Mar 8 2017

Oh my goodness Ryzen!

Well, I’ve finally gone and done it.  The spin on the obligatory Ryzen post made on every tech blog and youtube channel on the internet as of late.

So AMD has FINALLY graced us with some intel competition (at least in the mid-range to “enthusiast” desktop market) with the release of their new Ryzen 7 series CPUs. at first look, 8 cores, 16 threads, at darn near 4ghz (and a bit over from time to time if you want to roll up your sleeves and get your overclock on) sounds pretty darned attractive…  So much so that I read a ton of information and watched a ton of “speculation” and “leaked benchmark” comparison videos and built it all up in my head, and then several weeks later, the final product started shipping and overall, it seems good for a nice upper middle range desktop processor touching on “enthusiast” class.  It’s reasonably quick, going head to head with the i7-6800k and beating it out most of the time, in some cases beating out the thousand dollars plus i7-5960x, and in other cases, “Intel’s i7-7700k, a quad-core chip priced at $349, handily beats out the most expensive Ryzen chip.” as The Motley Fool puts it.

Clearly, there are a few sticking points to AMD’s return to mainstream CPUs.  Firstly, AMD’s design is focused heavily on multithreaded design and applications.  Intel’s “enthusiast” CPUs simply do more computations per clock cycle per CPU core, so on workloads that don’t scale well to multiple threads, the intel cpu with faster clock speed and fewer cores can do a little bit better in this use case.  classicly video games fall under this category although they’ve gotten a bit better in recent days about spreading the work out to a few cores, but quite a few people who seek “enthusiast” grade CPUs are hardcore gamers from the Glorious PC Gaming Master Race who are extremely picky about a few extra frames-per-second in games and minor increases in figures on the box.

Secondly, it only supports dual-channel ddr4, in comparison to similar class intel CPUs which typically allows for quite a bit of extra CPU to memory bandwidth to be had in comparison.  I was actually a bit intrigued when it came to memory i/o seemingly not affecting most real-world workloads that were benchmarked after the final release comparatively. – however, it seems that quite a few people are having difficulties with incompatible memory modules on Ryzen based machines (it doesn’t seem to like the fastest stuff out there), but there is still hope that memory module compatibility can be improved with bios updates a little bit later.

Which brings me to the largest sticking point that I’ve seen talked about during the time that I’ve been researching the Ryzen release: It’s a new CPU on a new platform.  It’s bound to have a few bugs here and there, some growing pains (like the aforementioned memory compatibility issues), AMD is rushing to get a small microcode update rolled out via bios updates to fix a few bugs and improve compatibility, and overall the current state of affairs is certainly a bit rough around the edges, but such as that is, it’s a vast playground for early adopters who are looking at upgrading to a great CPU at a VERY good price point for the performance you get.

Overall though, while there are gamers who are complaining that their render speeds are slightly lower than intel’s fastest quad-core i7, it’s really only by a few percent, and assuming you have a current generation GPU it’s more than fast enough to run a stable 100+ frames per second while gaming at 1080/1440p, and it’s not the CPU that gets bottlenecked in 4k gaming, it’s almost always going to be the graphics card.  And in massively multithreaded operations like CPU based 3d rendering… well let’s just say that Ryzen has the claim to fame as being the current record holder for an overclocked 8 core CPU on cinebench, and it isn’t a slouch at doing other light workstation tasks like video editing and encoding either.

So while Intel has been seemingly sitting on ass for the past few years in terms of performance improvements while happily sitting back and taking 400, 500, 1200 dollars each generation for generally minor improvements, AMD scrapped everything about their previous CPUs, went back to the drawing board, and came out with something they could release at very competitive prices… BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!  AMD’s roadmap also includes the Ryzen 3 and Ryzen 5 CPU’s that are yet to come later this year which are designed to compete with Intel’s i3 and i5 series CPUs respectively which will integrate yet-to-be-announced graphics processors, and it’s speculated that they may be able to push the clock speeds a bit higher on the smaller number of cores due to having more power available per core. But for my money, the CPU I’m waiting for from AMD is the “Naples” series of high end processors based on the same architecture as Ryzen that should be released around Q3.  Naples will have 32 cores/64 threads, will allow multiple CPUs per motherboard using the same “Infinity Fabric” interconnect that’s used between cores INSIDE the CPU, support for 8 memory channels, 16 memory slots supporting 2 TERRABYTES of RAM, 128 PCIe lanes allowing for multiple nvme drives, multiple PCIe video cards working at full bandwidth, multiple 10gb/s ethernet adapters, basically as much i/o as I can fathom at the moment…  My greatest hope is that AMD and its board partners think about the workstation market when they release these CPUs and boards. Naples was designed with rack mount servers in mind, but if they come up with some reasonably priced workstation hardware build around these chips and massive i/o technology…  let’s just say my tail wags every time I think about the possibility of such things…

Will I get a Ryzen 7 CPU?  At this point, the answer is probably, but not for a while… I’d personally like to wait and see what the early adopter’s experience is for a little while and what steps AMD is taking to correct some of those aforementioned “new design” bugs.  Also, now that the CPU market has some much-needed competition again, I’m certain that costs will quickly plummet as Intel and AMD battle for your PC dollars, improving performance for the dollar as we go so perhaps Intel will start lowering prices as things go on as well, or perhaps they’ve been sitting on further innovation that they just haven’t been talking about that will throw them over the top… only time will tell.  I’d also really like to see if AMD and their board partners come out with Naples workstation hardware that maybe magically might end up in a price range that doesn’t require me to sell a kidney to afford.

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