AMD's Ryzen 7 launch represents more than just a new CPU family. For most of our readers, it signals the return of competition to the enthusiast-oriented processor market. And considering the flagship 1800X’s potent cost advantage compared to Intel's Core i7-6900K, the competitor AMD singled out months ago, Ryzen 7 does deliver. It's just not as universally superior as the company wanted everyone to believe.
We come away from today's coverage with a number of questions that couldn't be answered in time for the launch. For instance, we discovered Ryzen's tendency to perform better in games with SMT disabled. Could this be a scheduling issue that might be fixed later? AMD did respond to our concerns, reminding us that Ryzen's implementation is unique, meaning most game engines don't use if efficiently yet. Importantly, the company told us that it doesn’t believe the SMT hiccup occurs at the operating system level, so a software fix could fix performance issues in many titles. At least one game developer (Oxide) stepped forward to back those claims. However, you run the risk that other devs don't spend time updating existing titles.
The evening before launch, AMD sent us a list of games that it says should perform well with Ryzen, including Sniper Elite 4, Battlefield 1, Star Wars: Battlefront, and Overwatch, among others. Many of the titles tend to be heavily threaded, which would lend itself well to Ryzen's high core count. We plan on revisiting some of those. Further, AMD suggests adjusting several different parameters for games that suffer from low performance. It recommends using Windows' High Performance power profile (which also helps Intel CPUs). It also says to disable the HPET (High Precision Event Timer), either in your BIOS or operating system, to gain a 5-8% advantage. Our results already reflect HPET disabled, though. Interestingly, AMD's Ryzen Master software requires HPET to “provide accurate measurements,” so you may find yourself toggling back and forth for the best experience.
It’s hard to recommend the Ryzen 7 1800X over Intel's lower-cost quad-core chips for gaming, especially given the Core i7-7700K's impressive performance. That's not a knock against AMD, specifically. After all, we say the same thing about Intel's own Broadwell-E CPUs. High-end Kaby Lake processors constantly challenge pricier competitors, and the flagship -7700K sells for $350. Even after down-clocking the -7700K to 3.8 GHz, it still beats Ryzen 7 1800X in nearly every game in our suite. Those issues would only be exacerbated on a Ryzen 7 1700X, which operates at lower clock rates.
Conversely, the Ryzen 7 1800X is in its element when you throw professional and scientific workloads at it. It isn't the fastest in every high-end benchmark, but any calculation that factors in value almost assuredly goes AMD's way. For years, Intel has operated with impunity, charging inflated prices for incremental speed-ups. The 1800X’s $500 price tag and competitive performance will no doubt excite power users on a budget. To that end, when we weigh the 1800X’s strong showing in workstation and HPC workloads against its issues with games, we can't help but believe that AMD designed this specific configuration with a datacenter-driven mindset and didn’t optimize it thoroughly for desktops. Much like Intel and Broadwell-E, in fact.
AMD’s Precision Boost technology yields a nice dual-core boost during lightly threaded workloads, but it isn’t as advanced as Intel’s sophisticated multi-core Turbo Boost functionality. XFR is a nice feature that automatically offers improved performance with robust cooling solutions, but most of us only get 100 MHz out of it, so it's hard to call it a compelling advantage. Achieving a 4 GHz overclock was straightforward enough through multiplier and voltage adjustments, and there are plenty of AMD-specific firmware settings we need to explore. More headroom could certainly be available (though the Core i7-7700K is honestly more exciting to overclock if all you care about is higher numbers). On the memory overclocking side, AMD hasn’t opened all of the sub-timings yet, and the Core i7-6900K has a throughput advantage with its quad-channel controller.
Ryzen 7 1800X's aggressive price might help put enough pressure on Intel to compel price cuts on Broadwell-E, but the bigger battle is going to happen when Ryzen 5 and 3 emerge to challenge the competition's more affordable (and difficult to usurp) models. AMD is also bringing its Naples server CPUs forward soon, and with what we’ve seen from the Zen core, that should be an exciting launch.
It's a bummer the Ryzen launch was so clearly rushed. We expected AMD to have a better explanation for its gaming performance, but all of the feedback we received from the company came very last-minute. It's hard to imagine these shortcomings weren't discovered previously and diagnosed more thoroughly. We're happy to put in the time and effort, though. Expect more information as it becomes available.
In the meantime, we would recommend Ryzen 7 1800X for heavily-threaded workloads like rendering and content creation. And while we won't judge a processor on its gaming performance alone, current indications suggest AMD's $500 flagship doesn't beat Core i7-7700K for value in that specific segment.
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