The AMD Ryzen 7: plenty of power, but underwhelming gaming performance

Ryzen: the best is yet to come

Ryzen includes so many changes and we've been given so much information that it's extremely difficult to cover every aspect of the processor in one article. I'll be posting some additional thoughts over the coming week, testing more motherboards, and hopefully getting a fix for the gaming performance woes soon. As it stands, Ryzen looks like an awesome workstation processor, and the Ryzen 7 1700 delivers an incredibly potent CPU for non-gaming purposes, especially if you want to overclock it. But the gaming story is disappointing.

With the huge strides in performance relative to the archaic (in CPU terms) FX-8370 Vishera chip, I expected Ryzen to achieve parity with Intel's X99 processors. It gets there in the CPU-centric tests, but falls well short on gaming performance. And I don't really have a good explanation, other than the feeling I keep getting that Ryzen was pushed out the door before it was truly ready.

AMD CEO Lisa Su talked about how the this launch of Ryzen is really just the beginning, looking forward to Vega, Naples, and other upcoming AMD products. Further out, AMD is also working on future enhancements to the Zen architecture. AMD's not being too creative with the naming, as they're just calling these Zen+ or Zen 2. The thing is, I think Su's talk about this only being the beginning is more literally applicable. Today is where Ryzen starts, and the platform and performance are mostly there but still in need of some fine tuning.

Long-term, I expect Ryzen performance will improve, and once more applications start looking for 8-core CPUs, it could see even bigger gains. But unless you like being a bit of a beta tester and working through the initial teething problems, I'd suggest waiting a few weeks before buying a Ryzen chip. And it really pains me to say that, because the $329 Ryzen 7 1700 otherwise packs some great value into a chip you might actually be able to afford.

Looking further out, AMD's not done with Zen either. The full lineup of Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 3 parts haven't even arrived, and they could bring some great multi-core values to mainstream users. Bases on the current prices, a 6-core/12-thread Ryzen 5 for close to $200 seems entirely possible. And even lower down the pecking order, Ryzen 3 could really put the hurt on Core i3 parts. Then there will be APUs, with hopefully RX 460 levels of performance.

Ryzen may not be perfect, but it's so much better than the FX-series processors that I'm almost willing to overlook some of the current warts. Besides, Intel is desperately in need of some competition in the CPU arena, and ARM SOCs just aren't going to cut it. Hopefully by the time the Ryzen 5 and 3 parts start shipping, all the gaming performance issues will have been fixed. If not, I worry about the long-term prospects for Zen, because Intel isn't standing still.

Initial thoughts on Ryzen

Overall, Ryzen is an impressive part. Performance is a huge step forward for AMD processors, in many cases closing the chasm that existed previously between the FX series and Intel's Core i5/i7. For an 8-core/16-thread part, the pricing is also extremely aggressive, and I expect Intel will adjust their prices on X99 parts in response. So who should be looking at buying Ryzen?

For PC gamers, the message is decidedly mixed. Yes, there are a few games where Ryzen performs quite well, but without the SMT tweaks there isn't a single title where Ryzen 1800X can beat the i7-7700K. I'm also not that sold on the Twitch streaming salespitch, since both AMD and Nvidia (and Intel for that matter) can do accelerated encoding of video without overloading the CPU. If you're serious about getting the best quality encoding going with your Twitch broadcasts, Ryzen is worth a look, but that's about as far as I'd take it.

For gaming as a whole you're still better off with a Core i7-7700K, or even a Core i5-7600K. Right now, the least expensive Ryzen part, the 1700, is effectively the same price as the i7-7700K, and that's not even the CPU we recommend as the best gaming solution, particularly in terms of bang for the buck. Core i5-7600K is within a hair of the 7700K and costs $240, nearly $100 less than the 1700. It will also overclock to 4.9/5.0GHz, and until we see a lot more games benefit beyond 4-core, it's the best option.

For non-gaming use, it's a very different story. Professional and high-end applications like video and image editing can definitely benefit from additional CPU cores, and in the right application like Blender or Adobe Premiere, Ryzen blows away Intel's mainstream parts, and in many cases outperforms even the X99 CPUs. What's more, it does so at significantly lower prices.

In a head-to-head matchup for CPU intensive workloads, the i7-6900K just edges out the Ryzen 1800X in aggregate performance, but it does so at twice the price. For the budget conscious, it's no contest. The 1700X does even better against the 6-core i7-6800K/6850K, easily surpassing their performance at a lower price. And with twice the cores on tap, Ryzen 1700 only trails the i7-7700K in applications that don't benefit much from multi-core.

If you're doing work that runs into CPU bottlenecks, Ryzen 7 is a clear win, sweeping all categories. It may be lacking in gaming prowess, and that may improve over the coming weeks/months, but there are plenty of people that don't really do much serious gaming. For those users, Ryzen could be exactly what they need, at a price you'll actually be willing to pay.