Here it is… The Ryzen 7 update. This is going to be a long one.
Now, read on to get our full impressions and explanation for our placement of the Ryzen 7 chips.
AMD’s star shone brightest in the early 2000s, when its Athlon CPUs beat the competition in performance, and cost less. Ancient relics (like the author of this article) remember a time when every gamer would pick AMD for their gaming system. It was simply the better, cheaper option. During that time period, AMD’s product line was so superior to Intel’s that here is what Anand had to say about Intel’s performance from 2000-2005:
“…power hungry, poor performing, non-competitive garbage(sorry guys, it’s the truth) that Intel has been shoving down our throats for the greater part of the past 5 years.”
– Anand Lal Shimpi, 2006. (Emphasis added.)
Yes, you read that right. There was once a time when AMD had the cooler, cheaper, better-performing CPUs. There was a time when it was Intel that was called “garbage”!
AMD’s half-a-decade of supremacy ended in 2006, with the release of the Core 2 series from Intel. The Core 2 Duo (and later, Core 2 Quad) CPUs were not just better than AMD — they killed AMD’s chips. They offered better performance, lower power consumption, and cheaper prices. Well, cheaper except for the “Extreme” stuff, which cost $1,000.
Take a look at this benchmark, also from Anand’s review:
Notice how AMD’s most powerful and most expensive CPUs could only stand toe-to-toe with Intel’s weakest and cheapest CPU? All that, and they cost less! Indeed, 2006 was the year where AMD and Intel changed places, and that change has lasted more than 10 years.
Caught with their pants down, AMD tried to answer with price cuts, and that is not a good way to respond.
Late 2007 saw AMD release their Phenom line, but:
The first generation of Phenoms simply weren’t competitive. When a bug was discovered in the CPU, a patch was issued to correct it, and that patch further reduced performance. The first Phenom was a disaster.
In early 2009, AMD released the Phenom II line of CPUs, the first competitive CPUs from AMD in three years. Unfortunately, it was only competitive for a very short duration. Intel released the similarly-priced Core i5 CPU in late 2009, and… we’ll let the chart do the talking:
The Phenom II’s prices had to be cut, and AMD knew it had to keep trailing Intel until it launched Bulldozer in 2011. Unfortunately for AMD, Intel had other plans. In early 2011, Intel’s (now legendary) Sandy Bridge i3/i5/i7 CPUs were released, and they were absolute monsters! Performance had increased by anywhere between 20-40% over the previous generation, and AMD’s was no longer just trailing Intel — AMD was being lapped.
All of AMD’s hopes now rested on the new Bulldozer CPUs. Bulldozer was newer, it was 32nm (Phenom II was 45nm), it had under development for four years… it had to be better, right? Well, no. Bulldozer proved to be one of the worst launches in CPU history. Forget about catching up to Intel — Bulldozer sometimes trailed Phenom II in performance. It was gut-wrenching to see the shiny new 2011 CPU trail behind 2009’s CPU, and you can relive the sorrow and tears with some select benchmarks below:
Bulldozer was a disaster. Power hungry, pricey, underperforming when compared to Intel, and even underperforming when compared to AMD’s own previous CPUs! There was little room left for AMD to fail any further, as Bulldozer somehow managed to get everything wrong. If Athlon of 2000 was AMD’s zenith, then 2011’s Bulldozer was its nadir.
Cries of “AMD is finished and bankrupt” were heard daily on certain forums, and with good reason. If Sandy Bridge was some ~50% better than Bulldozer, then Ivy Bridge (2012) added another 5-10%, and Haswell (2013) added yet another 5-10%. Sure, AMD released Vishera, an improved Bulldozer which allowed it to compete with Sandy Bridge on price, but that meant that AMD’s sole survival strategy was to fight with prices. Intel has always been pricey, and these excessive prices meant that AMD was allowed to continue treading water in the lower price ranges.
The non-launched Broadwell meant that 2014 saw nothing new, and 2015 gave us Intel’s Skylake (another 5%-10% improvement). After Skylake’s launch, Intel was so far ahead that it could release Kaby Lake, which was nothing more than Skylake clocked a bit higher and given a new sticker. And how well did Kaby Lake do? It completely dominated, of course! As a testament to AMD’s total serf status, Intel could release new CPUs with little improvement, price them as high as possible, and still win.
But there is life in the old dog yet. After 10 years of eating Intel’s dust, AMD is catching up, and fast. Ryzen is a phenomenal leap forward, and AMD managed to hit a 50%+ increase in performance over its previous CPU architecture.
And while Intel’s mainstream CPUs are 4 cores with either 4 or 8 threads, AMD has launched Ryzen with 8 cores and 16 threads at a mainstream price. (OK, maybe a moderately expensive price, but Intel’s 8 core CPUs are double the price of AMD’s.)
In terms of multi-threaded performance, Ryzen is a home run. Ryzen delivers excellent performance, at a great price.
If multi-threaded performance is your thing, and you want the best bang for your buck, Ryzen is for you. Ryzen competes well against the $400-$600 i7-6800K and 6850K CPUs, and even nudges the $1,000 i7-6900K in some benchmarks. Anyone whose typical workload is heavily threaded (video editing, rendering, streaming) should give some serious consideration to the Ryzen 7 lineup when buying a new CPU. If multi-threaded performance was everything, Ryzen would be an unqualified success.
But multithreaded performance is not everything. Most of our normal day-to-day programs are lightly threaded, and single-threaded performance still reigns supreme when it comes to gaming. Sure, Ryzen gained ~50% performance over its AMD predecessor, but how well does it stand up to Intel’s offerings?
Sadly, Ryzen is still some 15-20% behind in single-threaded performance when compared to the best that Intel has to offer. For gamers in particular, the slightly cheaper i7-7700K remains the best gaming CPU that you can buy. The i5-7600K is an even better value at $240 — a bit behind the i7-7700K, but still ahead of Ryzen.
Ryzen may be doing excellently in multi-threaded workloads, but that is because it packs 8 cores which can handle 16 threads. You cannot throw more cores at a lightly threaded application and expect improvement. Ryzen’s single-threaded performance woes are two-fold. It is slower, clock for clock, and it is also clocked slower. Ryzen would need to be clocked faster than what Intel has if it hopes to catch up.
That said, most people use 60 Hz monitors, which are limited to 60 FPS. In this case, Ryzen is good enough. From the above chart of average game FPS, if the i7-7700K gets 134 FPS, the person is going to see 60 FPS on their monitor. The Ryzen 7 1700X only gets 108 FPS… but the person is still going to see 60 FPS on their monitor. Even though the Intel CPU is more capable, the actual experience on a 60 Hz screen is the same.
So what do these mixed results mean for Ryzen? It means that Ryzen wins in a certain segment of the market: Users who need strong multi-threaded performance, and don’t want to spend the extra money on Intel’s biggest CPUs. For everyone else, Intel is still the better choice. Ryzen is not the best CPU for everything, but all-in-all, it is not bad at all.
Right now, we only have the Ryzen 7 series released by AMD. We are already hearing news that performance can be improved with more mature motherboard BIOS, by turning SMT off, and maybe even by an upcoming Windows 10 update. Combined, these factors may help Ryzen close a bit of the single-threaded performance gap that separates it from Intel.
But there is more. The smaller Ryzen 5 is due for release in Q2 2017, and its clocks are about the same as Ryzen 7. But Ryzen 3 (due in the second half of the year) is even smaller, and might be released with higher default clocks. We can look back and see that the FX-8320 was 3.5GHz, while the smaller FX-4350 was 4.2GHz, so this will not be something new to AMD. With aggressive speeds, the smaller Ryzen CPUs could prove to be a much better match for Intel in gaming.
And what about Intel? We do not know what Intel has in store for us with the Coffee Lake CPUs, also due in the second half of the year, and then Ice Lake in 2018. If Intel continues with a few more Kaby Lake-style launches, then AMD might have an opportunity to repeat its 2000-2005 lead in performance. On the other hand, if Intel can repeat its Sandy Bridge launch with Ice Lake, then AMD is going to have work a lot harder.
So which future timeline is more likely? A repeat of AMD’s rise to power, or a continuation of Intel’s dominance? We do not know yet, but we do know that before Ryzen’s launch, the future looked bleak for AMD. Now, all possibilities are viable!
For now, Ryzen 7 replaces the Intel i7-6800K and 6850K CPUs in the Enthusiast tier on our list. As its BIOSes mature and patches arrive, it may find itself in more tiers, if the performance increase is significant enough. When the Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 3 CPUs are launched, we will be looking at their performance to see if they are worthy of your money.
In CPU (and GPU) wars, there is no real “winning.” Whatever you launch today can be upended by your competitor tomorrow. But there is “being competitive!” For a particular segment of the CPU market, AMD is competitive again with Ryzen 7. By the end of the year, we hope that it can be competitive across the board.
- AnandTech: The Bulldozer Review: AMD FX-8150 Tested
- TomsHardware: AMD Bulldozer Review: FX-8150 Gets Tested
- AnandTech: Intel’s Core 2 Extreme & Core 2 Duo: The Empire Strikes Back
- AnandTech: AMD’s Phenom Unveiled: A Somber Farewell to K8
- AnandTech: Intel’s Core i7 870 & i5 750, Lynnfield: Harder, Better, Faster Stronger
- Bit-Tech: AMD FX-8150 Review
- Reddit: AMD Ryzen Review aggregation thread