Its been just over a month since AMD launched the first of their all new Ryzen CPUs. They really shook up the market, offering fantastic performance at a very competitive price relative to their Intel counterparts. The first wave contained the high end Ryzen 7 series, the eight core monsters aimed at the enthusiast segment of the market. Today the 7 series is joined by the Ryzen 5 series, a more affordable range of processors aimed squarely at the mid range market. We have the Ryzen 5 1600X and 1500X on hand for review today. Both really threaten to shake up the $250 to $350 SGD market. Competition is great for the consumer. Bring it on!
Taking the fight to the mainstream
When we tested the R7 1800X, we found it had excellent multi thread performance which really does bode well for the future. It is clear that AMD is betting big on the future of multi core, and with good reason. The trend is clear. Parallelism is becoming more and more relevant as developers seek extra performance and resources that were once exclusive to clock speed and frequency improvements. Even the top phones are shipping with octa core processors. Look at the price premium Intel has been charging for their high end X99 processors despite the clock speed disadvantage they have. The PC gaming Master Race have been using quad cores for a decade and are not seeing the IPC gains they were spoiled with with the likes of Core 2 and Sandy Bridge, so developers need to increase threading efficiency to find extra performance. Games, which traditionally value single threaded performance above multi threaded performance are evolving, The modern gaming API’s such as DirectX 12 and Vulkan all have significant under the hood enhancements aimed at taking advantage of multi cores. These days we see evidence that 4 core CPU’s are running into some bottlenecks.
Of course CPUs aren’t only aimed at gamers. Content creators will love the extra grunt on offer and multi tasking is everywhere. Consider the millions of Twitch streamers and youtubers: They will see direct benefits from the extra threads. There’s no doubt that multi core is becoming truly mainstream and the pressure is on Intel to up their core counts, which have been the same on their mainstream CPUs for over a decade now.
Competition is good! Let’s see a Ghz war, let’s see a price war, let’s see engineers encouraged to think outside the box. The consumer wins. The PC space needs a fit and firing, healthy and competitive AMD. Part of the reason the PC space has stagnated has been the lack of revolutionary improvement and hence compelling reasons to upgrade. Take for example the Intel Sandy Bridge architecture. This 5 year old ‘2nd Generation’ CPU can be overclocked to 5Ghz+ and can still match current 7th generation processors. We don’t really need to upgrade every year, but dammit we want to! Give us a reason and we’ll give you our dollars!
A peek under the hood
In the quest for maximizing improvements, AMD have introduced several technologies under the umbrella name of ‘SenseMI’. Essentially this is a grid of interconnected sensors that poll various parameters including amperage, voltage, wattage, temperature and clock frequency with a very fine degree of precision at a polling rate of 1000 times per second. The CPU then uses this data for fine tuning performance, including the Extended Frequency Range (XFR) Other key SenseMI technologies include advanced power management, constantly adjusting CPU frequencies and some interesting prefetch and branch prediction functionality far in advance of the previous Bulldozer architecture. We don’t think this is quite deserving of being called AI like AMD says, but there is no doubt that these technologies combining to bring us a true 8c/16t processor that can run at 4Ghz+ at a TDP of just 95w is a significant leap for AMD and Global Foundries, and Intel for that matter which prides itself on its manufacturing and process technology. We can’t wait to see what AMD will bring to the table with future mobile designs if it can pull off an 8c/16t CPU with a 65W TDP! (R7 1700). How about a genuine non gimped 4c/8t ultrabook? Yes please!
Note the X suffix at the end of some of the product names. This denotes the CPU features AMD’s new XFR or Extended Frequency Range technology. This means the CPU will automatically clock itself higher then the specified turbo clock when thermal and power conditions allow. Better cooling improves this function. As is the case with all Ryzen processors, the R5 series is multiplier unlocked allowing for easy overclocking. Fantastic!
Below is a summary of the various chipsets available for the AM4 platform. AM4 brings AMD right up to date for a 2017 spec PC with the latest PCIe 3.0, NVMe, USB 3.1 Gen 2 and DDR4 memory all present. We really like the idea that AM4 is a one socket for all CPU’s. AMD’s commitment to the longevity of the socket means your year 2017 motherboard will be relevant for some time to come. With the flexible aspects of the design, and barring some fundamental change like the introduction of PCIe 4.0 or DDR5 memory, AM4 will be here to stay for many years. It’s nice to know that you could just drop an upcoming Raven Ridge APU or 2nd or 3rd generation Zen processor into one of the current boards.
Even now we are surprised that there has been little talk about the X300 and A300 chipsets. These are designed for small form factor systems and make use of the SoC functionality of the Ryzen range. We look forward to seeing what motherboard manufacturers and system builders come up with based on these chipsets. How about a NUC with a ITX board plus a APU with Vega GPU cores? Yes please!
Specifications and pricing
Next is a look at the CPU’s themselves starting with the specifications. We really like the look of the 1600X on paper. Price wise it stacks up against the i5 7600 which is a 4c/4t processor vs the 6c/12t of the 1600X!
Here is a look at the heatsinks AMD will be bundling with the Ryzen CPUs The Wraith Max cooler on the left features four copper heatpipes while the smaller Wraith Spire on the right is a more traditional stock heatsink design, Both feature a lovely RGB ring around the fan that is subtle and really adds a bit of class. Some RGB designs look really tacky but these designs really do look top notch. They sure don’t look like cheapie heatsinks!
As you can see below, the Wraith cooler can connect to a RGB header and be controlled by the software of many of the motherboard vendors and synchronized with the rest of your system.
Both heatsinks come with thermal paste pre applied.
Here we see the Ryzen CPUs in comparison with the other current platforms including Intel Haswell, Kaby Lake, Broadwell-E and AMD’s superseded FM2.
Obviously AMD has decided to keep the pins attached to the CPU rather than adopt Intel’s LGA approach. Hopefully this means less bent motherboard pins, but care is required when handling the CPUs!
Gigabyte B350 Gaming 3 initial thoughts
For our Ryzen 5 review we used a Gigabyte B350 Gaming 3 motherboard. The B350 chipset is designed for mainstream PC’s, between the high end X370 and the low end A320 chipsets. As the name would suggest, B350 motherboards can be considered competitors to Intel B250 motherboards. the AMD B350 does have a couple of advantages though, particularly the ability to overclock and native USB 3.1 Gen 2 capability (Intel B250 requires an additional controller chip) While overclocking is possible on B350 motherboards, the boards typically don’t have the power delivery circuitry required to get the best of out of your processor. In general , if you have a 6 or 8 core Ryzen, you should stick to a X370 board, and leave B350 to overclocking the quad cores. Of course it all depends on the individual motherboard. The major platform features are there but B350 is merely adequate for overclocking. For anything serious and particularly overclocking the R7’s, a X370 with good PWM is recommended.
Storage, I/O and functionality seem to be all working as we expect. We know that BIOS teams are furiously working to improve the BIOS of the motherboards, with memory performance an area that is yet to be fully optimized. Our talks with manufacturers indicate they were somewhat caught off balance with the release of the platform, with Intel’s 200 series platforms being the focus when suddenly the BIOS teams were instructed to shift gear to AMD side. Its getting better all the time though with new microcode coming too. Initially, our DDR4-3200 RAM had no chance of posting at its rated speed, however on two motherboards it is now possible to do so with ease.
The BIOS of the Gigabyte B350 Gaming 3 is quite basic though logically laid out. We have yet to look at a high end Gigabyte X370 motherboard but given what we’ve seen from other boards we expect them to be a lot more comprehensive and reflective of their placing in the SKU lineup. Having said that, all the key functions are there and many in the target market will probably not visit there once the setup is done anyway.
We do like the look of the board and we can’t complain about much given the price (~$189 SGD) It has nice RGB functionality and ALC 1220 audio. We’re not really comfortable with the sole M.2 being right under the heatsink as it can potentially get hot there, and you’ll have to make do with Realtek LAN. As a value option for the mainstream though, we shouldn’t be comparing it to boards that are twice the price, so it’s all good.
Test Setup and Benchmarks
Below is the test setup we used for this test. Note that we should have used a B250 motherboard for the Intel CPU’s but we didn’t have one on hand. We tried to keep things on a level playing field with relatively low memory settings and all CPU parameters set to default, including all turbo modes in order to best reflect out of the box performance.
Cinebench really shows the strength of the Ryzen CPUs. They are very competitive against the the Intel’s and shows how the higher thread counts make short work of the competing CPUs with multi threaded workloads.
SuperPi is pretty much irrelevant in today’s PC world, but it’s still a darling of the OC community despite its age. It doesn’t have too much relevance to day to day performance, but it is still a good indicator of single thread performance. The Intel CPUs are much faster here.
File compression and decompression is an application that makes significant use of available memory performance. AMD is very strong here, again showing the benefits of its threading advantage.
Here’s a really strong result for AMD! One of the prime reasons for owning a PC in 2017 is video capability. Smartphones and tablets will just never cut it. This kicks ass, the Ryzen CPUs destroy the competition. This is what Ryzen brings to the 2017 consumer desktop. Intel needs to move beyond quad cores to stay competitive here.
We see a similar situation in POV Ray, a popular Ray Tracing benchmark.
Here’s another strong result for AMD in 3Dmark physics test.
Now lets move onto gaming. Much has been said about Ryzen’s troubles in CPU bound situations. When we first tested the R7 1800X before its launch, we could tell that the platform was mostly matured with no real show stopper bugs to report. Gaming was one area where we thought we might have been doing something wrong, but it soon became apparent that our results were replicated all across the internet in other launch articles. We’ve since learned that Ryzen requires some optimization on the software side to take advantage of the unique characteristics of the architecture, and are pleased to see that several developers have released, or will release patches to improve Ryzen performance, including Ashes of the Singularity and the ever popular DOTA 2. We’d expect AAA games in the future to be much improved, though question marks remain about the ability of indie developers to devote the resources necessary to optimize for AMD and Intel at the same time. Intel is still the big fish after all. Gaming is just one aspect though.
As we see below, for reasons we can’t really explain , the Intel CPU’s destroy Ryzen at 1080p. Contrary to logical thinking, the difference is even more pronounced at higher graphical settings, where you would expect the CPU difference to be less. Perhaps this is just an example of Shadow of Mordor needing to be optimized.
Then, look what happens at 4K. The difference is completely gone! So while there have been some headlines criticizing 1080p gaming performance, its really a non issue once you move to a powerful GPU and higher settings. We ran Rise of The Tomb Raider at 4k and saw exactly the same thing with all CPU’s neck and neck and within a margin of error.
We used the 6 core 1600X CPU for our all too brief OC adventures. Overclocking options are pretty limited on the B350 Gaming 3. All there is is voltage and multiplier control pretty much. If you want to hardcore OC, you’ll need to go to a X370 motherboard. This sounds like a negative, but compared to what you get with Intel B250, its rather good!
With later BIOS, DDR4 memory speeds are improving all the time. We were able to hit 3200Mhz (well.. 3192..) 16-16-16 quite easily which is a nice sweet spot for speed and latency. We had to bump the SoC voltage to achieve stability at that speed. Note that there is no bus speed control on this board and 3200 is the current highest multiplier available.
We think the CPU can be pushed harder than this on better cooling as temperatures were into the 90’s on the AMD Wraith cooler with a short Cinebench run. There is no possibility of running a long stability test without top cooling. With good water cooling, 4.1 or 4.2 should be doable.
Quality CPU coolers
Feature rich platform
Gaming performance needs improvement.. which is coming slowly..