AMD has had a pretty lacklustre last 5 years, since the release of Bulldozer, over which time the company has been losing significant market share to Intel. However, Ryzen represents a return to the high-end desktop market for a reinvigorated AMD. Ryzen is the branding given to their latest generation of CPUs (and APUs), introduced early 2017, that incorporate their recent Zen microarchitecture.
At a fundamental level, the Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5, and Ryzen 7 processors are targeted primarily at the mainstream consumer market. Ryzen Threadripper is firmly aimed at the enthusiast crowd or those who need the ability to handle large multi-threaded workstation loads. And then we have Ryzen Epyc. Epyc’s line-up is directed towards the enterprise sector, primarily for use in server-grade hardware. Finally, there is Ryzen Mobile which, as the name suggests, encompasses AMD’s offering geared towards low-power mobile computing.
On the mainstream consumer side of their product stack, it is no surprise that AMD have continued the industry’s convention of uninspired naming, with Ryzen 3, 5 and 7. These are, perhaps not so coincidentally, the same numerical designations that Intel have been using on their equivalent platform for many years. Although, to AMD’s credit, they have gone in a slightly different direction with what those numbers actually mean.
It has been no secret that the new AMD Ryzen processor family was already extremely competitive against Intel’s offerings, but Ryzen has recently seen significant price drops across some of their most popular processors. The question is whether this represents an even more compelling value proposition, and if now is the time to jump onboard, especially as the Ryzen platform has had a chance to mature.
Zen is the name AMD has been using for their latest CPU microarchitecture, and it represents a clean departure from earlier designs based on Bulldozer. The first Zen-based computer processors, codenamed ‘Summit Ridge’, were brought to market in March 2017 with the rest of that product stack being rounded out over the following months. ‘Summit Ridge’ covers all Ryzen 3, 5 and 7 CPUs.
Next up is ‘Whitehaven’, which is the codename given to the Threadripper enthusiast (high end desktop) class of CPUs. These were made available over the month of August 2017. Moving on, we have ‘Naples’, also based on the Zen microarchitecture, which is the codename for all server processors, also more formerly known as Epyc. Ryzen Epyc was launched in June 2017 and is aimed at the enterprise and server segments.
Finally, this brings us to ‘Raven Ridge’, which is AMD’s latest contribution to the low-power mobile computing market. Better known as Ryzen Mobile, these are actually APUs (Accelerated Processing Units), that contain the CPU and GPU on the same single die. Ryzen Mobile was introduced in October 2017.
All Zen-based CPUs have much in common with each other and their design is built on scalability. They all use a 14 nm FinFET process, and are both energy efficient with the ability to run high instructions per cycle. AMD has added hyperthreading via SMT, enabling each core to run two threads. The cache structure has also been overhauled by designing the L1 cache to be write-back. Controllers for memory, PCIe, SATA and USB are also consolidated into the same chip.
A key aspect of Zen-based processors is upgradability, and AMD intend to reuse the same sockets moving forward, until at least 2020. This is unlike Intel, who change the socket with every generation to force users into motherboard upgrades at the same time. Desktop (R3, 5 and 7) and Mobile Ryzen chips slot into the AM4 socket, whereas Threadripper uses the TR4 socket and Epyc runs in the SP3 socket.
All Zen-based platforms support DDR4 memory. Ryzen 3, 5, 7, and Mobile support dual-channel. Threadripper steps that support up to quad-channel, and Epyc goes one further with support for octa-channel memory. AM4 comes with 24 PCIe 3.0 lanes, TR4 has 64 PCIe 3.0 lanes (significantly more than Intel’s comparable X299), and Epyc delivers a massive 128 PCIe 3.0 lanes.
The launch of Ryzen has also seen the simultaneous launch of a new line of Ryzen stock coolers. These come in three variants, based on the processor TDP. The lower-profile ‘Wraith Stealth’ is intended for AMD’s lower-end Ryzen 65-watt TDP CPUs, whereas the ‘Wraith Spire’ targets those CPUs with a 95-watt TDP and is more suited to overclocking. The ‘Wraith Max’ is marketed as a separate larger aftermarket cooler, aimed at those that want to push their overclocks further (and therefore does not come included with any processors).
Every Ryzen CPU is unlocked and overclockable out of the box, and thus avoids the Intel-style premium just to tweak the multiplier in the BIOS. Ryzen excels in multi-threaded workloads, but unfortunately is not quite as strong as offerings by Intel when it comes to gaming or other tasks that lean more towards single-core performance. This is due to Ryzen’s lower per clock performance than comparable Intel chips.
- 14 nm FinFET silicon, produced by GlobalFoundries (with some by TSMC)
- DDR4 memory support, with up to 8 channels and ECC
- 52% IPC improvement over Excavator CPUs
- Unlocked and overclockable
- Automated overclocking via XFR (Extended Frequency Range)
- Hyperthreading via SMT
- 24 PCIe lanes on R3,4 and 7; 64 PCIe lanes on Threadripper; and 128 PCIe lanes on Epyc
- L1 cache: 64KB for instructions per core, 32KB for data per core, and write-back for improved latency and bandwidth
- L2 cache: 512KB per core
- L3 cache: 1MB to 2MB per core, offering 5 times the bandwidth of earlier AMD CPUs
- Infinity Fabric
- Clock gating through SenseMI, allowing frequency reductions to save power
- Support for instructions: SMAP, SMEP, XSAVEC/XSAVES/XRSTORS, XSAVES, CLFLUSHOPT, CLZERO and ADCX
- Support for: RDSEED, AVX2, ADX, SHA
- Smart Prefetch and Precision Boost
Infinity Fabric brings scalability and is a superset of HyperTransport, which was announced by AMD in 2016 as an interconnect for its latest CPUs (and GPUs). All Zen-based CPUs are constructed out of one or more Core Complex (CCX) units. A CCX contains four cores and their respective caches. CPUs with greater than four cores glue multiple CCX units together via Infinity Fabric. So, for example, a Ryzen 7 CPU has two CCX units connected together to form an eight-core processor.
Infinity Fabric offers a 256-bit bi-directional crossbar (also handling northbridge and PCIe traffic) and its throughput scales from 30GB/s to 512GB/s. It is important to understand that Infinity Fabric is actually tied to the memory clock rate, so memory speed affects the performance of Infinity Fabric. This means that to get the most out of a Ryzen CPU, particularly if overclocking, you need to combine it with faster memory.
Ryzen 3 represents AMD’s entry-level Ryzen CPUs. All R3 processors have 4 cores, 4 threads with 10MB cache and a 65-watt TDP. This is actually closer in performance to an Intel Core I5 instead of an I3. Included for free is a Wraith Stealth heatsink which will easily manage the 65-watt TDP heat dissipation, particularly if overclocking is not a goal.
Ryzen 3 is an excellent bet for those that want an entry-level gaming build, as there are currently very few games out today that can take advantage of more than 4 cores. Gaming is more heavily dependent on the GPU anyway, and as long as the CPU does not bottleneck the graphics card, then the GPU deserves the larger allocation of funds in a budget build.
- Ryzen 3 1200: 4 cores, 4 threads, 3.1GHz base clock, 3.4GHz boost clock, 3.45Ghz XFR, 512KB per core L2 cache, 8MB L3 cache, 65-watt TDP, AM4 socket, $109 launch MSRP
- Ryzen 3 1300X: 4 cores, 4 threads, 3.5GHz base clock, 3.7GHz boost clock, 3.9GHz XFR, 512KB per core L2 cache, 8MB L3 cache, 65-watt TDP, AM4 socket, $129 launch MSRP
Unfortunately, Ryzen 3 processors have been excluded from the recent round of price-drops by AMD. A Ryzen 3 will still run you between $109 to $129 depending on which model is chosen, which is unchanged from their launch MSRP.
Ryzen 5 CPUs have both 4 core / 8 thread and 6 core / 12 thread variants, with anywhere from 10MB to 16MB cache. All R5 processors have a 65-watt TDP, with the exception of the 1600X that runs at 95-watts. The extra cores and threads of a Ryzen 5 might make sense for those that either game and stream or dabble in some light content creation. Launch MSRP Ryzen 5 pricing ranged from $169 to $189 for the 4-core variants, and $219 to $249 for the 6-core versions.
Included coolers vary depending on the model of CPU selected. The 1400 receives the same ‘Stealth’ heatsink as the Ryzen 3 class of processor, while the 1500X and 1600 receive a beefier version called the ‘Spire’. The 1600X includes no cooler at all and will therefore require you to provide your own capable aftermarket solution, particularly with the higher TDP in mind.
- Ryzen 5 1400: 4 cores, 8 threads, 3.2GHz base clock, 3.4GHz boost clock, 3.45Ghz XFR, 512KB per core L2 cache, 8MB L3 cache, 65-watt TDP, AM4 socket, $169 launch MSRP
- Ryzen 5 1500X: 4 cores, 8 threads, 3.5GHz base clock, 3.7GHz boost clock, 3.9Ghz XFR, 512KB per core L2 cache, 16MB L3 cache, 65-watt TDP, AM4 socket, $189 launch MSRP
- Ryzen 5 1600: 6 cores, 12 threads, 3.2GHz base clock, 3.6GHz boost clock, 3.7Ghz XFR, 512KB per core L2 cache, 16MB L3 cache, 65-watt TDP, AM4 socket, $219 launch MSRP
- Ryzen 5 1600X: 6 cores, 12 threads, 3.6GHz base clock, 4.0GHz boost clock, 4.1Ghz XFR, 512KB per core L2 cache, 16MB L3 cache, 95-watt TDP, AM4 socket, $249 launch MSRP
The AMD Ryzen R5 1600X had a launch MSRP of $249, but can now be found for approximately $199. The R5 1600 can be purchased for $10 less, at about $189. These updated price points offer fantastic value for money over Intel’s competing I5 processors. The R5 1600 and 1600X both offer mid-range performance that is very closely matched to, or exceeds, Intel’s I5 CPUs but at a significantly lower cost. They are very well-suited to entry-level production workloads, as well as gaming.
Ryzen 7 sits at the top of the consumer mainstream stack. All are 8 core / 16 thread CPUs, with 20MB cache and a 95-watt TDP, except for the 1700 which runs at 65-watts. Ryzen 7 is a great bet for content creators that are more involved with heavier multi-threaded workloads, such as video editing and rendering. Launch MSRP pricing for Ryzen 7 ranged between $329 and $499.
The only R7 processor to include a cooler is the 1700, and it comes with a ‘Spire’ LED variant. All other Ryzen 7 CPUs come without a cooler, and thus will require the separate provision of an aftermarket cooling solution, though it is expected that those buying these CPUs would opt for their own high-performance cooling anyway.
- Ryzen 7 1700: 8 cores, 16 threads, 3.0GHz base clock, 3.7GHz boost clock, 3.75Ghz XFR, 512KB per core L2 cache, 16MB L3 cache, 65-watt TDP, AM4 socket, $329 launch MSRP
- Ryzen 7 1700X: 8 cores, 16 threads, 3.4GHz base clock, 3.8GHz boost clock, 3.9Ghz XFR, 512KB per core L2 cache, 16MB L3 cache, 95-watt TDP, AM4 socket, $399 launch MSRP
- Ryzen 7 1800X: 8 cores, 16 threads, 3.6GHz base clock, 4.0GHz boost clock, 4.1Ghz XFR, 512KB per core L2 cache, 16MB L3 cache, 95-watt TDP, AM4 socket, $499 launch MSRP
The popular Ryzen R7 1700X had an original launch MSRP of $399 but has lately undergone price drops to $329 and lower (including the cooler). The R7 1700 is currently priced at $279. Note that the 1700 is essentially the same as the 1700X if you are overclocking, as the only difference is the out-of-the-box clock speeds. At the top-end, the 1800X has dropped by $100 to about $399. These updated price points represent a great time to jump on AMD’s popular R7 mainstream platform.
For the first time in an incredibly long time, AMD is competing at the super high-end with a product called Ryzen Threadripper (Whitehaven), which is actually based on their server line-up. Threadripper CPUs have either 8, 12 or 16 cores, with 16, 24, or 32 processing threads and anywhere from 20MB to 40MB cache. They run on the X399 platform with a TR4 socket, and a key feature of this platform is that it boasts a huge 64 PCIe 3.0 lanes.
The Threadripper CPUs are themselves physically massive with over 4000 LGA-style contacts and these processors generate copious amounts of heat, so an excellent aftermarket TR4-compatible cooling solution is definitely recommended. Launch pricing (MSRP) was set at $549 for the 1900X, $799 for the 1920X, and $999 for the 1950X, which is still expensive but far cheaper than Intel’s closest equivalents (on the X299 platform).
Ryzen Threadripper is a direct competitor to Intel’s Core I9 series of CPUs. In fact, the Core I9 family of processors from Intel were a hastily formulated response to the original Threadripper announcement by AMD (and not the other way around). This just demonstrates how Intel have been holding out by only offering minor incremental gains over generations instead of just bringing to market the best that they can. Ultimately, competition drives innovation and this is great for the consumer.
Threadripper is most definitely targeted towards the enthusiast or workstation market. The significantly higher core and thread counts would benefit scenarios such as virtualization. The high-speed quad channel memory support would favour very memory-intensive applications. The large number of PCIe 3.0 lanes would aid GPU compute, high-end networking tasks, or elaborate storage setups.
- Ryzen Threadripper 1900X: 8 cores, 16 threads, 3.8GHz base clock, 4.0GHz boost clock, 4.2Ghz XFR, 512KB per core L2 cache, 16MB L3 cache, 180-watt TDP, TR4 socket, $549 launch MSRP
- Ryzen Threadripper 1920X: 12 cores, 24 threads, 3.5GHz base clock, 4.0GHz boost clock, 4.2Ghz XFR, 512KB per core L2 cache, 32MB L3 cache, 180-watt TDP, TR4 socket, $799 launch MSRP
- Ryzen Threadripper 1950X: 16 cores, 32 threads, 3.4GHz base clock, 4.0GHz boost clock, 4.2Ghz XFR, 512KB per core L2 cache, 32MB L3 cache, 180-watt TDP, TR4 socket, $999 launch MSRP
The Threadripper 1950X has seen a significant drop in price in recent days. It usually retails at $999 (launch MSRP), but can now be purchased for around $799. Even at the original MSRP, this stood out as great value against Intel’s I9 CPUs, but at just under $800 this is even more of an obvious choice for those with heavy multi-threaded workstation loads and that demand value at the same time.
AMD has traditionally struggled in the enterprise and server markets. However, bringing the Zen architecture to server processors has reinvigorated AMD’s position in a segment that was largely under the control of Intel’s very expensive Xeon line-up. Under the brand ‘Epyc’ (and codenamed ‘Naples’), AMD has certainly stepped up its performance game over their prior Opteron server processors.
The Epyc platform comprises of both one and two-socket systems, with the CPUs in multi-processor systems communicating with each other via Infinity Fabric. The platform features 8-channel DDR4 memory support with 128 PCIe 3.0 lanes (64 of them assigned to CPU to CPU communication in dual-CPU builds). Epyc was launched in May 2017 and offers companies a very price-competitive option vs the more conventional Intel Xeons.
The Epyc processor stack features a dozen different CPUs, ranging all the way from 8 core / 16 thread CPUs, up to 32 core / 64 thread processors at the high-end, and with varying options for single or dual socket configurations. Prices range all the way up to $4200. However, a full breakdown of Epyc processors is beyond the scope of this article (which is targeted more towards the mainstream consumer and enthusiast markets), but it did need to be touched on as they are still part of the overall picture.
‘Raven Ridge’ is the codename given to AMD’s line of APUs based on the Zen microarchitecture. An APU is an Accelerated Processing Unit, which is a chip that contains both the CPU and GPU on a single die. All current Ryzen Mobile APUs offer 4 cores and 8 threads, along with a Vega-based GPU. The TDP for these APUs run at 15-watts, but can be configured anywhere from 12 to 25-watts.
Ryzen Mobile APUs are intended for use in lower-powered mobile devices and are supplied directly to OEM manufacturers for use in their portable devices. As such, they are not available for the general public to buy directly. The first round of Ryzen Mobile APUs were made available in October 2017.
- Ryzen 2500U: 4 cores, 8 threads, 2.0GHz base clock, 3.6GHz boost clock, 2MB L2 cache, 4MB L3 cache, Vega 8 GPU with 8 cores at 1100Mhz, 15-watt TDP
- Ryzen 2700U: 4 cores, 8 threads, 2.2GHz base clock, 3.8GHz boost clock, 2MB L2 cache, 4MB L3 cache, Vega 10 GPU with 10 cores at 1300Mhz, 15-watt TDP
Motherboard Chipset Options:
The A320 chipset represents the basic entry-level board for the mainstream AM4 socket, and are aimed at budget systems. A320 motherboards offer one 10Gbps USB 3.1 (gen. 2) port, two 5Gbps USB 3.1 (gen. 1) ports (in addition to the four native Ryzen ones), and up to 6 USB 2.0 ports. The chipset also features two SATA III and SATA Express connectors, along with additional PCIe devices (up to four lanes). Note that while every Ryzen CPU can be overclocked, A320 boards do not allow for overclocking.
The intermediate AM4 board is the B350, which is the most popular for value-orientated system builders. It supports CPU overclocking and includes all the above features of the A320, plus an additional 10Gbps USB 3.1 port and two extra PCIe lanes that can, for example, be put towards NVMe M.2 drives. However, B350 boards do not support multiple GPU builds (i.e. SLI or Crossfire). For that, you would need a X370 (or X300) chipset motherboard.
The X370 is the top-tier AM4-compatible motherboard. Compared to the B350, it adds support for four more 5Gbps USB (gen. 1) ports, double the SATA III connections and two more PCIe lanes. It also officially supports multiple GPUs (both SLI and Crossfire). The X370 is well-suited to those who wish to get the most out of their mainstream Ryzen systems.
There are additional chipsets available for the AM4 socket, which specifically target small form factor builds (mini-ITX). These are the A300, B300 and X300 chipsets. These chipsets do not add any extra functionality over those already provided by the Ryzen processors themselves, but the X300 does add the ability to overclock the processor, as well as offer two PCIe 3.0 slots.
The Ryzen Threadripper CPUs utilize the TR4 socket, which can only be found on X399 chipset motherboards. The X399 features the largest quantity of SATA ports, USB ports and PCI-E lanes. There is support for quad channel memory, native four-way SLI/Crossfire, multiple full-speed M.2 NVMe slots, 10Gbit network ports and more. These specific boards are full size ATX (or larger) form factor with maximum expandability.
AMD’s Zen-based platforms have, on the whole, been well-received by reviewers and the wider community. Ryzen processors generally run well with most existing software and games, and excel at workstation tasks that take full advantage of the higher core counts on offer. Unfortunately, the lower IPC on Ryzen CPUs does limit performance on workloads that do favor single-threaded performance (vs Intel), but not by such a large margin as to be obvious under everyday use.
AMD have historically offered very price-competitive CPUs, but have always struggled to offer performance-competitive CPUs, especially at the high-end. This has been particularly true over the last few years. However, Ryzen, and the Zen-based platform as a whole, have transformed the market by providing fairly comparable performance to Intel’s current offerings, but at much lower prices. This translates into better value for the consumer, and the recent Ryzen price-drops represent a great time to buy into the platform.