They’re finally back. The Ryzen processor line is AMD’s most prolific attempt at a fresh start, and one hell of a reemergence from the depths. To be honest, it’s of little surprise that this CPU isn’t only aiming to compete in a market domineered by Intel, but also intrinsic of the company’s long climb back to relevance in the world of PC computing.
AMD has returned like flowers in bloom—spring is officially here.
Many critics are usually quick to undermine AMD, but actual consumers can’t ignore the immediate draws of the Ryzen 7 1700 CPU, like the $329 price and the white paper performance of having eight cores and sixteen conventional threads on a single chip. This technically puts it on at least equal footing with the Intel Core i7-7700K, and that’s akin to challenging an emperor—something not seen in a while within the desktop arena.
This is one of the first waves of AMD’s counterattack utilizing the ‘Zen’ architecture, their entry level flagship model that also includes the enhanced Ryzen 7 1700X and top-end Ryzen 7 1800X chips. Back in January I got a sneak peek at CES but everything is fleshed out now and ready for review.
A CPU Reborn
Improvements across the board are remarkably different from previous iterations. “instructions per clock” (IPC) performance is a major focus of Zen with a larger instruction schedule, and a “micro-op cache” that allows bypass of both L2 and L3 cache when grabbing a frequently used operation. Preparation is now executed in a more streamlined manner by way of “neutral network-based branch prediction”, basically a much smarter approach for operations to flow seamlessly without interruption.
AMD is fully aware that unobstructed instructions are pivotal so as a result, required data is more readily available without calling upon memory or HDD for help. All Ryzen 7 processors share a cache hierarchy of included 64KB of L1 instruction data, 4MB of dedicated L2 cache per core, and 16MB of L3 cache. This level of cache used to be exclusive to enthusiast Broadwell-E products like the Core i7-6900K ($1089), but AMD can claim the same 20MB of total cache on their stock Ryzen 7 models. Only the Core i7-6950X beats everything else at 25MB with an outrageous $1653 price tacked on.
Another area that the Ryzen closes the gap in is production efficiency with a smaller 14nm FinFET process that only needs a 95-watt TDP, and even less for the 1700 at 65-watts. This should equal better integration between systems and motherboards with less power consumption, yet the biggest takeaway is that all of this is happening with more physical cores involved. AMD has clearly closed the gap with, if not, somewhat exceeded Intel here.
Precision Boost is something Intel owners may loosely recognize as Turbo Boost, SenseMI detects and reads the CPU’s behavior and allows Precision Boost to work, which varies core clock speed in increments of 25 MHz on the fly.
But, we’re reviewing the 1700 and there are a number of key differences between its step-up SKUs. Besides its lower 65-watt power draw which has an obvious effect on base performance, there’s that distinct lack of an “X” to signify the implementation of Extended Frequency Range that recognizes your cooling solution and ramps up clock speeds beyond the boost level, not just under extreme load.
It may not be listed, but the Ryzen 7 1700 does have a very discreet XFR to work with at 50MHz, but will ultimately fall back on its stock boost of 3.7GHz or overclocking things yourself.
I’ll just come right out and say that the Ryzen 7 1700 CPU surprised me, even after I heard the alleged controversy when matched against the Intel Core i7-7700K. For testing purposes and a comparable $349 retail price, this will be the most common chip people cross-shop on specs alone.
The instant elephant in the room before anything else will be the base clock, and the 7700K is ahead at 4.2GHz, clearly more than the 1700’s 3.0GHz and still 500MHz less in Precision Boost mode. But AMD is flaunting more cores and that’s where things can appear a bit uneven, as more cores can equate to lower speeds now that the workload is distributed more evenly, rather than outright horsepower for singular processes.
We’d argue that the 1700 is closer to the Core i7-6800K CPU in terms of workflow and efficiency purpose, unlike the Skylake and current Kaby Lake architectures. In fact, all Ryzen 7 models really hold their own when you consider the price point is one third and offers comparable performance for professional users.
Much the results used in our charts for this review are based on numbers, being conducted and recorded internally across available CPUs. The majority of benchmarks involving component stress and multicore performance on a number of suites, including GeekBench 4, Octane browsing test, 7-Zip, and Handbrake 4K conversion tests. However, numbers are only half of the story and we did real world stuff too, mostly gaming with familiar titles.
The Ryzen chips’ outstanding strengths lies in productivity where those extra cores allow them to take a strong lead in any test that makes proper use of them. In that respect, the Ryzen 7 1700 breezes through in both the GeekBench 4 multi-core and 7-Zip compression/decompression tests, effectively gaining an edge over the i7-7700K, not so much when common activities are fixed below quad-core usage though.
Objectively, PC gaming is an unavoidable and prominent reality that faces the Ryzen 7 1700, and this CPU has to work with less speed out of the box—albeit figuratively. So, AMD appears to be at a disadvantage versus the i7-7700K, right? Well it’s not as drastic or overblown as other reviewers made it out to be.
Honestly, we only noticed marginal differences or a total wash depending on the game played, with titles like Grand Theft Auto V and DOOM running with a Nvidia GeForce 1080 Ti GPU on a MSi X370 XPOWER GAMING Titanium AM4 Motherboard. At 1080p our frame counts were near-consistent across the board. The biggest takeaway is that we played our games on the highest settings on averages of 78fps with a maximum of 135fps in some instances. But again, an i7-7700K will always take the crown in numbers, but probably irrelevant if you’re already well beyond 60fps by default.
Overclocking the Ryzen 7 1700 will be a given if you’re a tinkerer trying to squeeze every bit out of their hardware, and it’s here where the processor dramatically improves. It’s now a lot easier to push the limits because AMD’s Ryzen Master software takes the daunting legwork out of entering the BIOS, and allows you tweak things from the desktop.
We gradually turned up the clock speed and voltage on our Ryzen 7 1700 right up near its preset boost at a steady 3.6GHz, and we feel confident taking it further to 4GHz if we had a water-cooled system to replace the supplied Noctua NH-U125 air cooler. Afterwards, the 1700 now went toe-to-toe with the i7-7700K and may even be a better value that its other Ryzen 7 brethren, but this is speculative since we don’t have the 1700X or 1800X to directly test.
The truth is this: the Ryzen 7 1700 CPU offers an extraordinary level of value that deserves to be acknowledged, and this is coming from AMD—a company whose heydays were believed by many to be behind them. You’re definitely getting a lot of processor for the money, although you might not realize it if you vehemently believe the polarizing buzz surrounding its release.
Yes, it’s not on the exact same level of Intel Core i7-7700K if you’re just going to game, but it would be wrong to say that the Ryzen is a slouch, which it certainly isn’t if you look beyond the figures. Realistically, it’s a chip that excels in workstation applications such as virtual programming, video encoding, and live streaming/broadcasting. This is where the i7-7700K loses the edge and rightfully so.
There are a lot of folks out there that have been waiting for a CPU like this to arrive, and they won’t be disappointed if they want a complete all-rounder. Throw in the eventual overclocking, and this could be one of the best options on the market right now, without the associated cost that Intel adamantly charges.