After AMD the PC market in a big way last year with its Ryzen CPU launches, Intel has been countering by gradually rolling out 8th-gen Core CPUs that deliver sizable performance gains relative to comparable 7th-gen chips.
Now, AMD is returning fire by launching second-gen Ryzen CPUs that improve on the performance of last year's parts and are priced fairly aggressively. Together with the launch of a pair of cheaper processors in February and the second-half launch of new high-end CPUs, they should leave AMD on solid competitive footing in the coming months, at least in the desktop market.
On Thursday, AMD launched 4 second-gen Ryzen desktop CPUs. The two most powerful chips in the lineup, the Ryzen 7 2700X and 2700, each contain 8 cores and can run 16 simultaneous threads, and are priced at $329 and $299, respectively. Two less-powerful chips, the Ryzen 5 2600X and 2600, each contain 6 cores and support 12 threads, and are priced at $229 and $199, respectively.
"If last year was a revolution, this is sort of an evolution," said Kevin Lensing, the GM of AMD's Client Business Unit, in a talk with TheStreet. "But we touched a lot of things. From the product silicon to the firmware...to the features to actually tweaking the platform too."
On the surface, the products are just modestly cheaper than comparable 8th-gen Intel CPUs. The 2700X's closest rival, Intel's Core i7-8700K, can be found for $350 on Newegg.com; the 2600X's closest rival, Intel's Core i5-8600K, sells for $250. But whereas Intel's "K" CPUs don't ship with cooling fans/heatsinks -- users need to buy one separately, or splurge on a liquid cooling system -- AMD's new Ryzen CPUs are bundled with quality coolers (about a $30 to $40 value).
In terms of performance, reviews show second-gen Ryzen CPUs making good on AMD's promise that they'll deliver solid (though not massive) gains relative to comparable first-gen Ryzen CPUs. The 2700X and 2600X often post 10%-plus performance gains relative to AMD's Ryzen 7 1700X and Ryzen 5 1600X, respectively, with the 2700X also outperforming the Ryzen 7 1800X (the most powerful Ryzen chip when it launched in March 2017).
The gains have much to do with AMD's use of a 12-nanometer (nm) manufacturing process for its latest Ryzen chips, rather than the 14nm process used for their predecessors; this enables higher CPU clock speeds. They also benefit from (among other things) tweaks to AMD's Zen CPU core architecture that improve memory and cache latency, and a revamped version of AMD's Precision Boost algorithm (Precision Boost 2) for raising clock speeds for demanding workloads. Precision Boost 2 doesn't automatically drop clock speeds to a much lower level when more than two threads are engaged.
The use of Precision Boost 2 has the biggest impact on what Lensing calls "mid-threaded applications" such as gaming and productivity app multitasking. "Those sort of average workloads that use maybe not all the threads in the machine, but maybe a few of them, will see a huge benefit," he claimed.
When pitted against comparable 8th-gen Intel chips such as the 8700K and 8600K, the benchmark story is more complicated, but generally doesn't look bad. Intel CPUs often have an edge in workloads relying on just a single process thread, but AMD's CPUs, thanks to extra CPU cores and/or support for more simultaneous threads, generally have an edge with multi-threaded workloads. Intel's chips maintain a slight gaming performance lead, particularly for games played at lower resolutions, but AMD is much closer than it was when the first Ryzen CPUs were launched 13 months ago.