I, like many of you, have been waiting for Ryzen.
Sure, as PCWorld’s gaming and graphics-card editor, I test new hardware with our lab’s powerful GPU test system fairly often. But as regular viewers of our bi-weekly Full Nerd podcast already know, my personal system—the one I do most of my gaming on—still rocks an Intel Core i5-3570K. There’s a fine reason for that: The venerable Ivy Bridge chip still holds up spectacularly in most games, even at 4K resolution, and the latest generations of Intel chips haven’t exactly blown off the barn doors in terms of performance.
That said, my beloved companion is coming up on its fifth birthday and is starting to show its age. While performance remains top-notch in most titles, the 3570K can chug a bit in some titles, especially when I’m playing massive open-world games. The platform itself hurts more, though—my half-decade-old system can’t partake in gloriously fast newer technologies like NVMe SSDs, USB 3.1 ports, and Thunderbolt connections. I have a need—a need for speed. It’s time to upgrade.
So I’ve been waiting for Ryzen. Not necessarily to buy Ryzen, but to see what it brings to the table, compare it to Intel’s Kaby Lake and Broadwell-E parts, and make an informed decision. I practice what I preach!
But I’m also a selfish creature. While Gordon Ung’s been toiling away at PCWorld’s comprehensive Ryzen review, benchmarking the new chips against their FX predecessors and Intel’s latest and greatest, I decided to some quick real-world tests. I paired the Ryzen 7 1800X with the Radeon Fury X to create the liquid-cooled, fire-breathing pinnacle of AMD PC performance. The result was a rig that hung damned well with a pricey Core i7-5960X-based rig at 4K and 1440p resolutions.
But can AMD’s more modestly priced Ryzen 7 1700 provide a no-brainer upgrade over my aging, but still potent gaming PC at more common game settings? Spoiler: Nope, it can’t—though the complete answer is more complicated than that.
Let’s dig in.
Ryzen PC vs. 3570K PC tech specs
To put my basic question to the test, I built a rig with the 3.7GHz Ryzen 7 1700 ($330 on Amazon) and the stock 8GB Radeon RX 480 ($215 on Amazon). The goal was to see how the duo handles gaming at more mainstream 1080p and 2560x1440 resolutions.
The 8-core, 16-thread Ryzen 7 1700 costs less than an Intel Core i7-7700K ($340 on Amazon) while packing twice as many cores and threads. The Radeon RX 480, meanwhile, is the best “sweet spot” graphics card you can buy and a superb option for the resolutions I wanted to test. The Ryzen 7 1700/RX 480 combo defines the AMD-based PC that many gamers are likely to actually buy at Ryzen's launch.
The rest of the rig’s components mirrored the parts in my ultimate AMD machine; only the CPU and GPU were swapped out. It included the EKWB XLC Predator 240 closed-loop liquid cooler; Gigabyte’s Aorus AX370-Gaming 5 motherboard ($195 on Amazon); 16GB (2 x 8GB) of Corsair’s 3000MHz Vengeance LPX low-profile DDR4 RAM ($110 on Amazon); a single 256GB Intel SSD 600p Series M.2 NVMe SSD ($100 on Newegg); Corsair’s AX1200i power supply with 80 PLUS platinum efficiency ($310 on Amazon); and Corsair’s tiny Carbide 400C case ($100 on Amazon).
Software-wise, the Ryzen 7 1700 PC is running a fresh Windows 10 ($120 on Amazon) installation, as that’s required to run the DirectX 12 games that AMD’s touting with Ryzen chips and Radeon processors. I manually changed the operating system’s power settings to High Performance from the default Balanced, as AMD says that gives the Ryzen chip’s features more direct control over performance. Here’s hoping that AMD can communicate that to actual buyers of the chip!
My personal PC has none of the same parts, since this isn’t a highly controlled apples-to-apples test. It’s a comparative real-world test to see how an older gaming rig performs against this modern counterpart. That said, I swapped in the same 8GB Radeon RX 480 to keep graphics performance consistent, and relevant to mainstream PC gamers. (My graphics card is normally a GeForce GTX 1080.)
The Core i5-3570K was long ago overclocked from its stock 3.5GHz to 4.2GHz to put more pep in its step. Because gamers with similar rigs are likely to have done the same, I left that in place. (Remember: Real-world comparison between two systems! Should I upgrade?) As an i5 part, it only has four physical cores with one thread each, so it’s significantly less multithreaded than the 16-thread Ryzen chip.
Other hardware includes a modestly priced Gigabyte gaming motherboard of unremembered make and model, 16GB of DDR3—not DDR4—G.Skill RAM clocked at 2133MHz, and Cooler Master’s beloved Hyper Master 212 CPU cooler. Windows 10 and all tested games are installed on one of the first-ever 500GB SSDs, an OCZ Agility model that’s downright pokey compared to modern SSDs.
Enough chit-chat. Let’s take this to the test bench!
Next page: Performance results and thoughts