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Feb 28 2017

AMD Switches to Attack Mode

Fans of Athlon and Phenom CPUs as well as users with limited budgets had long waited for this day: last week, AMD chief Lisa Su finally introduced the company's new flagship product, the Ryzen™ 7 desktop processor. Targeted at gamers and content creators, the new eight-core model will be available in three editions, arrive in stores on March 2 – and sell for less than half the price of comparable Intel gear.

A Bit of History
The past seven years must have seemed like an endless dark age to AMD execs and developers alike. Weakened by the financial crisis and its own GlobalFoundries adventure, the former #1 Intel challenger hadn't delivered groundbreaking desktop processors since the days before Windows 7, while at the same time being caught in a fierce contest with rival GPU maker NVIDIA. The price of AMD stocks tumbled, and the company reacted in a predictable manner – with layoffs that hit more than 40% of its 2008 workforce and heavy rotation in the CEO chair. Then in late 2014, former COO Lisa Su took over from Rory Read and steered the company back into calmer waters, finally effecting a rise in revenues and a substantial reduction of long-term debts.

Following a relatively quiet period, AMD started to pick up speed again at last August's Hot Chips conference, where it presented its upcoming Zen processor architecture. Based on 14nm FinFET technology, Zen was designed to help the company to "come back to the performance CPU sector with a bang," according to WCCFTECH Senior Editor Hassan Mujtaba. More specifically, the new design was meant to offer 40% more instructions per clock cycle than its predecessor, along with a new energy-saving technology called SenseMI, which uses heat sensors placed across the chip to dynamically adjust voltage and frequency. In other words, Zen-based processors can maintain their frequency while eating up less power. Needless to say, these announcements caught the attention of both analysts and demanding consumers, especially in the gamer community, who had felt somewhat frustrated by Intel's ongoing dominance. Later AMD further fueled that curiosity by feeding them a constant stream bits and pieces about its future CPUs since December.

Some Specs
So the interest was at its peak when Lisa Su took to the stage to present Ryzen™ 7 in what some have dubbed AMD's first major product launch since 2011. And after four years of development time and 2 million engineering hours, she could bring quite a few surprises to the table: instead of the projected 40% rise Ryzen delivers 52% more instructions per clock cycle, beating the original goal by one third. Consequently, the new processor line now competes against top-of-the-line Intel° Core™ i7 models, as you can see in the benchmark results below. But first, let's look at some basic specs:

  • All Ryzen™ 7 processors feature 8 cores and support SMT, AMD's implementation of simultaneous multithreading akin to Hyperthreading, so that each model can execute 16 threads in parallel.
  • AMD claims that although they're all octocore, Ryzen CPUs will generally produce a much lower TDP than their designated Intel rivals – meaning they require between 26 and 45 watts less cooling power.
  • At launch, Ryzen™ 7 processors will be available in three editions. The "flagship" among them is the Ryzen 7 1800 X: billed as "the world's highest-performing 8-core desktop processor," it runs at a base clock speed of 3.6 GHz that will jump to 4.0 or even 4.1 GHz in turbo mode. Next in line is the Ryzen 7 1700X, whose clock speeds range from 3.4 to 3.8/3.9 GHz. (In both cases, the "X" is meant to suggest overclocking potential – a more-than-obvious hint for avid gamers.) The 'low end' is marked by the Ryzen 7 1700, which operates at speeds between 3.0 and 3.7 GHz and is for modest users that normally avoid CPU tuning measures.

As could be expected, AMD ran a couple of benchmarks to find out how well the trio would fare against the Intel competition. The most prominent among them was Cinebench 15, which is used to compare GPU and CPU performance across various systems and platforms. Here, the Ryzen 7 1800X achieved 9% faster multi-threaded performance in 3D rendering than its rival. Likewise, the Ryzen 7 1700 outdid the competing Kaby Lake model by an even vaster margin of 46% in Cinebench multi-threaded, but that's largely due to a higher core count. (Of course these were lab tests; real-world results should be available soon after the CPUs go on sale.)

Availability and Pricing
All three Ryzen models are already available for order; shipping is supposed to start on Thursday this week (March 2). Still, AMD understands that after such a long time, their return to the high-end processor market may not turn out to be an instant success; so they adjusted their pricing and are now offering these CPUs at prices between $329 and $499 (€359 and €559). In other words, the flagship model Ryzen 7 1800X costs half as much as its Intel counterpart. However, users who plan to switch platforms will also have to buy new chipsets and mainboards.

For more information, check out the launch event video below.


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