4K gam­ing with Ryzen

AMD’s lat­est range of graphics pro­ces­sors of­fer great value for money, writes Brad Cha­cos

PC Advisor - - CONTENTS -

AMD’s new high-end Ryzen 7 pro­ces­sors are fan­tas­tic, go­ing head to head with In­tel’s cheap­est 8-core chips in pro­duc­tiv­ity tasks at a whop­ping 50 per­cent cost sav­ings – or more if you opt any­thing but the flag­ship Ryzen 7 1800X.

No, Ryzen chips don’t of­fer the same raw gam­ing per­for­mance as In­tel’s quad­core pro­ces­sors. That’s in­dis­putable. But nei­ther do the high-end In­tel Ex­treme Edi­tion pro­ces­sors that are Ryzen’s true peers. While com­par­ing Ryzen against In­tel quad-cores is il­lu­mi­nat­ing for po­ten­tial up­graders fo­cused solely on gam­ing, it’s not quite ap­ples to ap­ples. A more re­al­is­tic way to look at it: In­tel’s quad-core Core i5 and Core i7 chips are ex­cel­lent gam­ing chips with de­cent pro­duc­tiv­ity chops, while Ryzen and In­tel’s Ex­treme Edi­tion CPUs are killer pro­duc­tiv­ity and con­tent-cre­ation pro­ces­sors that are de­cent in gam­ing.

Ryzen’s af­ford­able pric­ing, how­ever, goes a long way to­ward bridg­ing the gap.

The huge price dif­fer­ence be­tween the Core i7-6900K (£1,013 from tinyurl.com/ k2n­sLzv) and AMD’s pro­ces­sors leave you a lot of bud­getary wig­gle room to splurge on a graphics card. In fact, for the same price as the Core i7-6900K, you could pick up a Ryzen 7 1700 (£318 from tinyurl.com/mxkzdLh) and Nvidia’ beastly new GeForce GTX 1080 Ti (£699 from tinyurl.com/Lgx9v8q).

Yes, you read that right. For slightly more than In­tel’s cheap­est 8-core pro­ces­sor, you can pick up a com­pet­i­tive 8-core AMD chip and the most pow­er­ful graphics card ever re­leased. That’s an eye-opener.

In re­sponse to crit­i­cism over Ryzen’s gam­ing per­for­mance, AMD noted that the per­for­mance gap shrinks when your pair the pro­ces­sor with a po­tent graphics card and game at 4K res­o­lu­tion. That’s true. While do­ing so doesn’t re­flect the pure gam­ing po­ten­tial of a CPU (which is why in our Ryzen re­view on page 54 we tested at 1080p), stren­u­ous 4K gam­ing shifts the sys­tem bot­tle­neck from the pro­ces­sor to the graphics card in­stead, which can even out the real-world play­ing field be­tween CPUs of vary­ing gam­ing-per­for­mance chops.

With a Ryzen chip and Nvidia’s mon­ster graphics card in hand, it’s time to put that the­ory to the test. Here are some brief

bench­marks show­ing how the dy­namic duo fares in a hand­ful of games at 4K and 1440p res­o­lu­tions – for less than the cost of In­tel’s cheap­est 8-core chip alone.

Test­ing the Ryzen 7 1700 and GTX 1080 Ti

First, a quick re­fresher on the hard­ware we’re us­ing, fol­lowed by some test re­sults, be­fore fin­ish­ing with caveats and the fu­ture.

The Ryzen 7 1700 is AMD’s most af­ford­able high-end Ryzen chip, but it still packs eight cores and 16 threads of power, with a 3GHz base clock speed and 3.7GHz max­i­mum boost clock speed out of the box. Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, on the other hand, is the most fe­ro­cious graphics card ever, with even more per­for­mance than the Ti­tan X (£1,179 from tinyurl.com/kc­sc6r6).

The rest of the sys­tem is iden­ti­cal to our ul­ti­mate AMD gam­ing PC build. We just swapped out the pro­ces­sor and graphics card. Since we’re try­ing to keep this as close to an out-of-the-box ex­pe­ri­ence as pos­si­ble, we haven’t tin­kered with RAM speeds or done any of the other tricks AMD sug­gests to im­prove gam­ing per­for­mance. (More on that later.) We are run­ning the lat­est sta­ble BIOS, how­ever, and switched Win­dows from its de­fault Bal­anced power plan to High Per­for­mance to al­low Ryzen’s on-CPU man­age­ment tech­nol­ogy to op­er­ate cor­rectly.

Il­lus­trat­ing how the Ryzen 7 1700 and GTX 1080 Ti per­form in tan­dem at 4K res­o­lu­tion games is the main goal of this ar­ti­cle. That said, for ref­er­ence we’re also go­ing to in­clude GTX 1080 Ti per­for­mance re­sults from a In­tel Core i7-5960X-based GPU test­ing sys­tem in th­ese charts. It’s not quite the con­trolled ap­ples-to-ap­ples com­par­i­son you’d find in a for­mal re­view, but the 5960X is also an 8-core, 16-thread part, and the Core i7-6900K’s di­rect pre­de­ces­sor. It’s also paired with 16GB of DDR4 mem­ory, just like the Ryzen rig.

As al­ways, we bench­marked ev­ery game us­ing the de­fault graphics set­tings un­less oth­er­wise noted, with all ven­dor­spe­cific spe­cial fea­tures, such as Nvidia’s Game­Works ef­fects, AMD’s TressFX, and FreeSync/G-Sync, as well as VSync and fram­er­ate caps dis­abled. Th­ese four games are not among the ones we reg­u­larly use for GPU bench­mark­ing, but weren’t specif­i­cally picked to high­light Ryzen strong points. Each was tested un­til Ryzen’s weaker-than-In­telCPU gam­ing per­for­mance was re­vealed.

We’ll start with The Di­vi­sion, a game that AMD high­lighted to the press as hav­ing solid per­for­mance with Ryzen chips.

The Ryzen and In­tel sys­tems go neck and neck at 4K res­o­lu­tion. The gap widens a bit at 1440p, giv­ing the In­tel sys­tem a slight 7 per­cent per­for­mance advantage, but AMD’s chip still de­liv­ers a damned fine

gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence over­all in both av­er­age fram­er­ates and over­all smooth­ness.

Again, Ryzen com­petes flaw­lessly with the 5960X-based sys­tem at 4K, but its per­for­mance deficit def­i­nitely shows at 1440p, though you still can’t knock those damned playable fram­er­ates.

Fi­nally, let’s take a peek at Rise of the Tomb Raider and Ashes of the Sin­gu­lar­ity at 4K res­o­lu­tion. Ashes was tested in both DirectX 11 and DirectX 12 modes. The fram­er­ates are still noth­ing to sneeze at here. Th­ese games hit 60fps or more on Ryzen at 4K res­o­lu­tion. Yet even with the brute force of Nvidia’s mon­ster, In­tel’s older 8-core Haswell-based chip clearly de­liv­ers more.

But raw gam­ing per­for­mance num­bers aren’t the whole story here.

All about the cost

Again, AMD’s 8-core Ryzen 7 pro­ces­sors aren’t gam­ing-first chips, plus this Ryzen sys­tem de­liv­ers damned fine gam­ing per­for­mance even if it isn’t best in class. The Ryzen 7 1700 and GTX 1080 Ti combo also costs the same as the Core i7-6900K alone. Pair­ing a 6900K with Nvidia’s beast would add a huge amount to the cost of a build like this. That’s more than the cost of many com­plete gam­ing-ded­i­cated PCs.

Th­ese charts and com­par­isons are in­valu­able, but you can’t take those real-world con­sid­er­a­tions out of Ryzen’s per­for­mance story. If you need the best of the all worlds, In­tel’s Ex­treme Edi­tion chips can de­liver that at a far higher cost. If you need a pure gam­ing rig, In­tel’s quad-core chips clearly of­fer the best price-to-per­for­mance value, but if you’re look­ing for a great pro­duc­tiv­ity ma­chine with good gam­ing chops, Ryzen of­fers that for far less than 8-core In­tel

pro­ces­sors, even if there is some po­ten­tial com­pro­mise in raw fram­er­ates.

There’s no get­ting around the fact that Ryzen isn’t as strong as In­tel chips at gam­ing. That was re­vealed in ex­ten­sive Ryzen re­view test­ing. While AMD says the deficit is re­duced at higher res­o­lu­tions, the mammoth power of the GTX 1080 Ti shows the gap clearly at 1440p in Di­vi­sion and Far Cry, and even at 4K with Tomb Raider and Ashes of the Sin­gu­lar­ity, though again, all of those games are em­i­nently playable on Ryzen.

The mil­lion dol­lar ques­tion: how will Ryzen pro­ces­sors be­have in to­mor­row’s games?

Push­ing per­for­mance to­mor­row

AMD says it has nowhere to go but up. “CPU bench­mark­ing deficits to the com­pe­ti­tion in cer­tain games at 1080p res­o­lu­tion can be at­trib­uted to the de­vel­op­ment and op­ti­mi­sa­tion of the game uniquely to In­tel plat­forms – un­til now,” the firm’s corporate vice pres­i­dent John Tay­lor told us just be­fore Ryzen’s launch. Most games sim­ply haven’t been de­signed to work around 8-core, 16-thread pro­ces­sors, even AMD stal­warts such as Ashes of the Sin­gu­lar­ity.

Tay­lor pro­vided quotes from the de­vel­op­ers of both Ashes and To­tal War: Warham­mer stat­ing they are see­ing per­for­mance upticks with early Ryzen op­ti­mi­sa­tion ef­forts, and em­pha­sised that AMD’s on pace to de­liver over 1,000 Ryzen kits to de­vel­op­ers by the end of 2017. The com­pany has also signed an un­prece­dented multi-game, multi-se­ries tech­no­log­i­cal part­ner­ship with Bethesda to im­ple­ment core-hun­gry Vulkan tech in its games af­ter Doom’s spec­tac­u­lar suc­cess.

Ryzen’s a young plat­form with plenty of room for pol­ish. In­tel’s high-end X99 plat­form suf­fered from grow­ing pains too, re­mem­ber. The­o­ries about its gam­ing per­for­mance are ev­ery­where you look in on­line fo­rums, but it cer­tainly seems pos­si­ble that a mix­ture of Win­dows up­dates, BIOS re­vi­sions, and other op­ti­mi­sa­tions could push Ryzen’s gam­ing per­for­mance even higher in the fu­ture. Not that you can bank on that to­day.

Push­ing per­for­mance to­day

That said, if you’re look­ing to speed up your Ryzen PC’s gam­ing right now, there are sev­eral steps you can take to po­ten­tially do so. We cov­ered most of them on page 68, from en­abling Win­dows’ High Per­for­mance mode to dis­abling Ryzen’s vaunted si­mul­ta­ne­ous mul­ti­thread­ing, but we have a few more tips here.

The first ties di­rectly into the Ryzen 7 1700 used to­day. Buy a third-party CPU cooler and over­clock it. Early ship­ments of the chip have had no prob­lem over­clock­ing to the 3.8- to 3.9GHz range, with some hit­ting 4GHz and a se­lect few man­ag­ing to reach 4.1GHz. At that point, it in essence equals or beats the Ryzen 7 1800X in per­for­mance. AMD’s new Ryzen Mas­ter over­clock­ing tool makes it easy — see our guide to Ryzen over­clock­ing on page 72 for de­tails.

Ryzen Mas­ter also pro­vides the abil­ity to dis­able some of Ryzen’s CPU cores, a pair at a time. Hav­ing fewer cores ac­tive could the­o­ret­i­cally al­low you to push over­clocks even fur­ther, so play around with that. Cre­at­ing sep­a­rate Ryzen Mas­ter pro­files for work and play could help you op­ti­mise each sce­nario, switch­ing be­tween pro­files on the fly for max­i­mum per­for­mance.

Ryzen also per­forms bet­ter if you in­crease RAM speeds. While we stuck to an out-of-the-box ex­pe­ri­ence for this test­ing – which dropped my 3000MHz Cor­sair Vengeance LPX RAM to 2133MHz – you could see yet more up­lift if you’re able to push mem­ory speeds fur­ther. This is highly moth­er­board-de­pen­dent, though.

But re­ally, just be re­al­is­tic about what you’re get­ting with Ryzen, and what its true com­pe­ti­tion is. Eight-core chips will never com­pete with quad-core parts in sheer clock speed. Ryzen isn’t a mytho­log­i­cal uni­corn that ex­cels in all sit­u­a­tions. What it is is a good pro­duc­tiv­ity and con­tentcre­ation chip with very com­pet­i­tive pric­ing and pretty good – though not best in class – gam­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

This fear­some combo costs the same as In­tel’s cheap­est 8-core pro­ces­sor

Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080 Ti

The GTX 1080 Ti in­side the Core i7-5960X ma­chine

Adding a third-party air CPU cooler or (as pic­tured) a closed-loop liq­uid cooler lets you push Ryzen per­for­mance

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