We know that Broadwell isn't, after all; Intel's Skylake and Kaby Lake parts both beat Broadwell in a wide range of games. This is the case even though Skylake and Kaby Lake are limited to four cores and eight threads; for many or most games, high IPC ...and more »
The response to AMD's Ryzen processors with their new Zen core has been more than a little uneven. Eight cores and 16 threads for under $500Â means that they're unambiguously strong across a wide range of workloads; compute-bound tasks like compiling software and compressing video cry out for cores, and AMD's pricing makes Ryzen very compelling indeed.
But gaming performance has caused more dissatisfaction. AMD promised a substantial improvement in instructions per cycle (IPC), and the general expectation was that Ryzen would be within striking distance of Intel's Broadwell core. Although Broadwell is now several years oldâ€”it first hit the market way back in September 2014â€”the comparison was relevant. Intel's high-core-count processorsâ€”both the High End Desktop parts, with six, eight, or 10 cores, and the various Xeon processors for multisocket serversâ€”are all still using Broadwell cores.
Realistically, nobody should have expected Ryzen to be king of the hill when it comes to gaming. We know that Broadwell isn't, after all; Intel's Skylake and Kaby Lake parts both beat Broadwell in a wide range of games. This is the case even though Skylake and Kaby Lake are limited to fourÂ cores and eightÂ threads; for many or most games, high IPC and high clock speeds are the key to top performance, and that's precisely what Kaby Lake delivers.
In spite of this, reading the various reviews around the Webâ€”and comment threads, tweets, and reddit postsâ€”one gets the feeling that many were hoping or expecting Ryzen to somehow beat Intel across the board, and there's a prevailing narrative that Ryzen is in some sense a bad gaming chip. But this argument is often paired with the claim that some kind of non-specific "optimization" is going to salvage the processor's performance, that AMD fans just need to keep the faith for a few months, and that soon Ryzen's full power will be revealed.
Both parts of this reaction are more than a little flawed.
It's true that Ryzen's gaming performance doesn't matchÂ Intel CPUS. If your interest is solely and exclusively gaming performance, then Intel's Kaby Lake i7-7700K is the best chip on the market, and its price is in the same ballpark as the cheapest Ryzen, the 1700. Not even the top-end 1800X can beat the 7700K.
But the 7700K is the fastest all-round gaming processor on the market today. Being "not as fast as the 7700K" doesn't make a processor "bad" for games. It just means it's not quite as fast as literally the fastest gaming processor ever made.
For the most part, the differences between the processors are academic. In almost every case, the difference between the Ryzen and the Kaby Lake is that one has a slightly lower, but still very playable, framerate than the other. If benchmarks were showing that the Intel chips are consistently above, say, 60 frames per second while the AMD chips were consistently below, then, certainly, a good argument could be made that the Intel processor will provide a smooth gaming experience where the AMD one won't.
But generally, that's not the case. Even where the gap is quite substantial, such as Rise of the Tomb Raider, where we saw 135fps on both the Kaby Lake i7-7700K and the (eight-core/16-thread) Broadwell-E i7-6900K, the 1800X managed 110fps. That speed is still comfortably playable. Tech Report saw even more extreme differences in Doom in OpenGL mode; 170fps for the 7700K, just 123fps for the 1800X; Tech Report doesn't include the 6900K, but the 10-core/20-thread 6950K achieves 156fps. The 1800X certainly gives up some fps, but it remains perfectly playable. Switch to the newer Vulkan API instead of OpenGL and the difference evaporates away, with both the 7700K and the 1800X averaging 165fps. The 6950X, for what it's worth, is slightly behind at 161fps.
This is why we concluded that the 1800X was a very solid alternative to the Broadwell-E 6900Xâ€”it offers very comparable performance at less than half the price. Even for gaming, it remainsÂ a worthy contender: Ryzen is "good enough that you may well be willing to take the performance hit in some programs so that you can enjoy the big wins in others."
That's all well and good for the games of today, but whatÂ about the games of the future? As games become more demanding, there may become a point at which the 7700K is just at the threshold of "playable framerates" and the 1800X falls short. Doesn't that make the 1800X a bad buy?
Predicting the future is an inexact science, and it's impossible to say for certain how games of the future will behave. We can, though, make some educated guesses while recognizingÂ that Ryzen has some features that make it a little unusual.
The often made argument that software of today isn't "optimized" for Ryzen isn't quite right. Not because software is, in fact, optimized for Ryzen, but because it assumes a model of software optimization that doesn't really correspond to real software. Sure, games aren't optimized for Ryzen, but equally, they're not really optimized for Broadwell, Skylake, or Kaby Lake. They're just optimized in general to run faster across the board. But there is nonetheless optimization and improvement to be done.
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