. And a HUGE upgrade over their old FX chips. We’re talking 60-80% faster.

  5. BadManiac says:

    I ordered my 1700X today, been waiting for this too long.

    I’m still gaming on my old Phenom 2 X4, and while running at a respectable 4Ghz, it’s really starting to show it’s age in some games. So for me the jump from 4 cores and 4 threads to 8 cores and 16 threads at hopefully near the same clock speed should be an enormous leap, and I won’t be completely CPU limiting my GTX 1070 any more. :D

    • AngoraFish says:

      My Phenom 2 x4 955 is still running strong and I’ve not noticed any significant CPU bottleneck on anything I play. I’ve upgraded the graphics card a couple of times since I got it, but there’s still no incentive at all for me to splash cash on a new CPU.

      • Unclepauly says:

        The fact is that you are just used to it so don’t notice it. That CPU is has problems in a huge amount of games.

        • Aldehyde says:

          What does that even mean? If he’s getting the performance he needs to get a pleasurable experience while playing, he doesn’t need the upgrade.

          • Jeremy Laird says:

            Admittedly, this can be a philosophical distinction, but he/she may not fully realise how bad their performance is or how much better it can be.

      • DopeyJoe says:

        Phenom II X6 1035 ST here, with 7-year-old ASrock mobo. Runs D3 perfectly. I’m due for an upgrade for FPS, though … only a limited number of times you can play through Bioshock Infinite (last FPS that my rig runs flawlessly).

    • TechnicalBen says:

      I’m here to roll with the Phenny X4 crowd! (Though mine was an x3, unlocked, and now put in the spare pc, with an x6 in here! :D ).

    • annoyingpotato says:

      I also had a Phenom II X4 (965 Black, to be precise). I played every single game on it, no problem. But last year I decided to buy an i5 6600. Got a new mobo, new RAM, the new CPU and a new case.

      Only then I noticed how obsolete the Phenom II was. I got almost double the framerate on most games.

      I mean, the good old Phenom II served its purpose. It allowed me to play any game I wanted. It also didn’t do that so well.

      And there was also a bonus. It worked as a very nice space heater!

  6. Premium User Badge

    Don Reba says:

    My main requirement from a CPU is maximum AVX2 performance, in which Ryzen lags behind Intel literally by a factor of 2, so my main hope is that competition will force Intel to add more cores and drop prices.

    It could be argued that I would be better served by a GPU, but, well, it’s a whole other can of worms, and I don’t want the hassle.

  7. zBeeble says:

    Can we expect existing water cooling solutions (say… ones that worked with the 9590) to be compatible?

    • Sakkura says:

      You’ll often need an updated bracket. Many cooling vendors are offering those either free or cheap.

      NZXT has their free AM4 bracket coming March 15th. Corsair has theirs on preorder for $5.

  8. genesis2303 says:

    Could You record some benchmark or battle closeups for Attila and put it on YT?

  9. Solidstate89 says:

    From what I’ve seen, playing at 1440 resolutions (I play at either 3440×1440, or 2560×1440 for those games that don’t like 21:9) is basically inconsequential (as the article states) with only a few exceptions of being really far behind Intel’s offerings.

    But I do more than just playing nothing but games on my desktop, and having 8 physical cores would be a great convenience for the VMs and the sometimes video encodes that I do. Consider me pleasantly impressed.

  10. ScubaMonster says:

    I’ve seen some articles about the performance comparison, but not any that factor in price at the same time. I get that it’s the cold hard numbers that matter most and these chips are going up against Intel’s offerings. But if a Ryzen chip lags a bit behind its Intel counterpart but is substantially cheaper I would consider that a win. Sure, you could pony up extra bucks if you absolutely must have the best of the best, but if you can get performance close to it for a lot cheaper, that would be a no brainer to me. I don’t know all the pricing to make a comparison myself though. I haven’t really looked at the Ryzen prices compared to their Intel equivalents.

    • haldolium says:

      Check the chart on the bottom of the site here, it gives an impression where Ryzen stands in terms of pricing to performance: link to computerbase.de

      Good thing AMD catches up, but by now I am more interested in GPGPU in general since GPU based rendering has taken HUGE steps in the time AMD was figuring out the Zen and for playing games, the CPU is so seldom an issue that I couldn’t care less for the high-end market.

      • Unclepauly says:

        It really does depend on the types of games a person plays though. Certain genres of games have a greater need for CPU performance while many do not. Plenty of outliers as well. Take ARMA 3 for example, Sandy bridge systems net about 30-35 fps while Kaby Lake(with very fast ram) is netting roughly 55-60 fps. Cherry picked game of course but there are others out there less documented that benefit as well.

    • Rack says:

      Sadly the current scenario does Ryzen few favours. A 1700 compares poorly with an i5 7600k at £100 more. Right at the bottom of the pile the 1100 might be a reasonable budget option but all in all Ryzen looks to be a good option for 3d modelling, less so for games.

  11. ButteringSundays says:

    I haven’t noticed my 5 y/o i5 acting as a bottleneck anywhere I’ve noticed (the 760 is showing its age though… sometimes). Hardware fetishists are strange beasts – the money they’ll spend for an updated forum signature.

    • Lord Zeon says:

      The CPU hasn’t been a bottleneck for gaming for almost a decade now. I still use a first gen Bulldozer CPU, the FX-8120, and I’ve never seen a AAA title get caught up on it with my GTX 970. Imagine that – the first of the “awful” AMD architectures that Ryzen is replacing still is entirely relevant in the enthusiast gaming space. I genuinely think that Intel’s marketing has permeated the enthusiast community to the point where everyone has lost the their reference point as to what a CPU needs to do for gaming.

      • Sakkura says:

        If you’re not seeing the FX-8120 limit performance, then you’re simply not looking. It definitely does.

        That doesn’t mean everything is unplayable on it, but it really doesn’t qualify for enthusiast gaming.

      • tehfish says:

        As an FX-8120 owner also, it does bottleneck the GPU in recent games, but it does depend on what GPU you have. You may just be very lucky with a well-matched GPU to go with the CPU there.

        For an example, with fallout4, an overclocked FX-8120 (4.2ghz, no turbo) and a R9 390: It’s perfectly playable often running happily at 1080p 60fps, then you can hit certain areas where it drops to ~20-30fps with the GPU core down to ~450mhz out of it’s maximum 1060mhz – a clear case of a CPU bottleneck.

    • Etherion says:

      I also have a quite dated i5 760 cpu, but didn’t feel it as a bottleneck until just recently (current gpu is gtx 770 overclocked)

  12. bfar says:

    Way back in January last year, I had a long discussion with my peers on a UK forum over 6700k vs 5820k, as they were roughly the same price at the time. I argued that for gaming, the higher clocked 4 core CPU would be the better bet for at least a year or two. We agreed that for all other applications, the lower clocked 6 core chip was the way to go.

    It seems that a year later, nothing has changed, and it frames the perception of Rysen from an enthusiast perspective. It’s still a major coup for consumers though, because as Jeremy rightly points out, most of Intels chips look like poor value for money all of a sudden. Prices will fall across the board.

  13. Prankmonkey says:

    Am I missing something? This article seems to be comparing the £329 Ryzen 1700 to the £218 i5-7600K?

    A 4.2Ghz i7-7700K is £329.

  14. Chorltonwheelie says:

    “I think enthusiasts will make something of a stampede towards Ryzen”
    Noooooo, enthusiasts will fork out for the best thing on the market. This isn’t that, not by a long chalk.
    I get the desperate need to provide Intel with some meaningful compatition but why hype a cheap so so mid range chip?

  15. Jabberslops says:

    Ryzen still isn’t compelling enough to me to upgrade my gaming computer when what I have is still able to get 100+fps in most games I play. I’ve been running a 7 year old used i7 2600k oc’ed since 2012. To maintain 60fps minimum, the only part that I’ve had to upgrade was always the video card. Starting out on a GTX 460, then SLI 560TI to a GTX 780/970(RMA replace) and now a GTX 1070. Until my games consistently dip below 50fps on max settings with my current or newer video card, I have no real reason to upgrade yet.

  16. Premium User Badge

    syllopsium says:

    Have to admit I was wrong with this – I expected the single threaded performance would suck. Whilst it doesn’t match a 7700K, it’s a great alternative to Intel’s enthusiast class CPUs at a much lower price, and being AMD hopefully supports ECC RAM too.

    The problem is, I’m not convinced the enthusiast market is large enough. If you’re using virtualisation, rendering, or transcoding video it’s a huge win, but for general productivity and games this isn’t on the radar and probably never will be. Neither are any of Intel’s chips with more than four cores.

    They also haven’t talked up any virtualisation support, other than encrypted memory. They could do much more in this area if they wanted to.

    Roll on four fast core versions of Ryzen..

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