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AMD returns to high-end gaming CPUs with Ryzen 7

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AMD has largely ceded the performance processor space to Intel in recent years. You typically get one of its chips inside a budget PC, not an all-out gaming rig. At last, though, you might have reason to get excited: AMD islaunching Ryzen 7, a desktop CPU line based on its much-ballyhooed Zen architecture. The key is a dramatic improvement in the number of instructions the chip can handle at once. A Ryzen 7 CPU can do 52 percent more work every cycle than a similarly-clocked predecessor thanks to a newer 14-nanometer manufacturing process, five times the bandwidth and some overdue architectural upgrades. This is AMD's first processor with simultaneous multithreading (Hyper-Threading in Intel speak), so each core can execute two code paths at the same time.

Depending on what you get, you might even get a relatively quiet, efficient system. AMD claims the 3GHz Ryzen 7 1700 is the lowest-power 8-core desktop chip you can buy, with a 65W thermal design target. And if you snag the new Wraith Spire cooler (included with the 1700), you'll have a relatively silent system with a 32dB noise level.


The initial range arrives both by itself (including compatible motherboards) and in pre-assembled systems on March 2nd, and it unsurprisingly focuses on higher-end systems. AMD is still promising a lot of value for your money. though. Your selection starts off with the Ryzen 7 1700, which at $329 is supposed to beat Intel's slightly pricier Core i7 7700K in multithreaded chip tests. The 3.4GHz 1700X reportedly outperforms the Core i7 6800K at a lower $399 price tag, and the 3.6GHz 1800X can just edge out a not-quite-top-tier Core i7 6900K while costing less than half as much, at $499.


These are lofty claims, and there's good reason to be skeptical. AMD's performance claims largely revolve around one benchmark (Cinebench R15), and it's so far saying only that you can get a "comparable" 4K gaming experience. You'll likely have to wait until Ryzen 7 ships to see how it fares in real-world tests, which could easily be less flattering. Still, the fact that AMD is even in the same ballpark as Intel is a huge deal -- this promises real competition that gives you better choices, and could force Intel to lower prices.


AMD ships its extra-efficient 7th-generation processors in PCs


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While Intel is busy revamping its laptop processors, AMD is focused on the desktop side of personal computing. The chip designer has started shippingits 7th-generation A-series processors in desktop PCs, starting with machines from HP and Lenovo. The CPUs are based around as many as fourExcavator cores, rather than the coveted Zen cores you've heard about lately, but that should still get you a lot of performance per watt. If you believe AMD, its 35- and 65-watt processors deliver the kind of speed that previously took over 90 watts -- the A12-9800 is about as fast in a general computing benchmark (PCMark) as Intel's Core i5-6500, and roughly twice as fast in graphics (3DMark) if you're relying on integrated video.


As you might guess from the testing, visual performance plays a big role. On top of a newer DirectX 12-friendly graphics architecture, the new processors tout native video decoding for 4K video in both H.264 and H.265 formats, taking a large load off of your system while you're watching Ultra HD movies.


The efficiency angle is a familiar one for AMD, and not surprising given that it's the company's main advantage. You're still looking at higher-end Intel Core i5 and i7 chips if you're focused on raw performance in a desktop. With that said, this may be worthwhile if you want a glimpse at AMD's future. The 7th-gen A-series is the first processor line based on AMD's new AM4 platform and the interfaces that come with it, including support for USB 3.1 and NVMe solid-state drives. At least some of the technology you see here will carry on for multiple hardware generations.

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