AMD is back! Those 3 words alone poorly emphasize the importance of what is perhaps the most anticipated PC product launch in the last decade. AMD’s new Ryzen processor series is the talk of the town. It has been the dominant theme across PC enthusiast forums for many months, and likely the dominant topic in Intel’s boardroom too! When AMD CEO Lisa Su recently declared AMD had achieved no less than up to 52% IPC increase from the previous generation, even the most skeptical rabid fanboys had to sit up and take notice. AMD is no longer sitting at the kiddies table. It is now taking on Intel head to head, an unfathomable concept a year ago.
Unfortunately we had a very limited time with our sample prior to the ending of the review embargo (2 days!), so we are keeping it short and sweet for now. We’ll be going into much more detail in future articles. For now we’ll skip overclocking and extensive gaming performance and stick to the basics.
Perhaps realizing that AMD needed to pull a rabbit out of the hat in the wake of the poor reception of Bulldozer, the company rehired one of its favorite sons; Jim Keller, who is widely credited for his work on AMD’s K7 and K8 architectures. These include the AMD Athlon and Athlon 64 series. This period was the high water mark for AMD, being competitive with Intel on performance, price and technology. The Athlon 64’s integrated memory controller and dual core design competed very well with Intel’s Pentium-D range at the time. Fast forward a decade, it’s no surprise that AMD longed for a return to those glory days, and rehiring Jim Keller was part of the plan to bring new thinking and the freedom of a clean sheet in the hopes of returning AMD to relevancy in the PC space.
The Ryzen CPU Family
The Ryzen family will eventually fill AMD’s CPU portfolio from top to bottom. For now, only the R7 models are launching. The mid and low end R5 and R3 models are to follow later this year. The R7 range are all 8 core/16 thread models. What’s exciting for enthusiasts is that all models from top to bottom will be multiplier unlocked allowing for easy overclocking.
These CPU’s have been available for preorder for several days. At the time of writing, 3 of the top 4 best selling CPU’s at amazon.com are the 3 new Ryzen models! Note the X suffix at the end of the product name. 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. It is believed that better cooling improves this function. This is something we’ll test in our upcoming Ryzen OC piece.
Next is a look at the R7 1800X, including a look in comparison to some other CPUs. 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!
Clockwise from top left: AMD Ryzen 1800X (AM4), AMD A10-5800 (FM2), Intel i7 6950X (S2011-3), Intel i7 5960X (S2011-3) and Intel i7 7700K (S1151)
No longer relegated to the kids table
AMD is betting big on the future of multi core, and with good reason. In addition to the standard explanations of the benefits of multi cores, such as multitasking and content creation, these days, even gaming API’s such as DirectX 12 and Vulkan benefit from multi cores. Some game engines themselves are running into some bottlenecks with 4c/4t CPUs. Something like a Twitch streamer, who play their games and stream at the same time have exploded in number. 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.
This leads to the next point: Competition is good! In years past, we were spoiled with CPU generational improvements in the range of 10-20% or higher, which represented a compelling upgrade path. We haven’t had that luxury in recent years. 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. This is a major reason why the PC market has stagnated over recent years. An older PC is ‘good enough’. 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.
In the quest for maximum improvements in instructions per clock (IPC) 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) which is essentially a super turbo, that allows the frequency to increase beyond the standard 4.0Ghz limit when power and thermal conditions allow. We will investigate this in a future article with our overclocking findings. Other key SenseMI technologies include advanced power management, constantly adjusting CPU frequencies and some interesting prefetch and branch prediction functionality. 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 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!
AM4 Platform Overview
Accompanying the R7 1800X for our review is the Asus Crosshair VI Hero motherboard. The venerable AM3 socket has finally been put to pasture. Now we have the new AM4 socket and accompanying X370 chipset. This brings the AMD platform right up to 2017 standards, with PCIe 3.0, NVMe, USB 3.1 Gen 2 and DDR4 memory.
We’ll go into motherboards separately in future articles, but our thoughts are positive on this board at this time. While we think there is quite a lot of room for improvement in the coming months as BIOS’ mature, its good to see that the basics seem to be working well at this stage. Storage, I/O and functionality seem to be show stopper bug free. In years past, BIOS engineers have spent nowhere near as much time getting that last 1% of polish and performance out of AMD platforms compared to Intel. We know BIOS teams have had to learn a few things too. A new CPU architecture, AMD’s first DDR4 platform, a 2017 era chipset, All these things take time to tune and optimize, so kudos to the Asus BIOS team for having the platform ready.
In a perfect world, we’d like to have seen X370 have a full 16x/16x to a pair of PCIe slots for multi GPU, though this is really nitpicking and would have added significant cost and complexity to the design, not to mention the additional pins required.
Something that hasn’t been much talked about pre release has been the two entries at the bottom of this slide: 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. We know many of you simply love ITX. There is great potential for builds based on these chipsets partnered with upcoming APUs. Imagine the possible graphics power of some potential NUC units! droooool…
Lets get right into it. as mentioned, due to time constraints, we are a bit briefer than we’d like for a new platform launch. But we’ll have much more to come in the weeks and months ahead. we’re sure we’ll be looking at many motherboards based on the new chipsets. Ohhh is that a 1080 Ti? well, we’d better see how that performs with Ryzen too! Stay tuned.
For our test platforms, 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. Of course the Haswell-E and Broadwell-E X99 CPUs have the inherent advantage of being equipped with quad channel memory.
Cinebench really shows the strength of the Ryzen R7 1800X. It is very competitive against the X99 CPUs and shows how a higher core count can make short work of the single threaded king, the 7700K in multi threaded scenarios.
SuperPi is 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 is an application that makes significant use of available memory performance. AMD is very strong here, but it is hamstrung by its use of dual channel memory vs the X99 platform and its quad channel. The R7 1800X is still very strong again in anything that makes use of multi threads.
What a fantastic 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. In the era of 4K, Netflix and millions of twitch streamers and youtubers all relying heavily on compute capability for video encoding and decoding, this, quite frankly, kicks ass! the 1800X is close to the behemoth 6950X despite having 10c/20t and costing more or less 3 times the price. This is what Ryzen brings to the 2017 consumers desktop.
Ditto POVray, a popular ray tracing benchmark.
Another good result for AMD here. Lets see what ln2 overclockers can do once they really push this platform hard. Broadwell-E is not known for its OC capabilities so we look forward to seeing Ryzen OC, both extreme, and in the hands of air/water enthusiasts.
We are planning a standalone article to show Ryzen gaming performance. We ran a couple of benchmarks and found gaming performance isn’t quite where we’d hoped it would be. Perhaps we are missing a setting or something in our brief testing. We’ll reserve judgement for now. After all , it is a brand new platform and we’re sure there’s still a lot of work to be done to fine tune performance.
Finally it’s here! Ryzen has been a long time coming. AMD has brought 8 core CPUs to the mainstream for the first time. Add in a competitive platform specification, aggressive pricing and mostly impressive performance levels and there’s no doubt that AMD’s outlook is better than it has been for many years. Given all the hype we’ve been seeing plastered over the net for months, as enthusiasts ourselves, perhaps we expected a little too much from Ryzen. There’s no doubt there’s plenty to like but we until we investigate gaming performance we’ll reserve unequivocal praise for now. Having said that, our brief gaming tests still show the 1800X is no slouch and we’re sure gamers will have little to complain about. Ryzen will still deliver excellent frame rates at any setting, and of course all that will be non existent with a powerful GPU and eye candy anyway.
Where Ryzen really shines is multi threaded performance. It is very competitive with Intel’s X99 offerings at half the price. This is really excellent to see. The consumer has real choice. As we move forward and programs increasingly make use of more threads, we’re quite sure Ryzen will be relevant for a long time. Much like a Sandy Bridge Quad core is still useful today, so will an 8 core CPU in 5 years + time.
AMD, with the release of Ryzen, has effectively broken Intel’s desktop monopoly. The future is bright. Can AMD penetrate the highly lucrative enterprise market? Can it gain design wins in the mobile segment? Will the Ryzen R5 and R3 be as competitive? These are all questions we are looking forward to the answers to. For now, we’ll close where we began. AMD is back!
As we mentioned in the intro, due to the late arrival of our sample, we had very limited testing time before our article went live, so we’ll be following up soon with articles focused on overclocking and gaming performance with a much wider range of titles, resolutions and GPUs. Stay tuned!
Excellent multi thread performance
Great platform spec
Greatly improved single thread performance
8c/16t at just 65w/95w TDP? Excellent!
Gaming performance is slower than we’d have liked based on our preliminary testing