4K gaming tested: AMD Ryzen and GeForce GTX 1080 Ti for less than Intel's cheapest 8-core chip

And you'll still have enough money left over for a pizza!

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All about the Benjamins

Again: AMD’s 8-core Ryzen 7 processors aren’t gaming-first chips.

Again: This Ryzen system delivers damned fine gaming performance even if it isn’t best in class.

Again: The Ryzen 7 1700 and GTX 1080 Ti combo costs less than the Core i7-6900K alone. Pairing a 6900K with Nvidia’s beast would add a whopping $720 dollars to the cost of a build like this. That’s more than the cost of many complete gaming-dedicated PCs.

These charts and comparisons are invaluable, but you can’t take those real-world considerations out of Ryzen’s performance story. If you need the best of the all worlds, Intel’s Extreme Edition chips can deliver that at a far higher cost. If you need a pure gaming rig, Intel’s quad-core chips clearly offer the best price-to-performance value. But if you’re looking for a great productivity machine with good gaming chops, Ryzen offers that for far less than 8-core Intel processors, even if there is some potential compromise in raw frame rates.

ryzen and gtx 1080 ti 1 Brad Chacos

This fearsome combo costs less than Intel’s cheapest 8-core processor.

There’s no getting around the fact that Ryzen isn’t as strong as Intel chips at gaming. That was revealed in extensive Ryzen review testing and confirmed in critiques by other publications. While AMD says the deficit is reduced at higher resolutions, the mammoth power of the GTX 1080 Ti shows the gap clearly at 1440p in Division and Far Cry, and even at 4K with Tomb Raider and Ashes of the Singularity—though again, all of those games are eminently playable on Ryzen. 

The million dollar question: How will Ryzen processors behave in tomorrow’s games?

Pushing performance tomorrow

AMD says it has nowhere to go but up.

“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 corporate vice president John Taylor told PCWorld just before Ryzen’s launch. Most games simply haven’t been designed to work around 8-core, 16-thread processors—even AMD stalwarts like Ashes of the Singularity.

Taylor provided quotes from the developers of both Ashes and Total War: Warhammer stating they’re seeing performance upticks with early Ryzen optimization efforts, and emphasized that AMD’s on pace to deliver over 1,000 Ryzen kits to developers by the end of 2017. The company also just signed an unprecedented multi-game, multi-series technological partnership with Bethesda to implement core-hungry Vulkan tech in its games after Doom’s spectacular success.

amd is ryzen Gordon Mah Ung

Ryzen’s a young platform with plenty of room for polish. Intel’s high-end X99 platform suffered from growing pains too, remember. Theories about Ryzen’s gaming performance are everywhere you look in online forums, but it certainly seems possible that a mixture of Windows updates, BIOS revisions, and other optimizations could push Ryzen’s gaming performance even higher in the future. Not that you can bank on that today.

Pushing performance today

That said, if you’re looking to speed up your Ryzen PC’s gaming right now, there are several steps you can take to potentially do so. We covered most of them at the end of PCWorld’s Ryzen overview, from enabling Windows’ High Performance mode to disabling Ryzen’s vaunted simultaneous multithreading. I have a few more tips, though.

The first ties directly into the Ryzen 7 1700 used today. Buy a third-party CPU cooler and overclock it! Early shipments of the chip have had no problem overclocking to the 3.8GHz to 3.9GHz range, with some hitting 4GHz and a select few managing to reach 4.1GHz. At that point, it essentially equals or beats the $500 Ryzen 7 1800X in performance, and benchmarks from PC Perspective and Gamers Nexus reveal that doing so can provide a solid boost in gaming frame rates. AMD’s new Ryzen Master overclocking tool makes it easy— see PCWorld’s guide to Ryzen overclocking for details.

ryzen and gtx 1080 ti 2 Brad Chacos

Adding a third-party air CPU cooler or (as pictured) a closed-loop liquid cooler lets you push Ryzen performance with overclocks.

Ryzen Master also provides the ability to disable some of Ryzen’s CPU cores, a pair at a time. Having fewer cores active could theoretically allow you to push overclocks even further, so play around with that. Creating separate Ryzen Master profiles for work and play could help you optimize each scenario, switching between profiles on-the-fly for maximum performance.

Ryzen also performs better if you increase RAM speeds. While I stuck to an out-of-the-box experience for this testing—which dropped my 3,000MHz Corsair Vengeance LPX RAM to 2,133MHz, ugh—you could see yet more uplift if you’re able to push memory speeds further. This is highly motherboard-dependent, though.

But really, just be realistic about what you’re getting with Ryzen—and what its true competition is. Octo-core chips will never compete with quad-core parts in sheer clock speed. Ryzen isn’t a mythological unicorn that excels in all situations. What it is is a damned good productivity and content-creation chip with damned competitive pricing and pretty good—though not best-in-class—gaming capabilities.

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