AMD Ryzen - the Zen architecture availability, specs, price and performance

AMD Zen CPU release date

The AMD Ryzen CPUs represent the first flush of the red team’s Zen processor architecture. They’re also the first all-new CPUs AMD have released in many a year and, with the computational performance on show, are delivering genuine competition to Intel’s CPU dominance.

The new Zen architecture could change the CPU landscape when it launches this year, but right now these are the best CPUs for gaming.

We've spent a long while with the new AMD platform and in our Ryzen 7 1800X review we've been impressed by the number-crunching capabilities of the flagship Zen CPU, but not so much by its gaming performance.

The fact AMD have closed the gaming gap on Intel is important though, because even if they haven't gained parity, when we get to the mainstream Ryzen 5 processors things could really shake up in the PC gaming world.

With any new platform though there will be issues. Aside from gaming the memory performance isn't great - the platform lacks quad-channel support and struggles above 2,667MHz on many kits. It's also not a particularly inspiring overclocker, partly thanks to the fact it's a hot and power-hungry processor.

But do you know your branch prediction from your retire queue? Your FP register file from your integer physical register file? Nope, us neither, but here's what the new AMD Zen architecture will mean for their next generation of processor and potentially for your next gaming PC.

In short, the AMD Zen CPU architecture represents the best chance for the red team to close the gap on Intel, offering PC users a genuine computational alternative for our desktop rigs.

If you want to jump right to the good stuff click on the quick links below to get there.

AMD Ryzen price

AMD Ryzen pricing

The main goal for the upcoming AMD Zen CPUs is to offer a credible alternative to the Intel hegemony existing around high-end processors right now, and they absolutely have to be priced accordingly.

The top-tier eight core Ryzen CPUs has been confirmed now. We're looking at less than $500 for the Ryzen R7 1800X, the new eight-core, 16-thread AMD superchip.

The eight-core, 16-thread R7 1800X has a suggested retail price of $499, the slightly slower R7 1700X is $399 and the bottom R7 1700 is $329.

Interestingly the two 'X' chips are also listed as 'WOF' parts, which translates as 'without fan' while the standard R7 1700 is listed as 'PIB' or 'processor in box.' That would indicate the R7 1800X and R7 1700X are the more overclocking-focused versions of the Ryzen CPU range as they're expected to be paired with third-party coolers, while the 65W R7 1700 comes with a standard AMD Wraith Spire chip chiller because it's not expected to be pushed beyond its normal frequency boundaries.

AMD Wraith Spire

Though all Ryzen chips are overclockable if you've got them dropped into a compatible motherboard, thanks to the universally unlocked multipliers. There are also reportedly 'X' series processors in all three tiers of Ryzen chip, delivering overclockable CPUs right down to the bottom of their stack.

That's an impressively low initial price if that's in any way true, with the cut-price eight-core chip being a great way of offering an incentive to people on an old Core i5 looking for an upgrade.

AMD Ryzen architecture

AMD Ryzen architecture

AMD have then gone back to the drawing board for their new x86 AMD processor architecture with Zen offering the promise of clawing back performance, and potentially market share, from their big blue Intel rivals. This time though their new CPU design represents more of a balancing act; nailing improved single-core throughput for existing game engines as well as catering to the multi-threaded approach newer graphics APIs, like DirectX 12 and Vulkan, are finally offering.

AMD’s CEO, Lisa Su, introduced the ‘guts of Ryzen’ at the New Horizon event in December, detailing the five key new features that make it the fastest processors architecture they’ve ever created. The five new features in question are: Neural Net Prediction, Smart Prefetch, Pure Power, Precision Boost and Extended Frequency Range. Altogether they’re known as AMD SenseMI Technology.

These allow the Ryzen CPU to “sense and adapt to its environment, which makes it an extremely intelligent processor, capable of learning on the fly.” According to Su that gives the Ryzen silicon ‘true machine intelligence’ which accounts for around 25% of the performance uplift the Zen architecture is promising over its forebears.

AMD Ryzen Neural Net Prediction

The Neural Net Prediction part of the chip allows it to self train and preload the right instructions to run faster. Once it figures out what the right instructions are the Smart Prefetch feature learns to anticipate the data an app needs and aims to have it ready before it’s actually needed.

The Ryzen processors also house hundreds of sensors to track and locally optimise the silicon to enable it to run at its fastest while still maintaining the lowest possible power draw. These sensors feed into the Pure Power and Precision Boost features, which deliver a huge amount of control to the CPU itself.

AMD Ryzen Precision Boost

Pure Power and Precision Boost work together to “dial up the frequency and dial down the power on each part of the chip, independently, in milliseconds.” This performance optimisation is aimed at making the changes to power and frequency as quickly and as unobtrusively as possible.

This was something AMD’s Mike Clark, Zen’s lead architect, spoke about before. “We had the power focus from the beginning of the project. We do aggressive clock gating with multi-level regions to make sure we’re gating off logic when we’re not using it."

AMD Ryzen Extended Frequency Range

The final piece of the SenseMI puzzle is the Extended Frequency Range. This is essentially analogous to the GPU boost you get on the latest Nvidia graphics cards where the upper limits of the clockspeed aren’t rigidly defined parameters but are almost entirely based on the thermal performance of the machine’s cooling setup. If you’re rocking liquid cooling you’ll get a higher upper limit to the operating frequency of your Ryzen CPU.

It’s a fully automated solution and basically allows for processor overclocking without any user input outside of deciding what cooling to drop onto their chip. It looks like this is going to be a feature of all the Ryzen processors, which makes sense given AMD have confirmed that there’s going to be no locked multipliers on any of their new CPUs, opening them all up to overclocking - should you have the right motherboard anyway.

Outside of the new features there are some silicon advances which are also delivering performance boosts to the new Zen architecture. Before last year's Hot Chips symposium in Silicon Valley AMD gave us a sneak peak at what's under the Zen hood, and it's a mighty complex beast. Mike Clark, the lead architect on the Zen x86 core, took us through a deep dive on the heart of the new microarchitecture detailing exactly how they managed to nail their target of a 40% instructions per clock increase over their last generation of processor.

AMD Zen architecture IPC gains

“We’ve taken a brand new core engine - tuned for performance - combined it with a high-bandwidth, low-latency cache system," explains Clark. "We've thrown SMT on top of it so we can get high throughput when we need to and the used the new 14nm FinFET technology to also get low-power and scale the design across a number of SoCs from client to servers.”

It's those three pillars of improved core design, better cache and a focus on lower power which have allowed AMD to hit their target. They've been working on the first two for decades, but targeting power contraints normally isn't something that comes until later on in AMD's silicon designs.

"We knew, for this design, we needed to have power analysis going on in the microarchitecture from day one and be choosing the right features to still deliver the IPC increase," says Clark, "but be able to maintain equivalent power to our previous generation."

AMD Zen performance

One of the main things which has given the core engine its boost is the move towards an SMT-based core, giving it an approach to multi-threading which is much closer to Intel's HyperThreading. They've also improved the brand prediction allowing for more instructions to be completed per clock cycle.

"We’re both a wider machine - we can send more instructions into the machine per cycle, 6 vs. 4," says Clark. "And then we’re a deeper machine, meaning we can hold more instructions and we can look further into the program for parallel work that we can execute."

That means the Zen architecture is able to both chew through more processing tasks as well as dig deeper into the queue of tasks it has yet to finish, picking off the ones it can tackle concurrently.

But all that counts for naught if they can't keep the high-performance system fed with data. To do that you need a good cache system and AMD have doubled the bandwidth available to its level one and level 2 cache while improving the level 3 cache bandwidth by five times what was available on its previous cache design. 

"The combination of that better core engine and that better cache system allow us to get the 40% IPC uplift, explains Clark.

"Overall we’ve been increasing our power design methodology on the physical design side, all through the ‘Dozer generation," says Clark. "And we were able to leverage all that learning - with new learning - and all that in combination has lead to us being able to achieve the IPC uplift and hold power steady or neutral with the previous generation.”

Lisa Su revealed at their recent investor earnings call the 'multi-generational roadmap' AMD was working towards for the Ryzen successors. Currently they're just being referred to as Zen 2 and Zen 3, but Su explained that they would involve the architecture shrinking down to the 7nm node.

"From our standpoint process technology, we ramped 16nm and 14nm really well last year and into this year," explained Su. "We are actually in the process of developing now in 7nm and we think the 7nm foundry roadmaps that are available are very competitive and will ensure that we have a strong multi-generational roadmap."

AMD Ryzen specs

AMD Ryzen specsThe initial AMD Ryzen CPUs are the eight-core, 16-thread beasts. These are the top-end processors previously known as Summit Ridge, though the Ryzen range of chips will cater for many different budgets and needs.

"Zen, for AMD, is not just one product or two products," explained AMD CEO, Lisa Su. "It's really a family of products that will roll out."

The chief architect for Zen, Mike Clark, echoed his CEO's statement. “Zen is not a destination," he said. "it’s a starting point. AMD is back, but we’re also back to stay. We’re going to continue to push high-performance compute going forward in our next generation - we’re totally committed to high performance compute.”

On the Q4 2016 earnings call Su discussed the 'multi-generational roadmap' that AMD is working to for the Zen family, including the 'Zen 2 and Zen 3 follow on.' As well as updating the archiecture the Ryzen successors will also support production improvements too.

"From our standpoint process technology, we ramped 16nm and 14nm really well last year and into this year," explained Su on the call. "We are actually in the process of developing now in 7nm and we think the 7nm foundry roadmaps that are available are very competitive and will ensure that we have a strong multi-generational roadmap."

We’re expecting hex and quad-core parts eventually to go along with the octa-core processors. They will also support Simultaneous Multi-Threading (SMT), a technology analogous to Intel’s HyperThreading, allowing each discrete CPU core to process two threads concurrently.

There are rumours, however, that AMD will be releasing a lower-tier quad-core Ryzen processor without their SMT feature enabled, leaving it as a four-core, four-thread chip. That would make sense given that it looks unlikely that AMD will be making any Ryzen processors with fewer than four cores.

The Zen architecture has been built in four-core complexes, so the octa-core chip will sport a pair of these core complexes.

It’s a different situation to AMD’s previous architecture in which their Bulldozer CPUs (as well as the later, iterative architectures toting the similarly heavy-plant-based codenames of Piledriver and Excavator) were built using nominally dual-core modules, where each ‘core’ shares an unhealthy chunk of logic between them. The quad-core modules in Zen have discrete logic in each core, sharing only access to the L3 cache.

A quad-core Bulldozer chip uses a dual-module design and an octa-core uses four modules. AMD’s eight-core chips, like the FX-8370, are effectively quad-core CPUs using a slightly hobbled form of HyperThreading. With the Summit Ridge CPUs, on the other hand, each promised Zen core is going to be fully discrete with its very own, jealously-guarded silicon.

AMD Zen architecture

In terms of the process AMD is using for their new architecture they are going with the same 14nm FinFET lithography already used in their Polaris-based graphics cards. The FinFET design uses essentially the same Tri-Gate transistor layout Intel has been building into their processors since the 22nm shift for their Ivy Bridge platform. It’s a 3D transistor design used to get around the electrical leakage which occurs in planar transistors when components are shrunk down to such microscopic levels.

In terms of the power draw the top octa-core Ryzen is a 95W chip with the R7 1700 only pulling a 65 TDP. Their previous eight-core processors came in at 125W, though they also had a couple of 220W CPUs too, but we doubt they'll want to go down that route again with Zen...unless they want to get a 5-6GHz chip out down the line.

But even more interesting on that front is the idle power performance of these engineering samples. They are reported to be able to deliver idle power of just 2.5W and 5W for the quad and octa-core CPUs respectively; both able to scale down their clockspeeds to an operating frequency of just 550MHz. 

And we thought the Skylake architecture was impressive when the 6700K showed it could drop down to 800MHz with a 3.5W idle power draw.

AMD Ryzen chipset

AMD AM4 socket

In terms of the platform the Zen processors drop into, AMD is simplifying things by unifying both their CPU and APU sockets. The new AM4 socket means that, with a single motherboard, you can be assured of compatibility with all of AMD’s Zen silicon going forward.

There is a much greater pin density on the new socket compared to the outgoing AM3+ design. The last connection had just 942 pins while the AM4 socket offers a full 1331 potential connections. Not all AM4 chips will use the full complement of pins with the Bristol Ridge APUs not needing all the PCIe lanes or memory options on offer.

This does mean the Zen chips look practically identical to existing AMD processors. Speaking as someone who regularly received loose AMD CPUs in barely padded envelopes, the prospect of bent CPU pins is looming large again with Zen. 

AMD Zen Summit Ridge pins

There are different levels of AM4 motherboard, however, catering for both the high-performance Zen crowd as well as the more mainstream APU guys. There will be three discrete chipsets for the new AMD platform, with the X370 catering for the high-end systems, with their eight-core, 16-thread Zen processors. 

The X370 is supports 'overclocking+' which brings the deepest level of system control to the Zen platform, while also taking advantage of the touted 36 PCIe 3.0 lanes available in the Summit Ridge processors to deliver full x16 bandwidth to a twin CrossFireX or SLI multi-GPU array.

Below that are the mainstream-oriented B350 and entry-level A320. Broadly speaking the three tiered range ought to be roughly analogous to Intel's Z270, H270 and H110 chipsets for the new Kaby Lake CPU lineup.

The mainstream B350 still supports a slightly lower level of CPU overclocking, but it doesn't look like it will be natively supporting multi-GPU systems at launch. The low-end A320 then is most basic of AM4 chipsets and won't come with either dedicated overclocking or multi-GPU support.

There will also be a range of dedicated AM4 small form factor chipsets; the X300 will cater to the micro machine fans, allowing them to craft powerful rigs with a tiny footprint. There were a whole load of AM4 boards on display out and about at the CES event at the start of the year.

AMD Ryzen performance

AMD FX CPUs Specs are one thing, but it’s the performance of the Zen CPU architecture that will make or break the new design, and potentially even AMD itself. They’ve tried to be fancy and second guess the future of the PC hardware market before - introducing an affordable, multi-threaded architecture with Bulldozer which was left behind while the rest of the industry stuck resolutely to relying on the performance of a single processing thread.

You may say gaming is more about graphics power these days, and to some extent you would be correct, but the fact remains you’ll get more performance from your graphics card if it’s plumbed into an Intel-based system than an AMD one, no matter who makes your GPU. Sadly AMD CPUs hold back your graphics hardware, which means high-end gaming systems will always steer clear of the red team’s existing processor designs.

Sadly that's still the case with our initial testing of the Ryzen 7 1800X. The gaming gap has been closed, but there is still a performance delta between a GPU running via an Intel chip and the same one plumbed into a Ryzen CPU.

That performance difference is mainly evident in older games, however, though it's still shown to a lesser extent in more modern DirectX 12 titles too. It's possible performance optimisation for next-gen games might be able to take advantage of the multi-threaded performance on offer within the Ryzen CPU family, but improvements like that are tougher to get with software updates on processors than graphics cards.

But the multi-threaded performance is seriously impressive. So if you're a content producer more than a gamer, and one who doesn't mind losing a little GPU performance in exchange for a great-value number-cruncher, then Ryzen could well be for you.

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Shriven avatarBelimawr avatarDave James avatarfocher avatarresc avatarSkankwOn avatar+16
Belimawr Avatar
1204
1 Year ago

hope this brings them back hard against intel, the CPU market needs to be back to a 2 horse race.

5
Dave James Avatar
371
1 Year ago

Totally, the whole PC industry needs healthy competition to keep each other honest.

4
focher Avatar
2
1 Year ago

Would be nice but this just confirms that isn't going to happen. If AMD only releases another "me too" CPU (which is suspect anyway given prior false promises) then Intel will release something sooner that they likely already have.

1
danman Avatar
6
9 Months ago

AMD tends to stick to their CPU socket for longer, too, which is good for upgrade ability. With Intel you usually have to buy a new mainboard for a new CPU.

3
Dave James Avatar
371
1 Year ago

I guess the hope is that if Zen is capable of a comparative level of single-threaded performance then it won't hobble GPU performance in the same way Bulldozer et al have.

And if that's true we don't necessarily need superior processing performance for lower-priced gaming rigs.

That's the hope anyways...

2
redraider89 Avatar
8
7 Months ago

The Ryzen CPU was running at 3.4 Ghz while the 6900k was running with boost on, which is up to 3.7 Ghz. So if a CPU that processes faster at 300 Mhz slower clocks, which it did with the ray trace rendering video conversion difference of 5 seconds faster is a "me too" CPU, then you are right, but it is not, so it is not a "me too" CPU.

2
redraider89 Avatar
8
7 Months ago

This is not a "me too" CPU. It runs as fast, with lower clocks and lower TDP. So no, it confirms nothing concerning this isn't going to happen.

1
Shriven Avatar
3431
1 Year ago

Is there gonna be an Official PCGN Gaming build at some point, Dave?

2
Dave James Avatar
371
1 Year ago

Definitely. I want to create some regularly updated guides at different price points.

Is that the sort of thing you mean?

4
SkankwOn Avatar
91
1 Year ago

Some tantalising news regarding Zen has been trickling out lately, fingers crossed that the new architecture is not just looking good on paper. The news we're all waiting for is the actual clock speeds on release though. I really hope they're somewhat higher than these engineering samples we're seeing this week.

I was a little underwhelmed by Polaris although I understand AMDs strategy of aiming for low/mid range GPU market. Judging by AMDs recent stock market rises plus gaining more of NVIDIAs graphics card market share, they're doing something right. If Vega is a worthy competitor to Pascal then the PC market should get very competitive on prices again. I mean c'mon Intel - how much for an i7 6950X?! Likewise NVIDIA and the 1080 'Founders Edition'!

I'm no AMD fanboy btw (Desktop is i5/R9 290X, Laptop is i7/GTX 980M) - I just don't like high prices. ;)

2
Strakesti Avatar
11 Months ago

I hear that

-1
icU°Jokery Avatar
2
10 Months ago

with the zen release hope the intel prices will drop since they exploited the consumers being only ones that have high end cpu

and i am hoping that zen has 3.5ghz at start and turbo up to 4.5ghz

2
Alberello Avatar
3
9 Months ago

Great article, thanks for collecting all this information about this new platform. I need to upgrade soon an I am Just waiting for the AM4 + Zen combo...

2
0V3RKILL Avatar
293
6 Months ago

I've been purposely waiting for this release to build my next gaming/SONARworkstation. By the looks of everything I am extremely happy cause all I want is for it to be faster than my past 8350. If it's faster and consumes less I am sold.

2
Dave James Avatar
371
6 Months ago

For workstation machines Ryzen should be great. Being able to get a 16-thread CPU for just $320 ought to do great things for any multi-threaded software.

2
resc Avatar
1
1 Year ago

Those Cinebench comparisons are pointless. Cinebench is build with the Intel Compiler and highly favors Intel architectures. It's not an appropriate benchmark for average performance or IPC comparisons. Cinebench also uses a lot of double-precision floating-point operations which aren't meaningful for most applications. Most workloads are based on integer instructions. Graphics APIs which have been widely used for gaming (e.g. Direct3D or OpenGL) are based on single-precision floating-point operations.

Btw, this 40% number for the IPC increase between Excavator and Zen is based on internal simulations by AMD, not actual silicon. This makes guesstimates even more questionable.

But there are also other flaws in the article. For example, the CPU comparison table shows two core counts. But there's only one number for base and turbo clocks. I doubt 4-core and 8-core Zen models will have exactly the same base and turbo clocks. 4-core Zen frequencies are expected to be higher.

1
Dave James Avatar
371
1 Year ago

I understand where you're coming from re. using the Cinebench comparisons but AMD themselves have featured it when highlighting Zen's performance improvements. It's also a CPU test I've used for many years and through different iterations when benchmarking CPUs and it gives decent a decent comparative perspective. Though no, it isn't a gaming performance test.

That 40% improvement figure is also the only performance metric AMD have released so far, so I felt it worth investigating that more. All guestimates are going to be vague at this point, but I still feel it worth pointing out that even a straight 40% performance increase on the existing AMD silicon will not be enough to catch Intel.

Re. the clockspeeds - as mentioned in the article the quad and octo-core engineering samples are reportedly both running at the same speeds for test purposes. Though, as mentioned, those won't be the final core speeds on release.

2
I can see the future. Avatar
1
8 Months ago

I'm late to the party, but the information on Ryzen during the new horizon event sparked me to check out articles.

Cinebench is being used right now as a staple to predict the sort of single threaded performance that will occur on the desktop (as far as I'm concerned).

People always, at least for me as a techie have never seen it as an adequate judge of gaming performance.

There are so many different ways to gauage performance, and even if you buy the same CPU/GPU combo, you may see different results than the benchmarked ones. When I look at benchmarks it really depends, and I like to look at physical numbers over benchmarks in games. Why? Because, I'm not just a gamer. I'm also a programmer and video editor. I also run servers. So, the highest gaming performance is nice, but it's irrelevant when I'm looking for a product that fits my budget and is capable of doing all these things without fail.

My friend and I do lan party type setups all the time and he's using an i5, I'm using an 8350. We both play the same games at the same FPS in most cases, unless one of use gets a GPU upgrade first.

ie:

Battlefield 1 Ultra:

-AMD FX 8350, 16GB 1866Mhz DDR3 ram, 7200rpm HDD, RX 470 [60-120fps, with some minor 45-50fps dips because the game isn't optimized fully yet.]

-i5 4790k, 16GB 1600Mhz ram, R9 380 [60-85 FPS, with 30-45FPS dips]

DOOM Ultra:

-Same AMD with R9 270x: 45-60FPS

[The CPU was redlined in this setup, most people would assume the CPU is bottlenecking the GPU]

-Same Intel with R9 380: 60-80FPS

[Green across the board]

-AMD with RX 470: 150-200FPS

[Green across the board, with random 3ms yellow dips, that don't effect the FPS]

Right now, it isn't about the CPU as much as it is the GPU, and that's the major problem with these benchmarks, because the single precision is to predict your desktop experience.

What it actually predicts:

-How long a decompression of any archive file will take.

-How long a CPU-based video encoding will take

-CPU-based floating-point in games.

The Catzilla 4K benchmark shows that in gaming terms, this i5 and FX 8350 are similar, dipping to 7fps in CPU physics. It's possible that an i7 gets 10fps on a physics based rendering test, but it's really not worth the +$1000 price tag for my uses of a PC, and I don't think that 3fps is going to stand out in a benchmark unless you're even with the competitor.

1
redraider89 Avatar
8
7 Months ago

Yes, that sounds about right. Bulldozer was pretty weak, but the improvements that came with Piledriver brought the AMD FX CPUs up to comparable performance of the i5s. So if there is a 40+ percentage increase with Ryzen over Piledriver FX CPUs, that would put AMD in i7 performance circles, which would effectively make any i5 obsolete.

2
WikiForce Avatar
1
10 Months ago

it's octa-core you idiot, not octo-core. Running such huge site and google giving you top rank in less than a day is astounding.

1
Darmaniac Avatar
1
9 Months ago

Im so Hype !! i Cannot wait to build my new PC with this AMD ZEN CPU !!!!!

my 7 yeards old Formula III mobo with Phenom II x4 965 Wants an upgrade badly !!! i cant stand intel so ive been waitting for those new CPU FOR YEARS !!

1
Selfere Avatar
1
9 Months ago

Its delay too much!

Does Zen cant match I5 6600K?

1
GoogleIt Avatar
1
8 Months ago

Well with no official benchmarks out yet, BTW AMD will be live streaming on the 13 of Dec about zen processors, We cannot say for certain, However we can expect a better price to performance ration in comparison, Cause the FX-6300, at time of release, was competing with the intel i5 of the time.

1
TurtleBuds Avatar
1
8 Months ago

Alright, so how will this stack with a GTX1080? Will aligning it with an Intel system still outperform it in a Zen system? Either way, I'm glad for the competition, but at the end of the day, I want to be able to use the product that I buy, not just a percentage of it.

1
Jezcentral Avatar
510
6 Months ago

Holey-moley, AMD getting 7nm sorted is the big news for me, after all their Glo-Fo problems in the past. Intel will have to work hard for a few years more, at least.

1
Ulieq Avatar
1
6 Months ago

Wow, 200$ list price for 4 core 8 thread i7-like chip! BOOOM INTEL! KO! Here goes the chip wars, here goes the future again!

1
karimov_baghdadovich Avatar
1
5 Months ago

but i7 6950X is a 10-core/20-thread CPU, why does it say 8/16?

1
CJ Avatar
6 Months ago

I can't wait for those cpus, becouse this year I wanted to buy new kaby lake i5 7500 or i5 7600k but now i see the 6 core R5 1500 and R5 1600X cpus and I don't know what to do wait for those 6 core R5s or buy kaby lake i5.

0