AMD’s new high-end Ryzen 7 processors kick ass, going toe-to-toe with Intel’s cheapest 8-core chips in productivity tasks at a whopping 50 percent cost savings—or more if you opt anything but the flagship $500 Ryzen 7 1800X.
No, Ryzen chips don’t offer the same raw gaming performance as Intel’s quad-core chips. That’s indisputable. But neither do the high-end Intel Extreme Edition processors that are Ryzen’s true peers. While comparing Ryzen against Intel quad-cores is illuminating for potential upgraders focused solely on gaming, it’s not quite apples-to-apples. A more realistic way to look at it: Intel’s quad-core Core i5 and Core i7 chips are excellent gaming chips with decent productivity chops, while Ryzen and Intel’s Extreme Edition CPUs are killer productivity and content-creation processors that are decent in gaming.
Ryzen’s damned affordable pricing, however, goes a long way toward bridging the gap.
The mammoth price difference between the $1,050 Core i7-6900K and AMD’s processors leave you a lot of budgetary wiggle room to splurge on a GPU. In fact, for the same price as the Core i7-6900K, you could pick up a $330 Ryzen 7 1700 CPU and Nvidia’s beastly new $700 GeForce GTX 1080 Ti and still have $20 left over for a large pizza.
Yes, you read that right. For the same price as Intel’s cheapest 8-core processor, you can pick up a competitive 8-core AMD chip and the most powerful graphics card ever released. That’s an eye-opener.
In response to criticism over Ryzen’s gaming performance, AMD noted that the performance gap shrinks when your pair the processor with a potent graphics card and game at 4K resolution. That’s true! While doing so doesn’t reflect the pure gaming potential of a CPU (which is why in our Ryzen review we tested at 1080p), strenuous 4K gaming shifts the system bottleneck from the processor to the graphics card instead, which can even out the real-world playing field between CPUs of varying gaming-performance chops.
With a Ryzen chip and Nvidia’s monster graphics card in hand, it’s time to put that theory to the test. Here are some brief benchmarks showing how the dynamic duo fares in a handful of games at 4K and 1440p resolutions—for less than the cost of Intel’s cheapest 8-core chip alone.
Testing the Ryzen 7 1700 and GTX 1080 Ti
First, a quick refresher on the hardware we’re using, followed by some test results, before finishing with caveats and the future!
The $330 Ryzen 7 1700 is AMD’s most affordable high-end Ryzen chip, but it still packs 8 cores and 16 threads of power, with a 3GHz base clock speed and 3.7GHz maximum boost clock speed out of the box. You can see its performance in PCWorld’s Ryzen review. Nvidia’s $700 GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, on the other hand, is the most ferocious graphics card ever, with even more performance than the mighty $1,200 Titan X.
The rest of the system is identical to my ultimate AMD gaming PC build. I just swapped out the processor and graphics card. Since I’m trying to keep this as close to an out-of-the-box experience as possible, I haven’t tinkered with RAM speeds or done any of the other tricks AMD suggests to improve gaming performance. (More on that later.) I am running the latest stable BIOS, however, and switched Windows from its default Balanced power plan to High Performance to allow Ryzen’s on-CPU management technology to operate correctly.
Illustrating how the Ryzen 7 1700 and GTX 1080 Ti perform in tandem at 4K resolution games is the main goal of this article. That said, for reference I’m also going to include GTX 1080 Ti performance results from PCWorld’s Intel Core i7-5960X-based GPU testing system in these charts. It’s not quite the controlled apples-to-apples comparison you’d find in a formal review, but the 5960X is also an 8-core, 16-thread part, and the Core i7-6900K’s direct predecessor. It’s also paired with 16GB of DDR4 memory, just like the Ryzen rig.
As always, I benchmarked every game using the default graphics settings unless otherwise noted, with all vendor-specific special features—such as Nvidia’s GameWorks effects, AMD’s TressFX, and FreeSync/G-Sync—as well as VSync and frame-rate caps disabled. These four games are among the ones we regularly use for GPU benchmarking, not ones specifically picked to highlight Ryzen strong points. Each was tested until Ryzen’s weaker-than-Intel-CPU gaming performance was revealed.
Got it? Good. Let’s start with The Division, a game that AMD highlighted to the press as having solid performance with Ryzen chips.
The Ryzen and Intel systems go neck-and-neck at 4K resolution. The gap widens a bit at 1440p, giving the Intel system a slight 7 percent performance advantage, but AMD’s chip still delivers a damned fine gaming experience overall in both average frame rates and overall smoothness.
Next up: Far Cry Primal.
Again, Ryzen competes flawlessly with the 5960X-based system at 4K, but Ryzen’s performance deficit definitely shows at 1440p—though you still can’t knock those damned playable frame rates.
Finally, let’s take a peek at Rise of the Tomb Raider and Ashes of the Singularity at 4K resolution. Ashes was tested in both DirectX 11 and DirectX 12 modes.
The frame rates are still nothing to sneeze at here. These games hit 60fps or more on Ryzen at 4K resolution! Yet even with the brute force of Nvidia’s monster, Intel’s older 8-core Haswell-based chip clearly delivers more.
But raw gaming performance numbers aren’t the whole story here.
Next page: Cost considerations, performance today and tomorrow