Last Tuesday, Advanced Micro Devices officially started selling their Ryzen 5 desktop CPUs, the mid-range follow-on to the more premium-priced and positioned Ryzen 7 desktop processor I wrote about here. AMD has been shipping Ryzen 5 for weeks into the channel and into system builder OEMs but Tuesday was the first day that end customers could buy systems and bare CPUs. I read nearly every Ryzen 5 review from credible sources, and for the most part, every one of them were positive. It didn’t mean it won on every single measurement... it didn’t, but it did on most, especially when you factor in price. In addition, AMD lent me a Ryzen 5 system and I had a very good experience with it which paralleled the reviews I read.
AMD Ryzen 7 launch smoother than Ryzen 5
In my assessment, the Ryzen 5 launch went more smoothly than Ryzen 7 for some simple reason- there were no surprises. I think with Ryzen 7 many industry insiders such as myself were quite pleased with the greater than 50% IPC (instruction per clock) improvement driven by Zen architecture, its threaded performance, gaming while streaming performance, and high-end gaming performance, but were a bit surprised at the lower than expected 1080P gaming performance. To AMD’s credit, they attacked and are continuing to attack the 1080P game issue and leveraged the strength of their gaming ISV program. We’ve seen some incredible performance gains with updates, most notably, Ashes of the Singularity, that saw huge improvements. In addition, I’ve seen some very big gaming gains by using 3200 MHz. memory versus 2400 MHZ. memory in certain games with a nominal price increase. Ryan Shrout at Perspective ran some tests using both sets of memory. In the end, I think we’ll look back at Ryzen 1080P gaming and it will be forgotten for most titles.
Ryzen 5 value proposition
The Ryzen 5 value proposition is very much like Ryzen 7 with a few subtle differences. With AMD Ryzen 5, AMD wants to stress more cores, more threads, overclockability with an improved IPC and a more robust platform to combat Intel’s higher frequency and higher IPC. Ryzen 5 like Ryzen 7 uses the new "Zen" architecture and spans from a 6-core, 12-thread 1600X to a 4-core, 8-thread 1400 CPU priced at $249 and $169. All parts are unlocked and the “X” designates a greater potential level of boost from 100-200 MHz called “XFR” (Extreme Frequency Range) even beyond the standard boost. To get XFR you need good cooling like Wraith Spire or liquid cooling as I have with my Ryzen 7 system.
New Wraith coolers enable XFR and some fun, too
AMD also introduced a new, enhanced cooler, called Wraith Spire, which not only offers enhanced air cooling but can also be programmed with cool lighting effects. My Ryzen 5 system came with a Wraith Spire and memory that I could change to any color and could even blink based on what music was playing. I used an Asrock RGB utility that came with the motherboard to make that happen. This gets enthusiasts and gamers excited and is as important as smartphone color and design. It matters and isn’t some superfluous feature. People who don’t appreciate that don’t understand the desktop market. AMD also introduced Wraith Stealth, a lower cost, lower feature cooler to go along with the 1400. My Wraith Spire was very quiet and of course wasn’t silent when doing big chores like my Ryzen 7 which used liquid cooling.
Like Ryzen 7, the new Ryzen 5 CPUs support AMD’s AM4 infrastructure, with motherboards currently from ASRock, Asus, Biostar, Gigabyte, and MSI using varying priced and featured AMD chipsets, the X370, B350 and the A320. With Ryzen 5, there are a few notable motherboard differentiators. The B350 mid-range chipset-based motherboards supports 3400 MHz. RAM, overclocking, RAID, and USB 3.1. ExtremeTech’s Joel Hruska had the most comprehensive writeup on this. Why do this matter? Most every user can take advantage of USB 3.1, gamers and enthusiasts can take advantage of overclocking, RAID, and 3400 MHz. RAM as it’s a performance play and an improved gaming experience strategy.
AMD Ryzen 5 performance highlights
So how well does AMD’s Ryzen 5 perform? According to about 15 credible reviews I read, extremely well in many areas. AMD’s Ryzen 5 performs very well in multi-threaded workloads, those applications that use many physical and virtual cores. In many cases, AMD is throwing twice the threads or more at a workload so you would absolutely expect this, even though the IPC or frequency isn’t as high as Intel’s Core architecture. Generally speaking, the reviewers said the types of highly-threaded applications that Ryzen 5 performed well in were:
lossless video transcoding applications
bulk image converters
computational fluid dynamics
megatasking, or running many applications at the same time
common file compression
encryption and decryption
gaming while streaming
When it came to other use cases, it’s really a push or AMD won some and Intel won others in:
newer higher-resolution games and games in very high resolution
most java-based web browsing
I highly recommend in these cases reading reviews to see your specific application was tested. When it comes to gaming, you’ll even want to know what discrete GPU was used as this impacts the differential rankings.
When it comes to applications that favor higher IP and frequency and in some cases, special code paths for Intel processors, in general reviewers showed that Intel performed better. These workloads could be:
lower-quality video transcoding
1080P or lower and low settings gaming
For benchmark details, I recommend checking out Anandtech, PC World, Hot Hardware, ExtremeTech, and PC Perspective.
So what does all this benchmark gobbledygook mean? As of right now, AMD looks incredibly competitive with both Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 5 and dominant in heavily multithreaded apps without too many dangling chads. AMD is working very hard on lower resolution, low detail gaming, and we will likely see newer games updated, older games likely not. AMD, current course and speed, will sell millions of Ryzen desktop this year.
We haven’t seen an Intel response yet, but if AMD starts to take revenue share Intel cares about, I do expect a response. It’s safe to say Intel is much more interested with their notebook and server franchise than desktop, but it’s certainly not a “don’t care”. Intel makes an incredible amount of profit dollars on desktop high end and mid-range parts so expect a response in the next few months. At the same time, AMD is readying both its notebook processors and server processors, which should be ready in Q3. We will also see tier 1 OEM Ryzen-based systems from HP Inc. Lenovo and Dell. This is when the game gets even more interesting. I believe AMD has more IPC and frequency to come, so it’s not like AMD will be standing still.
AMD deserves an incredible amount of credit for a near error-proof launch. Well played so far, AMD.
Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights) in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.