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AMD Ryzen review: The AMD Ryzen 7 1800X rivals the £1,600 Intel Core i7-6950X

Christopher Minasians
11 Apr 2017
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
500
inc VAT

Almost flawless, the AMD Ryzen 7 1800X punches well above its weight and gives Intel some serious competition

Pros 
Value for money
Performance
Factory-unlocked processor
Cons 
No XFR or Precision Boost when overclocking
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There’s always been a debate in the PC enthusiast community between AMD and Intel, but serious competition between the two brands has faded in recent years, with Intel pulling steadily away for both performance and value. We’ve long been awaiting AMD’s comeback and finally, Ryzen, AMD’s new processor line, is here.

Ryzen uses the Zen microarchitecture, based on a 14nm FinFET manufacturing process, and utilises a new AM4 socket. It also finally debuts AMD’s new – and much-needed – Simultaneous Multithreading (SMT) tech to the table. This is similar to Intel’s Hyper-Threading technology, where two threads are utilised per core.

Latest update: According to a recent blog post by AMD, the temperatures we measured of the Ryzen 7 1800X were incorrect by 20°C. This comes from AMD limiting the overclocking headroom, by creating a virtual temperature floor. We're a little baffled why AMD would create such a policy within the chip, but you should bear this in mind when overclocking or when your core temperature is higher than you'd expect.

News: The Ryzen 5 is now available and comes in 6 and 4 core variants, all of which have SMT and come unlocked like the Ryzen 7-line. The AMD Ryzen 5 product line is as follows:

  • 1600X (6 cores, 12 threads, 3.6GHz base clock) - $249 (~£205)
  • 1600 (6 cores, 12 threads, 3.2GHz base clock) - $219 (~£180)
  • 1500X (4 cores, 8 threads, 3.5GHz base clock) - $189 (~£155)
  • 1500 (4 cores, 8 threads, 3.2GHz base clock) - $169 (~£140)

AMD Ryzen review: Price, competition and models

We received AMD’s top-spec Ryzen 7 1800X processor for testing, a £500 processor with eight cores, supporting the execution of 16 threads, a 3.6GHz base clock and the ability to boost up to 4GHz Turbo Clock. The 1800X can be found for £489 through Amazon.co.uk and $499 through Amazon.com.

It's not the only new processor in the new lineup, though. Just down the range is the Ryzen 7 1700X at £390 ($400 through Amazon.com), an eight core, 16-thread chip running at a slower 3.4GHz base and 3.8GHz Turbo Core.

Lastly, there’s the Ryzen 7 1700, which costs £320 ($330 through Amazon.com), again with eight cores and 16 threads, but running at a lower 3GHz base clock and 3.7GHz Turbo Core. Both the 1700X and 1800X have a TDP of 95W, while the regular 1700 is rated at 65W. It’s important to note that the Intel Core i7-6900K and Core i7-6950X, the Ryzen 7 chips’ chief rivals, have a TDP of 140W.

This might seem like a lot of money – Intel’s Core i3 and Core i5 chips are far cheaper – but don’t worry. AMD has you covered there as well, with plans to bring the more affordable Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 3 processors later this year.

In this review I’ve compared the Ryzen 7 with the £1,600 Intel Core i7-6950X ($1,630 on Amazon.com) and the consumer-grade Intel Core i7-7700K at £330 ($350 on Amazon.com). Although the Ryzen 7 1800X is aimed at Intel Core i7-6900K priced at £1,000 ($1,022 on Amazon.com), this comparison should give high-end users and gamers an idea of how the new AMD line shapes up.

AMD Ryzen review: AM4 socket and X370 chipset

As with most new processor launches, it’s not just the chip that’s new. You also often need a new motherboard with a new chipset and sometimes a new socket to go with it. With Ryzen, we need all three. The new socket is AM4, and the new chipset AMD X370. Together these add dual-channel DDR4 memory support and expand bandwidth to a glorious 24 PCIe 3 lanes. The X370 chipset also adds eight PCI 2 lanes support, which will allow you to run a truly high-spec machine with multiple GPUs and M.2 storage drives.

Of course, this does bring its disadvantages. You’ll need to purchase a new AM4 socket motherboard to use the Ryzen processors; an old AM3+ motherboard won’t work. However, the same can be said for Intel’s processors, which always seem to need a new motherboard whenever a new generation of chips roll around. The added cost of getting a new motherboard shouldn’t come as a surprise.

AMD Ryzen review: Performance benchmarks

We ran several benchmarks on our test rig, which comprised a Gigabyte Aorus GA-AX370-Gaming 5 AMD X370 motherboard, 8GB of DDR4 RAM, a Radeon R7 260X GPU and a Noctua NH-U12S 120mm air cooler. The cooler isn’t ideal for pushing past the base clock, so we’d recommend getting a better cooler if you wish to overclock (more on this below).

It’s important at this point to note that you’ll need a discrete graphics card to output any sort of video, as the Ryzen processors don’t have integrated graphics, unlike Intel processors that come with it as standard. To keep the playing field level, we tested the Intel chips with the same graphics card and RAM complement. The Intel Core i7-6950X was run on an Asus X99 Deluxe II and a Cooler Master Hyper 612 ver.2 cooler. Our Intel Core i7-7700K was benchmarked on an Asus Prime Z270-A motherboard and Cooler Master MasterLiquid Pro 240 liquid cooler.

Having already benchmarked the Intel Core i7-6950X, we were extremely impressed by how well the Ryzen 7 1800X performed across all elements of our benchmark suite. The 1800X achieved an overall score of 215, not a bad effort compared with the 245 gained by the £1,600 i7-6950X. The £330 Intel Core i7-7700K, meanwhile, lagged a long way behind with an overall score of 163.

The most notable difference between the top-tier processors can be found in the video-editing and multitasking parts of our benchmark tests. Here, where the 1800X achieved scores of 210 and 242 respectively, the £1,600 i7-6950X reached 240 and 290, while the i7-7700K gained 155 and 174. These are impressive numbers indeed.

In image editing, it was interesting to see the 1800X come out on top, with a score of 144, versus the i7-6950X’s score of 120. However, bringing the i7-7700K’s 142 score into the equation makes the 1800X’s performance look a little less impressive. We anticipate the i7-6950X underperforming due to its lower base clock speed of 3GHz, over the higher-clocked i7-7700K that runs at 4.2GHz.

Any way you slice it, though, the 1800X’s performance is vastly impressive. It gives the expensive i7-6950X a run for its money, providing video editors and heavy multitaskers a much better-value alternative, while at the same time being a marked improvement over the £330 Intel Core i7-7700K.

AMD Ryzen review: Gaming performance

Here’s the killer question, though: Is it any good for gaming?

It comes as no surprise to see the 1800X perform very much like the £330 Core i7-7700K. Because games don’t usually make full use of the processor’s full set of features, improvements in frame rates are usually minimal when comparing different processor models that are close in price.

We tested this on both the 1800X and i7-7700K by running benchmarks in two games at several different resolutions: we ran the Dirt: Showdown test at 1,920 x 1,080 and 3,840 x 2,160 at Ultra settings, with 4x Anti-Aliasing; and we ran the Metro: Last Light Redux benchmark at 4K on medium settings with Anti-Aliasing off, 4x Anisotropic Filtering, Tessellation and Advanced Physics turned off.

With a Radeon R7 260X installed in our test rig, we noticed no noticeable difference between the two consumer-level AMD and Intel processors. The 1800X returned a frame rate of 85fps at Full HD and 34fps at 4K in Dirt: Showdown, while with a beefier GTX 1080 it achieved 116fps and 90fps respectively. In Metro: Last Light Redux, it achieved 34fps with the Radeon R7 260X and 104fps with the GTX 1080. Comparing it to the i7-7700K, there was less than a 3% variance between results, with the Intel hitting and extra 3fps at 4K in Dirt: Showdown.

What's clear is that AMD’s Ryzen 7 processor can cope with the most intense games, largely due to its eight cores and 16 threads that powers through anything that’s thrown at it. What’s less clear is whether you really need the extra power over the cheaper Intel Core i7-7700K or indeed the lower-clocked Ryzen 7 1700. We haven’t  tested the latter, but I’d expect it to return largely similar results.

AMD Ryzen review: Overclocking, XFR & Precision Boost

Overclocking is a big deal within the PC community, and it comes as no surprise to see the Ryzen processors have this capability baked in. I must stress, however, that you should use an appropriate cooler if you're intending to do this. We only had a Noctua NH-U12S to hand, which is great for moderate overclocking, but anything past that will require something more heavy-duty, such as a Noctua NH-D15.

Those of us who are accustomed to overclocking will go straight into the BIOS to fiddle around with settings. However, there are many users who still want to boost performance, but don’t want the hassle or the worry of getting things wrong. For those folk, AMD has created Ryzen Master, a piece of Windows software that aims to simplify the process.

However, there’s a catch to overclocking on Ryzen. Doing so disables the XFR and Precision Boost features. AMD’s XFR (Extended Frequency Range) is a feature that allows the Ryzen CPUs to run at their maximum clock speed based on how good your cooling is. While AMD’s Precision Boost will make millisecond adjustments to the clock speed to get the most out of your chip, without affecting power draw.

It caught me by surprise, though, to see a sudden loss in speed the moment we launched Ryzen Master. In fact, there was a 7.5% drop in our overall benchmark score (to 200, down from 215) with the software merely open in the background.

With a base clock pushed up to 3.9GHz, up from the stock 3.6GHz, that speed hadn’t recovered, with the video editing and multitasking benchmarks both returning scores of 203 and 232 respectively, down from 210 and 242. I found it odd to see a drop in results, especially as the peak temperature of 88°C I recorded during this test is well within the 1800X’s thermal threshold. It looks like you’ll only be able to get more out of the chip if you push it to more extreme levels. Looking online, I’ve seen people hitting 4.2GHz with a liquid cooler and even 5.8GHz on LN2 (liquid nitrogen).

For reference, at stock speed with our cooler, the idling Ryzen R7 1800X ran at 51°C (3.6GHz) and 52°C when overclocked to 3.9GHz, while on a heavy workload it hit 81°C and 88°C respectively. We noted the 1800X's TJ Max (maximum temperature) to sit at 95°C.

As aforementioned a blog post by AMD states that these temperatures are all off by 20°C, meaning our actual core temp at idle was 31°C (3.6GHz), while on heavy workload was at 61°C. A much more respectable temperature, given its competition.

AMD Ryzen review: Verdict

With Ryzen, AMD is firmly back in the processor market, and I’m beyond excited to see how Ryzen 5 and 3 will compete with Intel’s Core i5 and i3 CPUs. Looking at the Ryzen 7 1800X, it’s one hell of a product. Granted, it might be outside of most consumers’ budgets, but if you’re after a workhorse processor, the 1800X is a tempting alternative to the far pricier £1,600 Intel Core i7-6950X.

We can’t comment on the 1700X and 1700’s performance yet, but given they're virtually identical to the 1800X – only running at a lower clock speed – we think that a good CPU cooler coupled with heavy overclocking could well make the 1700X and 1700 the best value for money.

Most importantly, it finally looks as if Intel has some serious competition on its hands in the desktop CPU arena. AMD’s chips no longer considered the “cheap option” but rather worthy competitors to Intel’s top-tier processors.

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