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Ryzen CPUs explained: Everything you need to know about AMD's disruptive multicore chips

Ryzen CPUs explained: Everything you need to know about AMD's disruptive multicore chips

AMD's powerful Ryzen processors democratize CPU cores and challenge Intel's high-end chips.

After a decade of fielding ho-hum FX-series processors, AMD’s finally released its highly disruptive Ryzen chips, throwing down the gauntlet and challenging Intel’s supremacy in high-end computing.
AMD’s new Ryzen chips include several CPUs (and CPU families) of various levels of potency. What’s more, Ryzen introduces a completely new motherboard platform, and the processors require different memory and coolers than their predecessors. There’s a lot to sift through—so let’s sift!

Meet AMD’s Ryzen CPUs

ryzen details
Details about the AMD Ryzen chips announced thus far.
Let’s begin with the stars of the show: the Ryzen chips themselves.
AMD’s Ryzen chips will be split across three families. The top-of-the-line Ryzen 7 processors launched first, with 8 cores, 16 threads, and price points that undercut the comparable 8-core Intel Extreme Edition by a whopping $500. Sweet holy moly. The initial Ryzen 7 lineup consists of the $500 Ryzen 7 1800X, the $400 Ryzen 7 1700X, and the $330 Ryzen 7 1700.
The more affordable Ryzen 5 series will land at some point in the second quarter with more variation among processors than you’ll find in the 7 series. The Ryzen 5 1600X is a 6-core, 12-thread processor capable of boosting to 4GHz, while the quad-core, 8-thread Ryzen 5 1500X tops out at 3.7GHz. Pricing for the Ryzen 5 lineup hasn’t been announced, but you can see the high-level tech specs for both chips (as well as the Ryzen 7 trio) in the image above. Expect these to compete with Intel’s Core i5 chips.
Finally, the only thing AMD’s said about the more affordable Ryzen 3 chips is that they’ll launch at some point in the second half of the year. We’d expect these to challenge Intel’s Core i3 lineup.
Icons for the various SenseMI technologies.
AMD imbued Ryzen chips with SenseMI technology consisting of separate parts: Pure Power, Precision Boost, Extended Frequency Range (XFR), Neural Net Prediction, and Smart Prefetch.
  • Pure Power measures hundreds of on-chip sensors to optimize temperatures and power use while maintaining performance.
  • On the flip side, Precision Boost offers fine-grained, automated frequency control that can nudge performance up by 25MHz increments (versus 100MHz for Intel) to boost performance without consuming more power.
  • Extended Frequency Range (XFR) can nudge clocks speeds past their official maximum if Ryzen detects advanced CPU cooling, such as liquid-cooling or liquid nitrogen, for your chip. At Ryzen’s launch XFR only adds a paltry 100MHz overclock, however.
  • Neural Net Prediction examines your usage and “primes your processor to tackle your app workload more efficiently.”
  • Smart Prefetch works hand-in-hand with Neural Net Prediction, identifying how your applications behave and preloading data that it expects you to need for faster performance.
Every AMD Ryzen processor can also be overclocked with a compatible motherboard, though only chips with an “X” designation at the end support SenseMI’s Extended Frequency Range technology.
amd ryzen 1800x build 7
Brad Chacos
The pinnacle of AMD PC performance: the Ryzen 7 1800X and Radeon Fury X.
So how does it all work in practice? Well. Damned well.
PCWorld’s exhaustive AMD Ryzen review compared the $500 Ryzen 7 1800X and $330 Ryzen 7 1700 against their FX predecessors and Intel’s latest, greatest chips. AMD’s chips went blow-for-blow or outright bested the $1,050 Core i7-6900K—Intel’s cheapest 8-core, 16-thread processor—in every content-creation and productivity task we threw at them, giving Ryzen downright outrageous price-to-performance value for folks who need more cores. Heck, for the price of the Core i7-6900K, you could buy a Ryzen 7 1800X and a swanky GeForce GTX 1080 and still have $50 left in your pocket.
You’d probably want a powerful graphics card if you plan to game on Ryzen, too. Benchmarks revealed that while Ryzen certainly isn’t bad at gaming, it definitely lags behind Intel processors—even older ones—in raw frames per second. That disparity’s more pronounced when you’re using modest graphics cards at 1080p resolution. That said, Ryzen draws even with Intel chips if you toss in more potent GPUs and crank the resolution to higher levels, since that effectively moves the system’s gaming bottleneck from the processor to your graphics card. Overclocking Ryzen chips can also provide significant performance increases in gaming, reviews have shown.
Streamers and YouTubers will no doubt appreciate Ryzen’s extra cores, as well.
AMD ryzen pcs
Adam Patrick Murray
AMD says gaming performance “will only get better” over time as more game developers optimize their titles for Ryzen. “CPU benchmarking deficits to the competition in certain games at 1080p resolution can be attributed to the development and optimization of the game uniquely to Intel platforms—until now,” AMD’s John Taylor told PCWorld. Not-so-coincidentally, AMD also announced a partnership with Bethesda the same week Ryzen launched, designed to implement the low-level Vulkan graphics API in multiple game.
Finally, all Ryzen chips also support business-grade ECC memory out of the box—though it hasn’t been validated on the initial wave of consumer motherboards.