AMD's 2nd-generation Ryzen - The ultimate desktop processor

In 2017, AMD shook up the processor market with Ryzen. Now the 2nd-generation chips look set do the same in 2018.

For pretty much a decade, the processor market was pretty much stagnant. Quad-core was the standard for high-end desktops, while "thin-and-light" laptops were powered by dual-core parts.

Then Ryzen came along.

See also: High-performance storage: From flash drives to server hard drives

This slide from AMD's deck covering the launch of the 2nd-generation Ryzen pretty much says it all.

​How Ryzen shook up the processor market

How Ryzen shook up the processor market

And it's been pretty obvious that since Ryzen dropped, AMD's main competitor, the chip behemoth Intel, has been on the back foot.

And the new 2nd-generation Ryzen chips landing today means more bad news for Intel over the coming year.

Four chips are being released today:

Ryzen 7 2700X

  • 8-core/16-threads
  • 4.3GHz max/3.7GHz base
  • 20MB cache
  • 105W TDP
  • Wraith Prism (LED) cooler
  • $329

Ryzen 7 2700

  • 8-core/16-threads
  • 4.1GHz max/3.2GHz base
  • 20MB cache
  • 65W TDP
  • Wraith Spire (LED) cooler
  • $299

Ryzen 5 2600X

  • 6-core/12-threads
  • 4.2GHz max/3.6GHz base
  • 19MB cache
  • 95W TDP
  • Wraith Spire cooler
  • $229

Ryzen 5 2600

  • 6-core/12-threads
  • 3.9GHz max/3.4GHz base
  • 19MB cache
  • 65W TDP
  • Wraith Stealth cooler
  • $199

One welcomed feature of the 2nd-generation Ryzen line is the inclusion of a cooler - and a quality one at that - with all processors (only selected processors from the 1st generation line shipped with a cooler). This will save buyers both time and money, since a cooler of corresponding quality costs around $20.

While we're on the subject of cooling, while you can't tell by looking at the chips, the 2nd-generation Ryzen parts also feature a 2nd-generation soldered IHS (Integrated Heat Spreader - the metal bit on the top of the processor that rests on the heatsink). Thanks to premium indium alloy and special die metallization which allow for optimal thermal transfer between the die and the HSF (Heat Sink and Fan), allowing for a reduction in die temperatures of more than 10°C. In a situation where every degree counts, this is a significant improvement.

Note that all 2nd-generation Ryzen chips are multiplier unlocked, allowing for easy overclocking if the motherboard supports it (if you crater the chip though, you're on your own, as AMD doesn't warranty damage from overclocking).

Motherboard support for the 2nd generation Ryzen chips comes in the form of the X470 chipset, will launch alongside the silicon, with boards available from all the big names, including ASRock, ASUS, Gigabyte, and MSI.

Existing 300-series motherboards will require a firmware update in order to be compatible with 2nd generation Ryzen chips, although 300-series boards that are labeled "Ryzen Desktop 2000 Ready" will already have that update installed.

​300-series motherboards sporting this badge will support 2nd-generation Ryzen chips out-of-the-box

300-series motherboards sporting this badge will support 2nd-generation Ryzen chips out-of-the-box

These chips represent the first based on the 12-nanometer Zen+ architecture. And that shift to a 12-nanometer process brings with it a number of improvements compared to the first Ryzen parts.

These improvements include:

  • Improved memory and cache latency
  • Higher clockspeeds
  • Better overclocking
  • Better performance - Up to 16 percent more compared to 14-nanometer chips at the same power and TDP
  • Reduced power consumption - Up to 11 percent lower power consumption compared to 14-nanometer chips at the same clock speed
​12-nanometer process advantages

12-nanometer process advantages

The 2nd-generation Ryzen parts build on the AMD SenseMI by updating two of the ore features of the technology:

  • Precision Boost 2 has an updated algorithm to allow CPU cores to hit higher frequencies more often during use
  • Extended Frequency Range 2 (XFR2) now works across all CPU cores, allowing frequencies above and beyond Precision Boost limits to be hit as long as there is enough thermal headroom (this means the better the cooler, the better the performance)
​The XFR 2 advantage

The XFR 2 advantage

OK, so what about performance? Yeah, let's talk about performance.

Standalone, the Ryzen 7 2700X and Ryzen 5 2600X that I've personally tested stand head and shoulders above the first generation parts. While I didn't carry out side-by-side benchmarking between the two, the performance difference is easily noticeable, especially if you throw AAA-title games or high-end content creation software at the processor.

The dramatic leaps forward in performance that Ryzen has made in 12 months really are a testament to the hard work that the engineers at AMD have put into the silicon. I went into the testing of these processors expecting to see small improvements, but walked away being blown away by what I experienced.

But it's how the silicon stacks up against corresponding parts from Intel that everyone is interested in, so let's take a look at how the $329 Ryzen 7 2700X stacks up against Intel's $369 Core i7 8700K.

On the gaming performance front, things are pretty even (in fact, AMD's testing gives the Intel part a 1 percent advantage overall across a dozen games at 1440p resolution).

​Ryzen 7 2700X vs Intel Core i7 8700K

Ryzen 7 2700X vs Intel Core i7 8700K

​Ryzen 7 2700X vs Intel Core i7 8700K

Ryzen 7 2700X vs Intel Core i7 8700K

But it's on the content creation front using multithreaded software that the AMD part shines, beating the Intel part by as much as 21 percent across five heavy-duty benchmarks, with TrueCrypt and Cinebench performance being particularly stellar.

​Ryzen 7 2700X vs Intel Core i7 8700K

Ryzen 7 2700X vs Intel Core i7 8700K

​Ryzen 7 2700X vs Intel Core i7 8700K

Ryzen 7 2700X vs Intel Core i7 8700K

These numbers fall in line with the sort of performance that I've been experiencing from this chip.

The Ryzen 7 2700X truly is a monster of a processor.

AMD pitted the more modest $229 Ryzen 5 2600X against Intel's $249 Core i5 8600K, and again the performance is similar. When it comes to gaming, performance is about the same (with the small overall advantage going to Intel), while on the content creation front the Ryzen is around 20 percent faster. Again, the performance difference on the TrueCrypt and Cinebench benchmarks is quite staggering.

​Ryzen 5 2600X vs Intel Core i5 8600K

Ryzen 5 2600X vs Intel Core i5 8600K

Ryzen 5 2600X vs Intel Core i5 8600K

Ryzen 5 2600X vs Intel Core i5 8600K

So on the performance front, 2nd-generation Ryzen buyers will have nothing to worry about because they'll be seeing similar or better performance compared to corresponding Intel silicon for less money.

No matter how you cut it, AMD has the superior silicon. And that's before you start to delve into overclocking, at which point you open up a whole new world of possibilities.

And AMD has made it easy for everyone to get into overclocking thanks to its Ryzen Master software, a simple-to-use overclocking and system monitoring suite that allows you to peek under the hood and make voltage adjustments and tweak memory timings. Again, I feel the need to point out that AMD won't warranty a processor destroyed by crazy overclocking, but if you read the user guide (yes, read it) and heed the warnings, you should be fine. The software also includes a built-in stability tester, which is a nice feature to help you determine whether your overclocking tweaks result in a stable system or not.

Another technology that the 2nd-generation Ryzen chips leverage that I want to touch on briefly is AMD's StoreMI technology, which fuses together your hard drive, SSD, and up to 2GB of RAM into a single drive letter that's managed by a learning algorithm that optimizes block location for best data performance.

​AMD StoreMI technology

AMD StoreMI technology

​AMD StoreMI technology

AMD StoreMI technology

And oh boy does it improve performance. And it's not just limited to gaming, even regular applications such as Chrome or Firefox open noticeably faster.

Turning on StoreMI for the first time felt like I'd bought a whole new PC. It's quite an unreal experience, especially considering I was testing it on a brand new system running AMD's latest processor!

​AMD StoreMI performance advantage

AMD StoreMI performance advantage

​AMD StoreMI performance advantage

AMD StoreMI performance advantage

AMD made some last-minute tweaks to the StoreMI software - changing the SSD tier size from 128 GB to 256 GB, and increasing the HDD size limit to 32 TB - so the version I played with had limitations that those buying new Ryzen chips today won't have.

So, what's the bottom line?

Simple. AMD has knocked it out of the park with the 2nd-generation Ryzen chips. They sit at that perfect balance point of price and performance (a tough place to hit, but AMD seems to be able to manage to achieve that point well these days, across desktop, mobile, and even server chips), and appeal across the board. If you're a gamer, you're getting similar performance to Intel silicon for less money (and even getting a premium cooler thrown into the deal), and if you're into content creation, you're getting better performance for your dollars.

It's that simple.

And remember, AMD is far from done for the year. It seems there's a lot more stuff to come.

​AMD 2018 rollout

AMD 2018 rollout

See also:

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