Ryzen review: AMD is back

AMD's vaunted Ryzen CPU is a multithreaded monster with one glaring weakness.

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How fast is it? There’s only one way to find out

Our benchmarking begins with a battery of productivity tests. First, Cinebench R15.037 for multithreaded performance, then Blender 2.78a and POV-Ray for image-rendering chops. We add Handbrake and Adobe Premiere CC 2017 for video encoding. 

Cinebench R15.037 performance

First up is Maxon’s Cinebench R15 benchmark. This test is based on Maxon’s Cinema4D rendering engine. It’s heavily multithreaded, and the more cores you have, the more performance you get. AMD has been showing off this benchmark for a couple of weeks now, with AMD’s 8-core Ryzen 7 1800X exceeding Intel’s 8-core Broadwell-E chip.

My own tests don’t quite match AMD’s results. First, my Core i7-6900K scores are slightly faster than AMD’s. AMD’s own tests, in fact, showed the midrange Ryzen 7 1700X matching Intel’s mighty 8-core. While I didn’t have time to test the $400 Ryzen 7 1700X, I did test the lower-wattage and lower-priced Ryzen 7 1700 ($330 on Amazon).

The insanity? Not only do we have a $500 Ryzen besting an Intel chip that costs twice as much, the $330 Ryzen comes pretty damn close. This test is all kinds of win for AMD—and Intel fans, it’s now independently confirmed. Damn.

ryzen cinebench r15 037 multi threaded performance PCWorld

Cinebench R15 shows Ryzen is indeed a multi-threaded monster of a CPU.

Cinbench R15 also features a single-threaded test that only loads up a single CPU core. Although the results here are quite good for AMD, the winner is the Core i7-7700K chip. We can attribute that to the higher clock speed of the Intel CPU (4.2GHz to 4.5GHz) and the greater efficiency of Intel’s newest core at work. Still, Ryzen can stand tall against Intel’s best and brightest.

ryzen cinebench r15 037 single threaded PCWorld

Cinebench single-threaded performance shows the new Ryzen chips can also hang with the best Intel CPUs.

My final Cinebench test involved an update that came out in December, at the request of AMD, Maxon officials told PCWorld. When asked what changed between Cinebench R15.037 and Cinebench R15.038, Maxon declined details, saying they were “proprietary” to AMD. Strangely, AMD officials told me they didn’t even know there was a change. In fact, the company’s recent demonstrations were done on the older version.

Still, when a benchmark is changed to correct something for a CPU, alarms get set off and conspiracy theories get spawned, so I also ran Cinebench 15.038 on all the CPUs. The result? Basically nothing changed for all CPUs involved. Cinebench, of course, was one of the benchmarking applications named in the Federal Trade Commission's suit against Intel for allegedly cooking tests to hurt AMD CPUs. Intel ultimately settled, but Cinebench has long been blamed by AMD fans for being crooked. After seeing these results, it appears most of the blame is misplaced. 

Blender 2.78a performance

The Ryzen hype train kicked off last year when AMD showed its chip equaled Intel’s 8-core in the open-source Blender render engine. It’s a popular application used in many indie films for effects. You’d expect Ryzen to perform well here, and it does. Although I'm seeing the Ryzen 7 1800X run just a tad behind the Core i7-6900K, it’s not enough to justify spending twice as much, is it? And that’s basically all win for AMD.

ryzen blender 2.78a PCWorld

Blender performance shows the $500 Ryzen 7 1800X is just slightly slower than the $1,089 Core i7-6900K CPU.

The thing is, at CES the media heard that maybe, just maybe, the issue was a bug in Blender that had been documented for some time. Birds whispered that Ryzen might not perform as well once the bug was ironed out. Fortunately, the bug was ironed out and a new version of Blender was compiled and released. To see if the birds were right, I also ran the CPUs on Blender 2.78b and saw a significant increase in performance for the Intel CPUs—but the AMD FX and the Ryzen also benefited. I left the axis scale the same so you could see the improvement. 

In the end, though, it didn’t matter, and when you factor in price, Ryzen is all over this one too.

ryzen blender 2.78b PCWorld

Blender was recently updated to fix several performance bugs, but the fixes appear to benefit all CPUs we tested.

POV-Ray performance

Our last rendering test uses the POV-Ray Raytracer. This open-source benchmark dates back to the days of the Amiga and, like the two previous tests, loves cores. First up is the multithreading performance test using the built-in benchmark scene. The result is presented as pixels per second and the higher the number, the faster the render. 

It is, again, all good news for AMD, as the Ryzen 7 1800X is slightly faster than the Intel CPU that costs twice as much. Even better, peep that Ryzen 7 1700, which is almost a third the cost of the Core i7-6900K chip. That’s an ouch in every single way you can measure it.

ryzen pov ray 3.7 multi threaded pps PCWorld

POV-Ray agrees that Ryzen gives you a ton of performance for the buck.

POV-Ray also includes a single-threaded test that shows the Broadwell-E chips pulling slightly ahead of the Ryzen 7 1800X. The fastest, no surprise, is the newest Core i7-7700K CPU, which runs at a higher clock speed and features Intel’s newest core. The truth is, though, you won’t be running it in single-threaded mode when doing a render, you’ll be using it in multithreaded mode.

ryzen pov ray 3.7 single threaded pps PCWorld

The Intel chips pull ahead in the single-threaded test but it’s mostly academic since you won’t be using it this way.

But wait, there’s more. Like Cinebench and Blender, POV-Ray has also been recently updated. The version is in beta but available for testing. I downloaded and ran the POV-Ray 3.7.1 beta 3 and gave it a go on all of the machines. Unlike Cinebench and Blender, whose updates don’t move the needle at all, I saw a sudden swing here for the Broadwell-E chips. While version 3.7 had the Ryzen chips ahead, with 3.7.1 beta 3 they were suddenly behind: The Ryzen 7 1800X was slower than the Core i7-6900K, while the Ryzen 7 1700 came in awfully close to the 6-core Core i7-6800K.

ryzen pov ray 3.7.1 beta 3 multi threaded pps PCWorld

POV-Ray 3.7.1 beta 3 favors Intel.

What gives? I spoke with POV-Ray coordinator Chris Cason, who told me the current beta adds AVX2 support, and while 3.7 was compiled with Microsoft’s Visual Studio 2010, the beta version is compiled with Visual Studio 2015.

POV-Ray was fingered by Extremetech.com’s Joel Hruska a few years ago for appearing to favor Intel. POV-Ray officials, though, have long denied it. Cason told PCWorld: “We don’t care what hardware people use, we just want our code to run fast. We don’t have a stake in either camp—in fact, for the past few years, I’ve been running exclusively AMD in my office. I’m answering this email from my dev system, which has an AMD FX-8320.”

So conspiracy theorists, go at it.

Handbrake performance 

Moving on from 3D rendering tests, my next test is the popular Handbrake test. This is a wonderful free encoder that’s handy for converting video and is heavily multithreaded. It also has support for Intel’s QuickSync, but my tests today will stick with the standard CPU test. For that I take a 30GB 1080p MKV file and convert it using the Android preset. This version is older than what’s available now, but still a relevant test for encoding performance. And yes, Intel fans, enabling QuickSync on the Core i7-7700K (by turning on the integrated graphics in your board’s BIOS) would let the Kaby Lake chip wail on all others here.

But, if you use your CPU for encoding with Handbrake, and not the graphics chip, here’s what you’d get: a Ryzen-colored win with unicorns and rainbows. Sure, the Ryzen 7 1800X is only a tad faster, but half the price amirite?

ryzen handbrake 99 encode PCWorld

The 8-core CPUs easily win our Handbrake encoding test.

Adobe Premiere CC 2017 performance

Here’s why I think the Handbrake encode is pretty valid: It’s pretty close to the results using Adobe Premiere Creative Cloud 2017. For this project, I take a real-world 4K video shot by our video team on a Sony A7S and encode it using the 1080p Blu-ray preset in the Premiere. For the Premiere test, I actually put the project on a Plextor M8Pe drive to ensure the drive speed of the SATA SSD I used wasn’t a bottleneck.

Because I’m changing the resolution of the video, I use the “Maximum Render Quality” option. For this encode, I use the Mercury software engine in Premiere, which hits the CPU cores rather than the GPU. This may seem unrealistic, but driver drift for the GPU can impact render quality, and some still feel the CPU encodes look better. Either way, it’s better to have more cores. The Ryzen 7 1800X has a bit more speed than the Intel chip that costs twice as much. The Ryzen 7 1700 that costs about a third of the Intel chip is looking pretty, too. I mean damn.

ryzen premiere cc 2017 cpu encode PCWorld

The Mercury software engine in Premiere hits the CPU cores rather than the GPU.

But wait, video editors are tsk-tsk-ing the results because everyone uses the GPU for the render today. That’s a good point, so I rendered the project using the Mercury Playback engine using Nvidia’s CUDA. GPU rendering does indeed take off a nice chunk of time from the render. Keep in mind, the video (which you can watch here) for this test is 4K, but one minute, 43 seconds long. If this were a one-hour video, you’d throw money at the CPU to cut down your render times. The question is, which CPU would you throw the money at? The one that basically gets you a “free” $500 GPU, or the one that doesn’t?

ryzen premiere cc 2017 gpu encode PCWorld

The GeForce GTX 1080 takes a chunk off the render time, but you still get the best performance from the 8-core chips.

PCWorld

Read on for the surprising gaming performance of Ryzen.

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