AMD held a live-streamed New Horizon event yesterday at the official public unveiling of the new Ryzen processors. The demonstrations included several CPU-intensive workloads, such as Blender and Handbrake, and 3D rendering tasks with the ZBrush and KeyShot applications. No enthusiast demonstration would be complete without gaming, so AMD also included Star Wars: Battlefront (Rogue One DLC), Dota 2, and Battlefield 1 demonstrations.
AMD based Ryzen, the CPU formerly known as Summit Ridge, on the Zen core architecture, and it is destined for the desktop PC first. AMD provided us with details of the new chip and some of its features during an invite-only event last week, and we also gleaned several architectural details from a briefing at HotChips earlier this year.
The rise of Zen has brought about a palpable level of both excitement and anxiety among the enthusiast crowd. We are hopeful, but also tend to temper the excitement with a stiff glass of Bulldozer, which also debuted among much anticipation but ended in disappointment. Ryzen will come to market bristling with eight cores and 16 threads and a 3.4GHz (possibly higher) base clock, though the boost clocks remain undefined. The 8-core chip features 4MB of L2 and 16MB of L3 cache and will snap into the AM4 socket. Other particulars, such as memory and PCIe provisioning, remain unconfirmed, though we do know AM4 will support DDR4 memory, PCIe 3.0, USB 3.1 Gen2, NVMe, and SATA Express.
Of course, the only way to put the speculation to rest is for reviewers and users to test the processors and pass judgment, but in the interim, AMD provided us with several encouraging demos, although some lacked hard data. We already have an in-depth breakdown of the latest revelations about the new features of the Ryzen CPUs, but let's take a closer look at AMD's benchmarks.
Blender 3D Rendering
AMD already treated us to a Blender benchmark rendering the original Zen logo during its initial reveal, but the company conducted the demonstration with an underclocked Intel Core i7-6900K to normalize the test and highlight Ryzen's IPC performance.
The new test pitted the Ryzen 8-core against the same 8-core Intel Core i7-6900K, but this time AMD chose to handicap its own processor with a base 3.4GHz clock and no boost while the i7-6900K utilized its stock configuration with a 3.2GHz base clock and 3.7GHz boost. The CPUs rendered the new Ryzen logo, and the tests finished within a second of each other.
The Intel system appeared to win by a hair, but AMD did not provide the actual time measurements. AMD's Lisa Su pointed out that the Ryzen processor featured a mere 95W TDP compared to the i7-6900K's 140W TDP, which is impressive considering the close contest without Ryzen's boost clocks. AMD also is still tuning Ryzen, so there is room for more improvement. The results suggest the Ryzen CPU can provide comparable performance within a lower power and thermal envelope during heavy multi-threaded CPU-intensive workloads. Su also mentioned the i7-6900K's $1,100 price tag but did not provide a comparative price for Ryzen.
AMD demonstrated the same Ryzen and Intel i7-6900K systems used for the Blender test competing against one another during a HandBrake video transcoding job. Ryzen beat the Intel comparable by five seconds during the heavy multi-threaded workload. There are many facets that still remain veiled, such as single-threaded performance, but the head-to-head bodes well for Ryzen's heavy workload performance.
AMD also noted that you could download the same test that it ran for the demo at amd.com/ryzen, which will allow you to compare your system to the Ryzen demonstration.
The Battlefield 1 demo consisted of two Titan X-equipped systems, one with Ryzen and the other with the Intel i7-6900K, playing the game with a 4K resolution at maximum settings. It is notable that AMD chose to use an Nvidia Titan X instead of one of its own GPUs, but AMD designed the test platforms to highlight CPU limitations by removing the GPU bottleneck. AMD claimed its new prefetch and branch prediction engines, upon which they've bestowed the Neural Net Prediction and Smart Prefetch monikers, provide a smooth gaming experience that hovered in the 60-70FPS range for the Ryzen system. This is purportedly equal (or close) to the Intel-driven platform. AMD noted that there were visible FPS counters during the demo, but I was unable to make them out during the livestream. The counters were likely viewable for members of the audience.
Ryzen's Neural Net Prediction and Smart Prefetch features sound remarkably similar to existing CPU technologies, such as branch predictors and instruction prefetch, but we will not know more about the differentiating aspects until AMD drills further down into the architectural improvements. It is notable that Intel processors feature similar technology.
Dota 2 And Twitch
AMD had PPD from Evil Geniuses on hand to demonstrate simultaneously playing Dota 2 and livestreaming his gaming session to Twitch in 1080p. Again, AMD didn't provide any hard performance metrics, but it also had a similar configuration with the i7-6900K providing nearly identical performance during the same tasks.AMD also had another Intel platform configured with a Core i7-6700k overclocked to 4.5GHz, but the company indicated that it dropped frames as it struggled with the encoding workload.
Interestingly, the demonstration meshes nicely with Intel's mega-tasking marketing, which pushes the importance of high performance during simultaneous heavily multi-threaded applications, such as the aforementioned gaming/streaming workload. Intel positions its top of the line Broadwell-E processors as mega-tasking monsters, but they do come bearing prohibitive price tags that range up to $1,100 (as AMD continuously noted during the webcast). Comparing Ryzen to the much lower-cost i7-6700K (~$340) may send a message that the company plans to be cost-competitive with Intel's less expensive SKUs.
The Miscellaneous Demonstrations - HTC Vive VR, ZBrush, and KeyShot 3D Rendering
AMD also held several demonstrations that were somewhat subjective and did not provide any hard performance data, which we've lumped together into this section.
Virtual Reality is the hottest new tech, and its implications for the desktop are profound. AMD demonstrated VR with an HTC Vive in a mixed reality environment as the user built a Ryzen desktop system in VR. AMD's ZBrush demonstration employed the 3D sculpting and painting program to highlight performance with a CPU-intensive rendering workload. The ZBrush demonstration rendered 3.5 million polygons, and a game dev noted that another developer was using Ryzen with 25 million polygons at the event. The developer also demonstrated KeyShot, a CPU-based 3D rendering program, rendering a Ryzen chip with 53 million polygons. The renderings appeared to be smooth and flowing, but the demonstration did not provide performance metrics. Finally, AMD demonstrated the Ryzen CPU with a single Vega GPU playing the forthcoming Star Wars: Battlefront Rogue One DLC with a 4K resolution. The demo appeared to play lag and stutter-free, and Lisa Su noted that the game was rendering above 60FPS, although there was no real-time FPS output.
Ryzen On Schedule, More Info To Come
Lisa Su stated that Ryzen is still on schedule for its Q1 2017 release date, which is encouraging, but there is apparently still more optimization work in the months ahead. If things go as planned, performance will increase, so when Ryzen hits the market it may bring performance that is even more impressive.
The slow trickle of information is promising, but each new revelation brings about more questions, such as single-threaded performance and PCIe and memory allocations. Ryzen's overclockability and pricing also loom as pressing questions. We can reasonably assume that AMD will be very cost competitive, but overclock capabilities, and how the Precision Boost feature works into the equation, are important factors for enthusiasts. AMD is clearly angling for the enthusiast market, which could lead to some tentative optimism on the overclocking front. We expect more information to emerge during CES in the coming month.