Introduction, Features Platform Details
[Editors’ Note: Parts of this review appeared previously in our review of the AMD Ryzen 5 1600.]
Ryzen 7 1800XRyzen 5 1600X (a six-core chip) are far more efficient and powerful than the company’s previous-generation FX parts. And they deliver as many as 16 threads of compute performance at prices that are sometimes just half of Intel’s similarly outfitted competition.
Not content to stop there, AMD also announced it would soon offer up a 16-core, 32-thread CPU, as part of its upcoming “Threadripper” enthusiast-chip lineup, which the company says we should see sometime this summer. And a line of lower-end Ryzen 3 chips have been promised sometime in 2017, as well.
In response to fresh competition for its highest-end parts, Intel is starting to roll out the first of its “Skylake X” and “Kaby Lake X” lineup of Core i9, i7, and i5 processors, collectively known as the “Core X-Series.” So far in that lineup, we’ve looked at the 10-core Intel Core i9-7900XIntel Core i7-7740X. And we also have a review of the Core i5-7640X in the works, as soon as we find the bench (and head) space to make room for it.
In the torrent of brand-new high-end CPU silicon pelting our test bench these days, one AMD Ryzen chip almost got lost in the shuffle. But we’re here to rectify that by taking a close look at the Ryzen 5 1400.
With four cores, eight threads, and a clock speed that hovers between 3.2GHz (base clock) and 3.4GHz (max turbo, without overclocking), the Ryzen 5 1400 is AMD’s lowest-end Ryzen 5 chip so far. And at least until the Ryzen 3 parts arrive, it’s also AMD’s lowest-priced current-generation processor, selling for about $160 online. That’s down about $10 from the $169 MSRP.
How well does it stack up against Intel’s similarly priced dual-core, four-thread Core i3-7350Ktesting and reviewing the six previous Ryzen chips to hit our test bench before the 1400.)
We’ll also point out why, if you’re particularly interested in gaming at 1080p and getting the highest possible frame rates out of a high-end graphics card, this chip in particular (and AMD’s Ryzen parts in general) may not be the best choice—at least for now.
Chip-Lineup Details: Ryzen 7, Ryzen 5 Ryzen 3
From a computing-performance perspective, AMD’s Ryzen 7 processors are quite impressive for CPUs priced between $329 and $499. But of course, not everyone can afford to spend that much on a processor—even if it’s arguably a steal compared to Intel’s pricing. And money aside, unless you’re a digital-media content creator, transcode video constantly, or run CPU-intensive research tasks, you won’t often make use of the eight cores and 16 threads baked into the Ryzen 7 parts, anyway. For power users with lesser demands (and tighter budgets), AMD is offering up four Ryzen 5 processors, with fewer cores and lower prices.
The Ryzen 5 lineup consists of two six-core and two four-core Ryzen 5 chips, including the 1400 we’re looking at here. Lower-end Ryzen 3 offerings are coming, says AMD, in the second half of 2017. And while details are scarce as of this writing, AMD has also promised an ultra-high-end “Threadripper” lineup later in 2017, with chips packing up to 16 cores and 32 threads.
A couple of features on the Ryzen chips set them apart from Intel’s competing offerings. For one: AMD says all the Ryzen chips will be unlocked for overclocking. And, at least from the details we have about the Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 5 chips announced so far, all of those chips will feature thread-doubling simultaneous multi-threading (SMT). SMT is similar to the Hyper-Threading technology featured in many of Intel’s midrange to high-end Core processors. Notably, the unlocked Intel Core i5-7600K and previous-generation Core i5-6600Kthe four-core Ryzen 5 1500X, which sits one step above the Ryzen 5 1400, and the Ryzen 5 1600Ryzen 5 1600XNvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, or one of AMD’s upcoming Radeon RX “Vega” cards? That will set you back as little as $63, say, for the Asrock AB350M. The higher-end X370 boards are better-equipped to handle high-end builds, and they support dual-card Nvidia configurations in SLI. But some B350 boards have two graphics-card slots and support dual AMD-card setups via CrossFire.
That’s the case with the Gigabyte AB350-Gaming 3 that we used for testing. It sells for about $110, and it is no low-end, feature-barren board. It sports RGB lighting, metal-wrapped graphics-card slots, and an M.2 slot for super-fast solid-state drives like the Samsung SSD 960 EVO. You can certainly spend more; some initial AM4 boards are priced as high as $300. But we’ve seen several solid-looking options in the $100 range. You can find good Intel-based options in this price range, as well, but if you care about features such as RGB lighting and metal-wrapped slots (and we’re not implying that everyone does), in most cases, you’ll have to pay a little more for an Intel-based board with comparable features.
Technically, five new chipsets are on offer with AMD’s new motherboards. Here’s a look at their primary features and how they differ, in a summary direct from AMD…
As noted earlier, if you want to install multiple Nvidia graphics cards, you’ll need to opt for the top-end X370 chipset, but even those boards start at just around $110. The A320 chipset and the A300 don’t support overclocking, and the latter lacks native support for USB 3.1 Gen 2. But the A320 boards that were available when we wrote this in July 2017 started at just $52, while the B350 boards started at about $10 to $15 more. We would not be surprised to see even more price-aggressive options hit the market as Ryzen 3 CPUs roll out.
Now, we’re not suggesting you opt for the lowest-price board you can find, but the idea of dropping a $160 eight-thread CPU into a sub-$75 motherboard and getting roughly similar performance to what you’d get with a roughly $320 Intel CPU/motherboard combination is certainly appealing.
How is AMD able to get its board partners to produce such comparatively inexpensive motherboards? Primarily, it’s because AMD’s Ryzen chips (and its upcoming “Raven Ridge” CPU/GPU chips, or APUs, which will use the same AM4 socket) integrate much of the electronics required for interfaces such as USB, SATA, and PCI Express into the chips themselves. As a result, fewer electronics need to be built onto the boards.
Not everything here works in AMD’s favor. These chipsets tend to have fewer PCI Express lanes and SATA ports than many enthusiast motherboard/CPU combos from Intel. The top-end AMD X370 chipset natively supports six SATA III ports and 16 lanes of PCI Express Gen 2 for speedy SSDs (on top of the 24 lanes of PCI Express on the Ryzen chips themselves). Intel’s Z270 chipset, in contrast, supports 10 SATA III ports and up to 24 PCI Express lanes. And the new high-end Core X chips support up to 44 lanes of PCI Express on the chips themselves. So, for those planning on shoving piles of drives and other hardware inside their systems, Intel’s pricier platforms will still hold plenty of appeal. But for the vast majority of users looking to drop in a CPU, one or two graphics cards, and a drive (or six), AMD’s offerings should more than suffice—usually at a lower price point than comparable Intel-based boards.
Another area of concern in the weeks after the initial Ryzen launch was motherboard availability. For some time, very few AM4 motherboards were in stock on Newegg and other online outlets, sometimes dwindling down to just a few in-stock options. That situation eventually improved. And as of July 2017, Newegg showed a bit more or less than 20 AM4 motherboards in stock on a given day, although many others were out of stock, and still others were listed as “Auto-Notify,” indicating Newegg wasn’t sure when those models would again be available. We saw several more in-stock options available on the Intel side of the CPU fence.
The Architecture Basics
As noted earlier, the Ryzen chips are a new architecture for AMD. Gone are the paired modules of cores sharing an L2 cache that was a hallmark of the FX processor line. Ryzen’s cores are more independent, and they also introduce the thread-doubling SMT we also mentioned earlier. SMT is similar to Intel’s Hyper-Threading, which allows demanding software that’s written to take advantage of it to tackle two computing threads on each core.
CPU-architecture details can get extremely technical as soon as you look any deeper than the the surface. But to give you a sense of how AMD has achieved its performance gains with its new Zen architecture, the company says it has incorporated an instruction-scheduler window that’s 1.75 times larger, with a 1.5 times greater issue width, that enables AMD to send more work to the chip’s execution units.
Here’s a look at the Ryzen die layout, again direct from AMD…
Also, a new branch-prediction unit, which the company calls “neural-network-based,” helps the chips be smarter about preparing and optimizing instructions and paths for tasks that the chip will need to tackle in the immediate future.
This all sounds good, to the extent that it can be parsed and appreciated without a computer-engineering degree. But power efficiency is another area in which AMD’s FX chips have lagged behind Intel’s for years. The company’s AMD FX-8370 chip has a TDP of 125 watts, while Intel’s (very roughly comparable) Core i7-6700K has a TDP of 91 watts. And Intel’s chip includes integrated graphics, while the AMD FX chips (as well as the Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 5 models) lack that feature, requiring a separate graphics card to power your monitor.
On the surface, at least, it seems AMD has made up that ground. The Ryzen 5 1600 (with six cores and 12 threads) is rated at 65 watts (as is the four-core, eight-thread Ryzen 5 1400 we’re looking at here), while the higher-clocked Ryzen 5 1600X is rated at 95 watts. Intel’s competing Core i7-6800K (with six cores and 12 threads), meanwhile, is rated at 140 watts, while the Core i3-7350K (two cores and four threads) has a TDP of 60 watts. At the very least, AMD is closer to Intel in terms of power efficiency than it has been in years. In some respects, it may even be inching ahead, although we’d reserve judgement on that front until Intel rolls out its next-generation architecture to see what kind of response it has to AMD’s shot across the bow.
How does AMD achieve its efficiency gains with Ryzen? For starters, these chips are built on a 14nm manufacturing process, the same as chips like the Core i7-6900K, and a big, big leap over the 32nm process used for AMD’s previous-generation FX chips. And AMD says this 14nm process has already been “density optimized” by the company’s manufacturing partner, Global Foundries.
Other efficiency-focused features include a “micro-op” cache that keeps important instructions and data close to the cores, rather than having to reach out to comparatively far-off L2 or L3 caches; and aggressive clock gating, so there’s less wasted power in areas of the cores that aren’t being used. Here’s a visual look at how AMD aims to keep power draw down.
Ryzen 7 1800X that we hoped that future Ryzen chips would allow for a bigger XFR boost, because the above seems like a long way to go, both in terms of underlying technology and the extra cost of a better cooler, to gain just an extra 100MHz. That’s certainly improved with the 1500X, but so far, the feature isn’t one we particularly miss in the Ryzen 5 1400 that we’re looking at here. If you want more performance, you should just spend a bit more money on a higher-end chip with more cores or higher clocks (or both), rather than laying out extra cash for a higher-end cooler just to gain a minor megahertz bump.
Two things to note about the Ryzen 5 and 7 chips as a whole: As we mentioned earlier, these are CPUs only, with no onboard graphics, in the same mold as Intel’s CPU-only E-Series chips. You’ll need to use them with a discrete video card. And the underside will look familiar to the AMD faithful…
The Ryzen chips still use pins on the CPU itself, not the socket-side pins and on-chip contacts that Intel has long since moved to.