AMD Ryzen 7 1800X vs. Intel i7-6900K

What a ride it has been. The hype train has been grinding these rails for over a year it seems, and now the destination has finally been reached. In this article we will look at what different reviewers have to say about the R7 1800X, AMD’s new flagship Ryzen CPU, and compare it to what Intel’s i7-6900K has to offer.

The Architecture

The Ryzen 7 processor

Ryzen CPUs are based on Zen, an absolutely new CPU microarchitecture built from the ground up with the help of Jim Keller, a renowned CPU specialist. AMD’s two previous generations of CPUs, Bulldozer and Excavator, struggled to compete with Intel’s newest offerings, so AMD decided to start from scratch. This helped in implementing all important modern-day features into the Zen architecture, apart from support for quad-channel memory.

AMD Ryzen CPUs now have simultaneous multithreading, which is the equivalent to Intel’s hyperthreading. Plus, all of the processors will be overclockable. The CPU stack starts with 8 cores 16 threads and goes all the way down to 4 cores, but there won’t be any dual core Ryzen chips due to the inherent design of the silicon. The recently launched 1800X, 1700X and 1700 all have 8 cores and 16 threads, putting them in direct competition with Intel’s Broadwell-E series processors in terms of specs.

The Hype Train

Prior to the release of Ryzen, AMD were setting the bar very high. Compared to their previous architectures, they promised at least a 40% increase in instructions per clock performance, but managed to raise the bar up to 52%. AMD promised similar or higher performance than Intel’s i7-6900K for half the price with the R7 1800X, which the internet quickly latched onto. Massive amounts of leaks were spreading quickly and some of them weren’t even true. Sadly, that seems to be the case with most anticipated AMD products, where the hype (especially on the internet) doesn’t live up to the reality.

The Reality

With the embargo lifted on the 2nd of March, reviews hit the web. Unfortunately, due to a sequence of certain events reviewers didn’t get a few weeks to review the product. Media outlets were lucky to get the Ryzen bundle a week before the embargo, but even then the process of reviewing was riddled with problems. Just like with the launch of Intel’s X99 platform, there are serious early adopters’ problems with Ryzen. Due to the fact that AMD finished the microcode for the CPU only three weeks before release, the motherboard manufacturers had very little time to prepare BIOSes for their motherboards. This led to multiple problems with XMP profiles, XFR (extended frequency range), CPU overclocking, temperature monitoring and possible other, undiscovered things.

The Performance

Despite the imperfect launch, the Ryzen 7 1800X, retailing at $499, is able to compete with Intel’s $1,000 i7-6900K. With all the problems currently plaguing the AM4 platform it is unfortunately very hard to properly overclock Ryzen CPUs, which led to multiple reviewers having serious difficulties with reaching clockspeeds higher than 4.1 Ghz, if that. Meanwhile, the i7-6900K overclocks to around 4.3-4.4 Ghz, which usually brings its performance above that of the 1800X.

The value of the Ryzen 7 1800X lies in multithreaded workloads, such as Excel, Handbrake, Adobe Premiere and After Effects, or other applications. More in-depth application benchmarks can be found in the tomshardware.com and pcper.com reviews of the 1800X. (Also keep an eye on the Level1Techs YouTube channel).

It is important to note that due to Intel being the dominant CPU manufacturer during the past decade, most programs are often specifically optimized for Intel’s microarchitecture. An update could improve some of the performance we see with Ryzen, but there’s never a guarantee that will happen. Some applications, such as certain parts of the Adobe Creative Cloud like Illustrator, prefer the higher clockspeeds that Intel offers instead of AMD’s more cores.

It is important to consider which applications take advantage of higher clockspeeds to know which specific CPU to buy, but in general, the R7 1800X is on par or close enough to the i7-6900K in multithreaded applications, which is quite remarkable considering the significantly cheaper price of the 1800X.

Compression performance of the Ryzen 7 1800X. Source: tomshardware.com

 

Some parts of Adobe Creative Cloud may be more multithreaded than others. Source: tomshardware.com

 

GamersNexus shows how fast their custom Blender 4K scene renders with a Ryzen 7 1800X. Only an extremely overclocked 6900K is able to compete. Source: GamersNexus

Games

The gaming performance of the R7 1800X got some serious attention as well. Reviewers compared the performance of the chip to both the Intel i7-6900K and 7700K, though the former is its real competitor. AMD talked a lot about how the gaming performance of their new flagship CPU will be similar to or higher than that of the competing Intel processor (for instance the R7 1800X vs. the i7-6900K), but showed games running incomparable benchmarks at 4K resolution, where there is often a GPU bottleneck even with a Titan X.

GamersNexus and HardwareUnboxed did an amazing amount of work comparing the performance of these new AMD CPUs with Intel processors in games, and they came to a conclusion that the performance of the 1800X is not quite what they were expecting. In a more general view, the performance of AMD’s new flagship goes from very poor to very competitive from game to game, which means there are serious optimization issues on multiple levels.

Steve from GamersNexus went as far as naming their R7 1800X article AMD Ryzen R7 1800X Review: An i5 in Gaming, i7 in Production, being very critical about the processor in general. In reality, the overall performance in games at the moment is fluctuating from game to game, with Windows 10 having problems working well with Ryzen CPUs. AMD’s new processors still perform well enough to not hinder gaming performance and in general the difference for non-professional gamers will be indistinguishable. The real benefit of these CPUs doesn’t lie in gaming, but they are still very much capable.

The gaming performance of Ryzen is bound to improve with the next Windows updates due to Microsoft not having optimized the Windows scheduler. The drivers for Linux are already out.

Ryzen 7 1800X performance in Watch Dogs 2. Source: GamersNexus

 

Ryzen 7 1800X performance in Battlefield 1. Notice the narrow timings. Source: GamersNexus

Conclusion

The wait has indeed been long. Every new architecture has serious problems at launch, as was the case with the X99 platform, for instance. Ryzen didn’t manage to avoid these problems, so many early adopters of the new technology may encounter serious issues with the platform, with motherboards hopefully receiving many BIOS updates in the coming months, cooler manufacturers adjusting their bracket compatibility (Jay from JayzTwoCents had some serious problems with his Ryzen build, for instance) and of course developers releasing patches for games and applications to leverage all the performance Ryzen CPUs have to offer.

The Ryzen 7 1800X is a great CPU for content creation, with a very high performance/dollar ratio in multithreaded applications. In Intel-specific, single-threaded or unoptimized applications that ratio is lower, but for the price you’re still getting a very decent processor, even when ignoring the incoming performance improvements during the next months.

For competitive gaming specifically you’re better off getting an Intel Kaby Lake or Skylake processor due to the fact that most games are still heavily clockrate-dependent. Some recent games are able to use all 16 threads of an 8 core 16 thread processor, but unfortunately we’re still quite a ways off from proper utilization of higher core-count CPUs in PC games.

We would recommend avoiding the 1800X for gaming until the launch and early adopter problems are fixed, which will hopefully happen in a few months. Hidden problems may also arise and/or get fixed during this period. If you really need an 8 core 16 thread processor for content creation and multithreaded purposes, then the price/performance ratio of a Ryzen 7 1800X and an X370 motherboard is still much better than that of an Intel i7-6900K and an X99 motherboard. So, it’s pretty obvious that the 1800X is the better deal for content creators.

To summarize:

For gaming: We recommend staying aware of the possible issues with the AM4 platform and weighing the benefits of a lower clocked 8 core 16 thread processor versus something with less cores, but higher clockspeeds. The i7-7700K is still the best gaming CPU, and the i5-7600K is probably the best value gaming CPU. The i7-6900K is also still ~10% better for gaming vs. the 1800X, but that will hopefully improve in the coming months.

For content creation and workstations: The $500 1800X simply beats the $1,000 i7-6900K in terms of value for multithreaded applications. It goes toe-to-toe in multithreaded programs and still performs well in single-threaded programs.

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