This week, AMD released the latest in its family of Zen processors, the Ryzen 5 series. Targeted at DIY consumers and OEMs with retail prices ranging from $169 to $249, Ryzen 5 can address a much wider segment of the market than the Ryzen 7 processors launched last month that are priced as high as $499. The competing Intel processors in the Core i5 family sit in essentially the same price segment of the market but AMD Ryzen has a significant advantage in thread count with all released parts enabling multi-threading. Though Zen is at a deficit in per-clock performance compared to Intel’s Kaby Lake, a 2-3x improvement in threading capability offers substantial headroom for application performance.
Intel has had years of consumer mind share and channel market share in this segment without competition and AMD understands it needs to do more than just equalize metrics to make any significant market share moves. On top of the thread and core count advantages Ryzen 5 offers over Core i5, the chipset and motherboards based on the AMD B350 chipset offer value-adds. The B350 chipset includes the ability to overclock both the CPU clock speed and memory for the Ryzen platform, all while adding support for interface technologies like M.2 NVMe SSDs and USB 3.1 connectivity. Intel’s competitive solution for low-cost motherboards is the B250 chipset but it locks consumers out from overclocking of any kind.
It’s good AMD they decided to make the decision to allow for overclocking the B350 chipset. Testing has proven that increased DDR4 memory speeds can have a dramatic impact on the performance of some applications, especially games. Given the controversy surround the Ryzen 7 processor and gaming, any avenue AMD can offer to improve this area is welcome.
Direct performance comparisons of Ryzen to Core start with the Ryzen 5 1600X and the Core i5-7600K. Having 6 cores and 12 threads on the 1600X gives AMD performance leads over the 7600K (4 cores and 4 threads) we haven’t seen in nearly a decade when the Athlon first hit the market. Applications like Blender (used for 3D rendering) and Handbrake (for media creation and transcoding) show the power multi-threaded workloads can tap into on a Ryzen CPU. Even the 4 core, 8 thread Ryzen 5 1500X (priced $60 lower than the 1600X) is able to outpace the Intel CPUs in this segment.
Single threaded performance still belongs to Intel and its Kaby Lake architecture. Synthetics and a few applications like Audacity audio encoding bear this out and, though there aren’t many benchmarks that make the case, real-world experience and user interfaces are very often single thread limited.
One of the Achille’s heels of AMD’s initial Ryzen 7 processor launch centered on PC gaming at lower resolutions like 1080p. The story remains mostly the same for Ryzen 5 where the Core i5-7600K demonstrates better performance in most of our testing. In a few cases, particularly with “Ashes of the Singularity” and “Hitman”, the Ryzen 5 1600X is able to hold its own, matching the results from Intel. AMD was able to show the potential benefits of optimizing game engines for Ryzen through the Ashes developers, netting a 31% overall improvement at peak. The difficulty for AMD will be getting a wide array of game developers and engine developers to do the same and spend time and money to make the changes necessary for more highly threaded processors.
Intel, for its part, has remained publicly silent about the moves AMD is making with Ryzen. Many in the industry and DIY community have accused Intel of sitting on the market, unmoved to improve performance in the areas important to them without competition to push them down the path. The validity of that opinion is tempered by knowing Intel has focused most of its resources on the mobile markets (both smartphone/tablet and notebooks). Both process technology innovations and architectural shifts on Intel processors have been built to lower power consumption and improve instantaneous performance.
There is some buzz that Intel might be moving up the roadmap for forthcoming refresh processors in the desktop space to address the competition. I do not expect Intel to adjust current pricing of Core i5 or Core i7 processors in response to AMD but I do see Intel making specification and price adjusts with the next-generation processors to accommodate the evolution Ryzen has brought to the market. Expect more cores, more threads, and lower prices from Intel.
AMD has been able to deliver on its promise of a competitive consumer processor with both Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 5. Though it suffers from a potential pitfall with gaming performance currently, in any multi-threaded workload, Ryzen 5 stands out from Core i5 and does so in a dominating fashion. As the consumer software space continues to adapt to multitasking and highly threaded application workloads (AI, computer vision), AMD will continue to have the advantage.