Upgrading to Ryzen: The R7 1700 Reviewed

Welcome back to the fight, AMD.

If you’re anything like me, upgrading your computer’s processor isn’t an occasion that happens often. After all, a new processor often means a new motherboard. And depending on how long it’s been since your last upgrade, new memory and a copy of Windows may be additional requirements. I’ve held off as long as I could, but when AMD sent over a sample of their new Ryzen 7 1700 processor (along with a Gigabyte AX370 Gaming 5 motherboard), I jumped at the chance to build a whole new rig and put it to the test against the 3770k that’s kept me these last five years.

It’s important to state that I won’t necessarily be demonstrating apples-to-apples comparisons between the Intel and Ryzen builds. Instead, the purpose of this article is to show system upgraders what they can expect from the latter. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s take a look at our two machines.

The Builds

As previously mentioned, the Intel system was equipped with a i7-3770k, which has a base frequency of 3.5 GHz and a max turbo frequency of 3.9 GHz. Meanwhile, the Ryzen 7 1700 has a base frequency of 3.0 GHz and boosts up to 3.7 GHz. Both were benchmarked with an ASUS Strix GeForce GTX 1080 running the latest driver (378.92). Both also featured 16 GB of Corsair Vengeance memory. However, recent costs and Ryzen’s less-aged architecture presented the opportunity to run the new build with faster RAM. There just wasn’t a huge push for high-speed memory back in the day, but that’s no longer the case. As such, the Ryzen system tested with DDR4 3200 MHz RAM compared to the Intel’s DDR3 1600 MHz.

The i7-3770k kept its stock air cooler, but I opted for the Noctua NH-U12S SE-AM4 cooler to put atop the Ryzen processor. Retail purchases of the 1700 include AMD’s Wraith Spire LED cooler, so you won’t have to buy a third-party solution if you don’t want to.

Getting the most out of Ryzen

After installing the Ryzen 7 1700 and closing the door on my case, the next step was to determine how best to optimize it for our benchmarks. AMD currently recommends enabling the “High performance” power plan and disabling High Precision Event Timer (HPET). The latter can be done in the BIOS or with a command line prompt in Windows. Disabling simultaneous multithreading (SMT) in the BIOS can improve performance, as well, but the benefits vary between games. I can’t imagine everyone would enjoy changing their BIOS settings each time they want to change what they’re playing, and thus I left SMT to its default enabled state.

The benefits of high speed memory with Ryzen, however, are well documented. My own modules operated at 3200 MHz after updating the Gigabyte’s BIOS to version F5d. If you purchase a Ryzen CPU, you’ll want to pair it with the fastest memory your motherboard supports.

Of course, the most obvious method to achieve better performance is likely through overclocking. AMD makes the process rather simple with their Ryzen Master software. Within, you can quickly increase core frequency, disable cores, alter voltages, and even adjust memory timings. CPU temperature is displayed in one corner and profiles can be saved and selected toward the bottom. That said, it’s still better to overclock your processor from the BIOS. Now I didn’t run into any stability issues with Ryzen Master, but my games did experience a repeatable audio bug when using the software.

I had no trouble pushing the 1700 to its 3.7 GHz boost frequency without increasing the voltage (1.225v). Idle temperatures hovered around 30 degrees and 50 degrees under load in my Fractal Define R5 case. Attaining higher frequencies depends on each individual chip and cooling setup. AMD has stated 1.35v is the safe ceiling for daily use, and that’s what it took for my sample to reach 3.8 GHz. Temperatures increased by about 13 degrees. Benchmarks were completed at default values.

Benchmarks

I wanted to put the Ryzen 7 1700 through its paces in CPU-intensive situations. Choice locations included Witcher 3’s Novigrad city, where I ran several lengthy laps through its bustling streets, and Rise of the Tomb Raider’s Geothermal Valley village and forests. Other tests included the clashing of armies in Total War: Warhammer and the vast open world of Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Graphical options were all set to the highest presets.

Reasons to be optimistic

The above numbers are a little disheartening. The 1700 wasn’t too far behind in three of the four benchmarks, but it was still behind. On the other hand, those numbers don’t tell the entire story. First, growing pains aren’t unexpected for a new hardware architecture. There are still optimizations to come from AMD, software partners, operating systems, and motherboard manufacturers. Bethesda Softworks (the publisher) and several developers have already pledged support for AMD’s Ryzen processors. Stardock’s and Oxide Games’ Ashes of the Singularity has been given an optimization pass resulting in a 31% increase in average performance, according to a just released announcement from AMD (the news amusingly arrived in my inbox the minute I finished this article). BIOS updates, depending on the board, are releasing regularly. And a Windows update has reportedly improved Ryzen performance for a number applications.

Second, the Ryzen 7 lineup truly shines for productivity usage. The 1700 absolutely crushed the 3770k in Cinebench R15’s multicore benchmarks, seen below, by 900 to 1,000 points in several runs. What that means for the end user is a computer not bogged down by acts of multitasking. For those who edit and encode videos, stream games, or enjoy running other applications in the background, Ryzen’s appeal grows significantly.

Finally, the Ryzen 7 1700 is by no means bad for gaming. When I’m not running benchmarks, I’m playing games at the more demanding resolution of 3440×1440. DOOM’s framerate on the Ryzen never went below the mid to high 80s and frequently reached above 130. Battlefield 1’s 64-player matches averaged 90.5 FPS with a low of 75 and a maximum of 109. Mass Effect Andromeda maintained 50-60 frames in demanding scenes while climbing between 77 and 85 frames when traversing certain large environments. All three had maxed out graphical settings.

Conclusion

AMD’s Ryzen clearly has room to improve when it comes to its gaming performance. Intel continues to lead in that arena. But what the Ryzen 7 1700 does offer is a balanced, versatile processor that retails for a fraction of the price of a comparable product from Intel. The eight core i7-6900K sells for over $1,000. The Ryzen 7 1700 can be had for only $329. And AMD’s upcoming Ryzen 5 lineup is equally competitively priced, with a four-core processor starting at $169 and a $219 six-core/12-thread chip. Much needed competition is returning to this market, and I couldn’t be more excited. Welcome back to the fight, AMD.

A review unit was provided by AMD.