25.04.18 | ISSUE 56
After a relatively quiet start to the year that last few weeks have seen a flurry of new product launches, foremost among which is AMD’s 2nd gen Ryzen CPUs, which we’ve given the full treatment including in-depth benchmarks and analysis. We’ve also got news on the first Coffee Lake laptops, a truly miniature gaming PC and much more. Read on to find out more.
1. AMD 2nd gen Ryzen CPUs review
AMD’s 1st generation Ryzen processors are just over a year old, being introduced in March of 2017. Codename Summit Ridge these processors proved to have excellent performance in heavily multi-threaded applications such as video encoding and 3D rendering, thanks to having significantly more cores than the equivalent price Intel processor.
This April AMD is following up these processors with the 2nd generation Ryzen CPUs. Codename Pinnacle Ridge, this article will take and up close look at what’s new under the hood, plus benchmark all the new CPUs so you can see how much of an improvement has been made and how they stack up against the competition from Intel.
The underlying architecture of all modern AMD processors is Zen, with a new an improved version known as Zen+ forming the basis of the 2nd gen Pinnacle Ridge CPUs. Key improvements in Zen+ are a 13% reduction in Level 1 cache latency, a 34% reduction in Level 2 cache latency, a 16% reduction in Level 3 cache latency and an 11% reduction in system memory latency. Combined together these improvements are supposed to boost the IPC performance (instructions per clock) by around 3%.
These are all welcome improvements, but probably the most notable change is a die shrink, with 2nd gen Ryzens being made using a new 12nm process, versus the 14nm process used to make 1st gen Ryzens. The smaller manufacturing process has several benefits, first AMD has been able to ramp up the clock speed of the 2nd gen Ryzens by several hundred MHz and second the new CPUs use less power. In addition, the die shrink should give the new CPUs more overclocking headroom, something we’ll take a look at later in this video.
The other big change under the bonnet is Precision Boost 2. This is a marked improvement over the Precision Boost 1 used by 1st gen Ryzen processors. This is because the first version only had two profiles, one profile when up to two cores were in demand and a second profile when up to three cores were under load. This meant that workloads using three cores would only boost to the same frequency as a workload using all the cores, helping to explain why 1st gen Ryzen processors weren’t nearly as good for gaming as Intel CPUs.
Precision Boost 2 however has a more granular profile, with 2nd gen Ryzen CPUs boosting far higher than 1st gen Ryzens when a moderate number of cores are in demand. This is key for games, which typically use 2 – 4 threads. For instance the 2nd gen Ryzen 7 2700X can potentially boost around 500MHz higher than the 1st gen Ryzen 7 1800X under these sorts of conditions.
Like the current 1st gen Ryzen processors the new 2nd gen Ryzen processors use the Socket AM4 packaging. Unlike Intel which likes to change socket or the pinout with almost every generation, AMD’s new chips are compatible with existing Socket AM4 motherboards, the only thing you’ll need to do is update the BIOS first.
Although you don’t need to change motherboard, thanks AMD, you’ll still see some new motherboards as new X470 chipset has been added to the range. This offers improved power management over the existing X370 chipset plus a new feature, StoreMI, a caching technology which fuses together two storage devices into a single volume, intelligently moving data to the faster drive.
|Ryzen 7 1800X||Ryzen 7 1700X||Ryzen 7 1700|
|Architecture||Pinnacle Ridge||Pinnacle Ridge||Summit Ridge||Summit Ridge||Summit Ridge|
|Cores||8 + 8 SMT||8 + 8 SMT||8 + 8 SMT||8 + 8 SMT||8 + 8 SMT|
|Level 3 Cache||16MB||16MB||16MB||16MB||16MB|
|Memory Controller||Dual-channel DDR4||Dual-channel DDR4||Dual-channel DDR4||Dual-channel DDR4||Dual-channel DDR4|
|PCI-E 3.0 lanes||20||20||20||20||20|
As the table shows the two new 2nd gen Ryzen 7 processors run up to 300MHz faster than the 1st gen CPUs but apart from that the specs are very similar. At launch the 2700X is the fastest 2nd gen Ryzen, with no sign of a 2800X, but even so the 2700X is a big step up from the 1800X.
|Architecture||Pinnacle Ridge||Pinnacle Ridge||Summit Ridge||Summit Ridge|
|Cores||6 + 6 SMT||6 + 6 SMT||6 + 6 SMT||6 + 6 SMT|
|Level 3 Cache||16MB||16MB||16MB||16MB|
|PCI-E 3.0 lanes||20||20||20||20|
As the table shows the two new 2nd gen Ryzen 5 processors run up to 200MHz faster than the 1st gen CPUs but apart from that the specs are very similar. However, as you’ll see from the performance results the architectural changes that AMD has made make a big difference.
How We Tested
We put all four of the 2nd gen Ryzen CPUs through their paces, not only against the 1st gen Ryzen chips, but also Intel’s latest 8th Core i7, i5 and i3 processors. To make the comparison as fair as possible all the systems were tested in a very similar configuration, with a Corsair Hydro H100i CPU cooler, EVGA GeForce GTX 1070 Ti SC and 16GB Corsair Vengeance DDR4. Speaking of memory, while Intel CPUs are happy to run with 3000MHz memory, Ryzen CPUs still seem to struggle with anything above 2666MHz. The AMD CPUs were tested on an Asus RoG STRIX B350-F motherboard while the Intel CPUs were tested on an Asus RoG STRIX Z370-F motherboard.
The first performance test we ran on all the CPUs was the image editing program GIMP which is part of the Realbench benchmark suite. GIMP is only single-threaded so historically has favoured Intel CPUs due to their higher IPC and frequency. For instance the 1st gen Ryzen 7 1700X was a significant 18% slower than the Core i7 8700K. However, AMD has managed to close that gap to just 5% with the 2nd gen Ryzen 7 2700X, a very welcome improvement. In conclusion, while there remains a measurable performance difference in GIMP between Intel and AMD’s processors, the gap now is very small.
Next up was encoding an H.264 video using Handbrake. This uses all available cores, and so it should come as no surprise that with more cores on offer (8 versus 6) when comparing Ryzen 7 with Core i7, that AMD’s processors come out best. With the improvements in the 2nd gen Ryzen 7 processors AMD’s performance lead is extended even further.
The multitasking test in Realbench runs several applications in parallel so is not only very processor intensive but also runs better on systems with fast memory. As expected, Intel’s Core i5 and Core i7 processors recorded the four fastest scores in this benchmark, with a big 14% difference between the Core i7 8700K and Ryzen 7 2700X. Clearly AMD, motherboard and RAM manufacturers still have quite a lot of work to do with optimising memory for Ryzen.
This graph shows the overall score achieved in the Realbench benchmark suite, i.e. the GIMP image editing test, video encoding using Handbrake and multitasking test. It paints an interesting picture, with the Ryzen 7 2700X taking poll position, the first time we’ve ever seen an AMD processor achieve the fastest overall score, a big milestone for the Zen architecture.
The Cinebench benchmark is based on the popular modelling, animating and rendering application Cinema4D and measures how quickly a CPU can render a complex 3D scene. With more cores and threads than the Intel CPUs it should come as no surprise that Ryzen processors are extremely adept at this sort of task. The 2nd gen Ryzen processors extend this lead even further, with a very welcome 10% performance increase from the 1st gen Ryzen 7 1800X to the 2nd gen Ryzen 7 2700X.
The biggest Achilles Heel of 1st gen Ryzen processors was their game performance. While the 2nd gen Ryzens are noticeably better than the 2nd gen Ryzens, with an average 8% performance increase in the 3DMark FireStrike benchmark, Intel’s Core i7 processors are still king of the hill in this benchmark.
Intel’s Core processors also proved fastest when we benchmarked all the CPUs in Far Cry 5, with a noticeable lead over the Ryzens in both the average and minimum frame rate. That said, all these CPUs are very powerful and more than capable of running the latest Far Cry game at a smooth frame rate.
The final benchmark we ran on all the CPUs was the Heaven gaming benchmark. Interestingly, unlike 3DMark FireStrike or Far Cry 5, the Ryzen processors snuck ahead of Intel’s Core CPUs. This shows how differently 3D engines perform with different processor architectures and that while on average Intel CPUs are faster for gaming, AMD processors are still a great choice for a gaming PC.
Overclocking, not to be confused with AMD Precision Boost or Intel Turbo Boost, is a method of manually increasing the clock frequency of a CPU to improve its performance. You do need a good quality CPU cooler, motherboard, power supply and a little bit of luck with overclocking, but it’s a great way of getting more from your PC.
A typical overclock for a 1st gen Ryzen processor was up to 3.8GHz, but our 2nd gen Ryzen CPUs would overlock stably to between 4GHz and 4.2GHz. This is a very welcome improvement, and shows that the die shrink from the 14nm to 12nm process really does pay dividends.
However, the performance gains to be had from overclocking 2nd gen Ryzen processors are much smaller than you could be forgiven for thinking. For instance, the Ryzen 5 2600X, which we overclocked from 3.6 to 4.2GHz only gained an extra 5% performance when video encoding and a 7% higher minimum frame rate in Far Cry 5. However, this makes sense when you consider that the new Precision Boost 2 technology in 2nd gen Ryzens is so much better than the first version, enabling the CPU to automatically boost under a wider range of conditions than 1st gen Ryzens.
AMD’s 1st gen Ryzen processors proved a nasty shock to Intel, proving demonstrably faster in many heavily multi-threaded workloads, although Intel still retained the lead when it came to IPC and frequency.
AMD’s 2nd gen Ryzen’s have proven to be considerably more refined that the 1st gen models, with improved IPC, higher clock speeds and welcome improvements in manual and automatic overclocking. And while the ghost of Ryzen’s lacklustre game performance isn’t entirely banished, the 2nd gen Ryzens are much faster than 1st gen Ryzens in games. As always the choice you make should be determined by what you’re intending to use your PC for, but it’s clear from our tests that the 2nd gen Ryzens offer much more rounded performance than the 1st gen Ryzens.
Value for money wise the 2nd gen Ryzen’s look very competitive too, with the Ryzen 7 2700X for instance retailing for a very similar price to the Core i7 8700K.
What’s more, AMD has taken the very customer-friendly approach of sticking with the same processor socket and chipsets with the new 2nd gen Ryzen’s, although it’ll be interesting to see how motherboards based on the new X470 chipset perform.
Scan Computers sells the complete range of AMD Ryzen processors and compatible motherboards, while our expert engineers in 3XS Systems can build you an awesome new Ryzen PC.
2. Intel 8th gen Core Coffee Lake laptops
Intel released its first mainstream 6-core processors in October of last year. Codename Coffee Lake, these 8th gen Core processors have now started to make their way into laptops.
Like the desktop versions, the laptop models also have up to six cores. The most popular model with laptop manufacturers appears to be the Core i7 8750H. This has six cores running at between 2.2 and 4.1GHz, comparing very favourably with the previous gen favourite the Core i7 7700HQ, which had 4 cores running at between 2.8 and 3.8GHz.
Coffee Lake laptops are available with a wide variety of specifications from a number of brands including 3XS Systems, Gigabyte and MSI.
3. Intel expands Coffee Lake chipsets and motherboards
When Intel first rushed its Coffee Lake CPUs out in October there was only one chipset to choose from, the high-end Z370, which meant that even if you chose a cheap Core i3 or Core i5 you had to buy a comparatively expensive motherboard. That’s now all changed with the release of an expanded range of chipsets.
The new chipsets include the H310, B360 and H370. The H310 chipset only supports two DIMMs and four SATA ports so is only really suitable for very basic PCs that you don’t plan on upgrading or expanding. The H370 and B360 chipsets are far more promising, offering support for four DIMMs and up to six SATA ports. The most notable difference between the two is that the H370 chipset supports RAID.
Visit the Scan website to browse the entire range of Coffee Lake motherboards.
4. Intel gaming NUCs review
As unveiled in the last ScanZone, Intel has been busy beavering away integrating AMD Radeon GPUs with its Kaby Lake processors. The first products to use these new hybrid CPUs are to be found in a pair of gaming NUCs.
The gaming NUCs are a little larger than most NUCs, which make use of a tiny 4x4in motherboard, but they are still some of the smallest gaming PCs around. The two models, codename Hades Canyon, have the same sleek black chassis and support for two SO-DIMMs and two M.2 SSDs. Both models have a quad-core Core i7 processor running at between 3.1 and 4.1GHz, the difference lies in the AMD Vega GPU, with one model having 1280 cores and the other having 1536 cores.
We tested the more powerful model, the NUC8i7HVK with the 1536 core GPU, measuring an average frame rate of 77fps in The Witcher 3 at 1920 x 1080 at high detail settings and Timespy benchmark score of 3097. These are remarkable achievements for a PC with integrated graphics and show that Intel clearly made the right decision to collaborate with AMD rather than soldiering on with its own poorly performing GPUs and iffy drivers. Equally impressive was that despite the tiny size the NUC8i7HVK remained quiet while gaming.
Intel’s NUCs with integrated AMD graphics are the first NUCs we could honestly recommend to gamers, delivering solid performance in modern titles at high detail settings. However, you do pay a massive premium for such small dimensions, as for a similar cost you could buy a standard size midi-tower PC that would be more than twice as fast.
5. HTC Vive Pro VR headset now available
The original HTC Vive is one of the best-selling VR headsets, but like all such first-gen headsets its two screens are quite low resolution. First announced at the CES show earlier this year, a new and improved version, the Vive Pro, is now available with upgraded screens.
The screens in the original Vive had a resolution of 1080x1200 while in the Vive Pro this has been upped to 1440x1600 per eye. This is a very significant increase and makes images and in particular text on the Vive Pro much sharper and clearer, which is hugely important in many VR experiences such as flight simulators which have lots of complex HUD and cockpit displays. The Vive Pro also has a redesigned nosepiece and headband, making it far more comfortable, especially if like the author you wear glasses. The Vive Pro also had integrated headphones though I suppose you could swivel these out of the way and use your own headset if you really wanted.
Scan stocks the new and improved HTC Vive Pro plus the original Vive and a wide variety of VR accessories and VR systems.
6. Scan wins big at the PC Retail Awards
We’re delighted to share the news that Scan won two awards at the recent PC Retail Awards. Voted for by the readers of PCR magazine Scan won Specialist PC Vendor and Online Retailer. Thanks for all our customers and suppliers for your fantastic support.