AMD has fired off the warning shots we’ve been eagerly waiting for with the Ryzen CPU.
For the past five years or so, it’s been well-known that rival Intel has practically held every segment almost exclusively, and have gone relatively unchallenged. We all clamored for the Core processors back when the tick-tock production cycle brought noteworthy advances that weren’t thought possible, but have since become marginalized. Many probably aren’t aware but a Sandy Bridge-E CPU like an Extreme i7-3960X or i7-3970X is still overqualified when overclocked.
That’s why the Ryzen is so anticipated — it represents a promise of actual competition in a market that feels rather stagnant at the moment, despite the introduction of Intel’s latest microarchitecture revision dubbed Kaby Lake. But even with all the excitement AMD has a tall order on their hands, and all of it will come to a head very soon this year.
Unleashed Upon The World
CES 2017 is where Ryzen made its official press debut and AMD was happy to show everybody what their CPU was capable of. They started big with a performance demo of their eight-core Ryzen squaring up against a stock Intel i7-6900K — basically a $1099 Broadwell-E powerhouse capable of handling professional workloads. The results were surprising as both were subjected to transcoding a video clip in Handbrake, a resource intensive task that can easily subdue multiple core processes on simultaneous scales. It was roughly 10 percent faster in Ryzen’s favor; taking 54 seconds with the Broadwell-E finishing in 59 seconds.
This was important because the Ryzen chip did the job at its base clock of 3.4GHz, while the Broadwell-E had turbo boost enabled. It was a bold benchmark that AMD claimed had surpassed Intel’s multithreaded technology, those were indeed fighting words from Texas where everything is bigger and debatably better — not without speculation and heated arguments from the Internet of course.
Here Come the AM4 Motherboards
Naturally, companies that have partnered with AMD previously were also on board, most notably MSI, Gigabyte, ASRock, Biostar showing off their AM4 motherboard mock-up designs. Although these examples were tentative in final specs, AMD is adamant on not repeating the mistakes that its aged AM3 chipset caused. This time, we should expect proper support starting with the basic A320 which will cover the essentials, offering a bare minimum of USB/SATA ports and PCIe lanes. The B350 is the mainstream option by adding two more USB/SATA ports and PCIe lanes each, while throwing in overclocking capabilities.
But it will be the X370 that gamers in particular will swoon after. Adding in everything from Radeon Crossfire/Nvidia SLI support (with official SLI certification), native USB 3.1 Gen 2, multiple SATA and M.2 slots for unique and premium build. All motherboards across the range will support DDR4 memory, but may vary on dual-channel availability. Small form factor chipsets are also in the works with the X300, and will finally cater to a market that’s often ignored with Ryzen high-end chips working without a hitch for Mini-ITX motherboards.
AMD Is Veying For The Throne
In person, AMD had a demo of Battlefield 1 running with a Ryzen CPU on an Nvidia Titan X Pascal to show off the frame rate difference, and here too the Ryzen came out ahead with its lowest count at 63fps while a i7-6900K machine equipped with the same GPU dipped below 58fps at sporadic moments. Another advantage the company showed was how Ryzen could do relatively seamless gameplay and Twitch streaming with Dota 2 as a running example. At its highest settings, the simultaneous feed had very little dropped frames and a 1.5 second delay versus an i7-6900K which was behind at 4.1 seconds.
Overall, the press event and my visit to AMD at CES was an eye-opener. Do I believe all the benchmarks presented to me with the utmost wonder? Like anything else in pre-production, it should be taken with a grain of salt whether you’re an insider or on Reddit. But Having seen Ryzen in action for myself, I’m generally enthusiastic to see AMD’s CPU division making a real effort to make their microarchitecture as successful as it possibly can be, largely because the desktop PC market needs momentum beyond mediocrity.
The company openly asked journalists on how much AMD should price the Ryzen product range — and I told them they could have an immensely appealing eight-core CPU if pricing was down by a third of Intel. Right now, they’re looking at feedback and are exploring all options to provide a mutually beneficial solution, which means they’re listening. AMD knows that R&D and consumer needs to be addressed, but they want to it the right way. It looks like March 2017 can’t come soon enough.