Everyone loves a good underdog story. AMD, famous for pipping Intel on price and performance back in the days of the Athlon XP a decade ago, has had a bad run since then. While the GPU performance crown has swung back and forth between AMD and Nvidia many times, things have been rather dire on the CPU side - to the point that barely any mainstream customers even look for AMD options anymore.
Even in its heyday, AMD was only really popular amongst enthusiasts, particularly those who built their own PCs and did their own research. Intel stole a huge lead when the market shifted towards readymade laptops, and has held on to it ever since. AMD is practically absent from the laptop market today, and its desktop chips have only been powerful enough to compete with the bottom of Intel's stack. That means it hasn't had any premium high-margin CPUs to sell in ages, compromising its bottom line and diminishing its ability to compete again.
Still, fans have rallied around AMD and have been excited for each new attempt to regain its standing. Efforts like Fusion and HSA, combining the power of heterogenous CPUs and GPUs, show that AMD has been thinking very differently about modern computer architecture. It has tried to position itself as the only company that can deliver compute and graphics power together. All of that has led up to this moment; the release of new CPUs named Ryzen which promise to not only catch up to Intel's most powerful current products, but blow them out of the water.
AMD disclosed many of the Ryzen line's unique features a few months ago, and claimed at the official launch of the premium Ryzen 7 series last week that its fastest model beats an equivalent Intel chip - that too for just under half the price. It's a massive claim, and if true, it means that AMD might have finally dug itself out of its hole. We're putting the brand new Ryzen 7 1800X through its paces in our lab today, and we can't wait to see how things turn out.
AMD will flesh out its Zen architecture-based portfolio as 2017 progresses, adding laptop and server chips, APUs with integrated graphics, and more mainstream models. However for now, we have only three premium desktop CPUs at launch time - the Ryzen 7 1700, 1700X and 1800X. These are officially priced at Rs. 24,499, Rs. 29,499, and Rs. 37,999 respectively and are available for purchase in India already.
The main thing to note about the Ryzen 7 series is that all three models have eight physical CPU cores, each of which is multi-threaded for a total of 16 simultaneous threads. Intel's lone 8-core offering is the Core i7-6900K which sells for roughly Rs. 83,500. This is the model against which AMD is pegging the Ryzen 7 1800X - really putting Intel's steep price premium into focus. While the Ryzen 7 1800X has a rated TDP of 95W, the Core i7-6900 can dissipate up to 140W.
AMD points out that while not all games and apps will take advantage of eight physical cores, there's nothing wrong with having that much power on tap - and it might even help motivate software developers to push their limits. The company even agrees with Intel's "megatasking" premise, which argues that lots of people today want to play a game, encode and broadcast a live video stream and have a few other utilities running at the same time on one single machine.
The 1800X has a base clock speed of 3.6GHz and can jump up to 4.0GHz on demand. However, AMD has devised ways to push that even further, without manual overclocking. Each CPU has dozens of embedded sensors that measure temperature, voltage and heat to minute degrees of accuracy hundreds of times per second. For an in-depth look at AMD's Zen architecture, the new AM4 platform, chipsets and coolers, check out our guide on the subject.
We're using a motherboard from MSI for testing, and it's just as premium as anything we've seen for Intel's high-end offerings. It has the same printed silver-white finish as the MSI Z170A Xpower Gaming Titanium Edition we reviewed in the past, but in keeping with modern times, it features RGB LEDs to help you show off your rig.
This board has a sensible layout with more than enough clearance around the CPU socket for our sizeable Noctua cooler. There's a plastic shroud over the rear port cluster and audio circuitry for purely aesthetic purposes, and simple heatsinks over the voltage regulators. Overclocking is a major feature, and you'll find MSI's unique Game Boost knob in the front left corner. The PCIe and RAM slots are covered with shiny steel, which MSI says helps support heavy cards.
The rear cluster has one legacy PS/2 port, three USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports (5Gbps), one USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A and Type-C port each (10Gpbs), a Gigabit LAN port, five 3.5mm audio ports, S/PDIF output, and DisplayPort plus HDMI 2.0 video outputs (for use with compatible APUs). There's also an externally accessible BIOS reset switch here.
There are two M.2 slots between PCIe slots, one of which has a removable hinged metal heat spreader. There's also a U.2 port for boxed SSDs, which we've only seen on extremely high-end motherboards before. You get six SATA 3.0 ports, and we don't mind the lack of SATAexpress which never took off as a standard. Not all the M.2, U.2 and SATA ports can be used at the same time - MSI's manual includes multiple charts and diagrams to help you figure out which permutations will work. More interestingly, there's a standard USB 3.1 Gen 2 header for front-panel Type-C ports.
MSI's UEFI BIOS interface is far from slick, but it's easy enough to get around. On the other hand, there's a ton of bundled software including multiple utilities for everything from sound enhancement to overclocking.
We tested our Ryzen 7 1800X sample with the following components. The CPU, motherboard, RAM and cooler were all provided by AMD for the purpose of this review. We haven't tested Intel's Core i7-6900K but we have had some experience with its 10-core sibling, the Core i7-6950X. Test conditions were not identical between the two, and of course Intel's offering costs nearly four times as much as AMD's, so this is not a direct comparison. You can also refer to our reviews of Intel's Core i7-6700K and Core i7-7700K. We present the Intel numbers primarily as points of reference.
|AMD Ryzen||Intel Core i7|
|CPU||AMD Ryzen 7 1800X||Intel Core i7-6950X|
|Motherboard||MSI X370 Xpower Gaming Titanium||Asus X99 Deluxe II|
|RAM||2x8 GB Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-3000||2x8 GB Corsair Vengeance LED DDR4-3200|
|Graphics card||XFX Radeon R9 380X DD BLK OC 4GB||MSI Radeon RX 470 Gaming X|
|SSD||250GB WD Blue SSD||256GB Samsung SSD 950 Pro|
|CPU cooler||Noctua NH-U12S SE -AM4||Cooler Master Hyper 212X|
It's worth underscoring the fact that AMD chose to give us a beefy Noctua cooler rather than its own Wraith Max. AMD says that many third-party coolers exceed the Wraith Max's 95W TDP design target "by a significant margin". In fact, AMD isn't currently selling its own cooler even if buyers might want it; it exists solely for OEMs who want a small, quiet thermal solution and don't care about overclocking.
In the interest of full disclosure, we need to note that our CPU sample, despite being in a sealed box, had traces of thermal grease on its sides and pins - and our motherboard had Noctua's heatsink retention mechanism preattached. When asked, AMD confirmed to us that all CPUs sent out for review have been tested internally (dare we say cherry-picked?) before being sent out.
Also worth mentioning, the Ryzen test rig failed to boot from our PCIe Samsung SSD 950 Pro SSD, which is why we used a SATA-based WD Blue SSD instead. AMD is looking into this issue, but we do not anticipate any significant effect on CPU-bound test results.
We followed AMD's recommendation to use Windows 10's High Performance power preset, which allows the CPU to take over managing power states, and use the capabilities that allow it to switch states quickly and in small increments. All our previous tests of Intel CPUs were performed using the default Balanced power mode.
Starting with CineBench, we see that single-threaded performance bumps right up against that of Broadwell-E (but isn't as strong as the newer Skylake or Kaby Lake). However, with all eight physical cores and 16 threads active, the Ryzen eclipses both quad-core parts and comes close enough to Intel's 10-core beast to make its price seem outrageous. POVRay showed exactly the same result.
The Ryzen CPU trades blows with Broadwell-E and Kaby Lake in PCMark 8's Home and Work tests. Oddly, the Creative test failed on us multiple times, but eventually did run and posted an equally respectable score. We ran 3DMark even though we aren't testing graphics capabilities because the Physics sub-score reflects CPU power. In the Fire Strike Ultra run, we got a physics score of 20,995 on the Core i7-6950X as against 18,757 with the Ryzen 7 1800X.
SiSoft SANDRA gave us some interesting stats. We can see that AMD's new chip falls slightly behind Intel's 10-core monster in the CPU arithmetic, multimedia and cache bandwidth subsystems - but still looks great considering the difference in price and specifications between the two.
In our real-world video transcoding test using Handbrake to convert a 1.36GB 1080p AVI file to H.265 at 720p, we recorded a time of just 55 seconds; just slightly faster than a Kaby Lake Core i7-7700K, which is Intel's latest architecture and supports H.265 acceleration. A test of file compression using 7zip on a 3.24GB collection of assorted files took 2 minutes, 50 seconds, which was slower by 25 seconds.
We also ran through a few game benchmarks to see how the Ryzen 7 1800X holds up. We started with Ashes of the Singularity's built-in benchmark in DirectX 12 at 4K using the Extreme preset, and we logged an average of 24fps. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided also uses DirectX 12, and this time we got 47.9fps at 1920x1080 using the Very High preset. Finally, we ran though Metro: Last Light Redux at 1920x1080 using the High preset and got an average of 36.33fps. These scores were all weaker on the Ryzen R7 1800X than on the Core i7-6950X and Core i7-6700 when we reviewed them, but the test systems used are not similar enough to make a direct comparison.
|AMD Ryzen 7 1800X||Intel Core i7-6950K|
|Cinebench R15 CPU multi-threaded||159||165|
|Cinebench R15 CPU single-threaded||1603||1848|
|POVRay*||1 minute, 16 seconds||1 minute, 8 seconds|
|PCMark 8 Home||3939||3779|
|PCMark 8 Creative||5148||6078|
|PCMark 8 Work||4577||3123|
|3DMark Fire Strike Ultra (Physics)||18,757||20,995|
|SiSoft SANDRA CPU arithmetic||232GOPS||258.6GOPS|
|SiSoft SANDRA CPU multimedia||459.54Mpix/s||753.41MPix/s|
|SiSoft SANDRA cache bandwidth||216.68GBps||298GB/s|
|Handbrake video encoding*||55 seconds|
|7zip file compression*||2 minutes, 50 seconds|
|Ashes of the Singularity||24fps||31.2fps|
|Deus Ex: Mankind Divided||47.9fps||60.2fps|
|Metro: Last Light Redux||36.33fps||45.16fps|
|*lower is better|
Of course, overclocking is a big part of Ryzen's appeal. AMD has released a user-friendly tool called Ryzen Master (Beta) which lets users monitor and tweak frequencies and voltages, save profiles, and restore defaults in case things get pushed too far. It can be downloaded from AMD's website. Once installed, you'll see a huge warning message, and then it's a simple matter of tweaking values as you like.
We tried a fairly ambitious step up to 4.2GHz on all cores, which caused our system to fail to boot. Even after multiple tries and multiple combinations of CPU core, voltage and memory values, we weren't able to get Ryzen Master to push our system beyond 4.0GHz and run Cinebench without it crashing. Perhaps with more robust cooling and more painstaking investigation we would have achieved better results.
We then tried MSI's quick "OC Boost" knob at position 1, which boosts the clock speed to 4.1GHz and adjusts voltage to match. This also had the same result: we were able to boot into Windows, but Cinebench crashed as soon as we began a test.
If these early impressions are anything to go by, AMD is back with an enormous bang. We still need to see how things go out in the real world, but we can easily say that fans should be elated and Intel should be worried. The Ryzen 7 1800X pretty much wipes out any need for Intel's current high-end Core i7 lineup to exist - it offers nearly equivalent performance at a fraction of the price, and with lower heat dissipation as the cherry on top.
If you're looking to upgrade from a PC that's four or more years old, you suddenly have a whole new universe of choices open to you. We've said in our reviews of Intel's past few releases that there was no AMD equivalent worth mentioning as a potential alternative - Ryzen has changed that. Considering the incredible complexity of CPUs and the billion-dollar costs involved in development, this is a stunning achievement for AMD.
There are still challenges ahead, though. AMD doesn't have Intel's brand power, and lingering doubts about heat might hamper it beyond the enthusiast market. Intel is readying its response, and if rumours hold any water we'll see fresh Kaby Lake parts very soon, plus six-core mainstream models in its next generation later this year.
The Ryzen 7 1800X's main advantage is its core count, but software and game developers won't immediately start targeting 8-core CPUs as the norm. All the dual- and quad-core CPUs currently being sold still have a long lifespan ahead of them. At the most, quad-core will become the minimum spec for more applications. It will be interesting to see whether the octa-core craze that upended the smartphone world two years ago repeats itself - and whether AMD is smart enough to push that angle in markets like India.
We say all this because AMD isn't out of the woods yet. Longer term, it needs to pull off similar successes with the mass-market Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 3 lines later this year, figure out its strategy for CPUs with and without integrated graphics, and deliver mobile parts so impressive that laptop manufacturers have no choice but to get on board. It also needs to be able to keep delivering on this level for the next few generations, especially with Intel promising to ship 10nm CPUs this year. Right now, the three Ryzen 7 models that have released cover only the market for desktop CPUs priced between Rs. 20,000 and Rs. 40,000 which is a miniscule fraction of the total.
But all practical matters aside, this is a moment for PC enthusiasts to savour. There hasn't been such a dramatic shift in dynamics in over a decade. It's nice to see AMD succeed not only in terms of power, and not only because credible competition is great for us, but also because there are new ideas and new energy in a market that no one has cared about for too long. It's good to see AMD back in the game.
AMD Ryzen 7 1800X
Price: Rs. 37,999
Ratings (Out of 5)
MSI X370 Xpower Gaming Titanium
Price: Rs. 29,000
Ratings (Out of 5)