Tag Archives: ryzen

2020 Q1 – Cpu’s in the Studio overview

So, here we are, back with a look over the array of CPU’s that arrived around xmas 2019 and the start of this year. Rather late to the party this time I fully admit, but it’s been an interesting journey just to get here.

Around the start of last November Intel announced its next iteration of its X299 refresh as being imminent. The timing stood out as potentially taking the wind out of AMD’s own launch of the much anticipated 3950X, although what was notable at the time was a lack of chips from either firm being immediately available. AMD managed to start rolling out the 3950X’s properly a few weeks later and into our hands over the xmas period, whilst Intel also got a few chips out over January although since then however availablity has remained erratic due to at first Chinese new year and the subsequent rise in the Coronavirus impacting the supply chain of hardware coming out of the Asia region.

Since then AMD has gone on to release further new Threadripper solutions over the last few weeks, which are continuing to create a buzz from the market at large. Intel on the other hand continues to be dogged by supply chain issues with the 10900X only appearing whilst writing this up and the 10940X still sitting on the list of chips to acquire and test in the near future.

So, availability aside, why was there no testing done late 2019?

Well, we tried is the answer, but it wasn’t to be. Along with the stock scarcity, I did manage to test most of the chips I could find, only to watch it all fall over when the initial 10980XE sample arrived. This is the first time that I’ve put a 18 core chip through the Reaper based DAWBench VI test and it became clear in testing that once we passed 32 threads in this build, some internal dependencies caused by the way that Kontakt was being mapped were limiting its ability to balance across more than 16 cores/32 threads successfully.

This issue was escalated back to Vin at DAWBench who then spent much of his xmas break rebuilding the testing suite and making it more suitable for high core count CPU’s going forward. After a closed beta throughout a large part of January this year we’ve finally got a release candidate that can be run over the chips as we start again from the ground up.

This means the hybrid test’s that I ran with last time in order to solve the issue of running out of test overhead are retired in favour of two new builds developed by Vin himself. The SGA 1566 test is pretty close to the version I ran last time, with the SGA test remaining largely the same as the older public build but with the audio quality of the plugin being switched to “high performance” in order to cause more load on the CPU.

As noted the new DAWBench VI build has changed to ensure smooth balancing on extreme core counts and is now based around a larger number of single instances, rather than running a multiple instruments per Kontakt instant design, it now runs a one instrument per instance layout with multi-processing disabled within Kontakt to allow the sequencer to spread the load easier. The new test has some interesting restrictions such as pre-loading close to 30GB’s worth of data when all the instances are live, which make it a bit more unwieldy in some situations. However, having tested it on 64 thread successfully it does seem to allow Reaper to manage the load balance to the best of its ability, making me confident that this should be scalable for a quite a while longer going forward.

This isn’t going to be like a normal run down, in that I’m not going in depth with specific chips this time. This is more of a catch up or state of play post to allow us to see the market as it stands. All prior benchmarks are invalid as comparisons as these are brand-new tests to enable us to be able to validate the new hardware.

So, from the top I should mention what I haven’t covered and why as I’m sure a lot of people are asking the relevant questions in relation to those models already.

First off the big omission is the new Threadripper chips and model dependent I saw two different problems that tripped me up here.

In testing on the 64 thread 3970X I saw it refuse to run cleanly on the DB VI test at a 64 buffer, where it simply crackled constantly with little to no load applied. It did run better on a 128 buffer, but the score still placed it behind a number of far weaker chips, so it didn’t look to handle itself well. The 256 buffer and upwards seemed to slowly creep towards the sort of performance levels I would hope to see, pretty much repeating the sort of issue’s we saw in previous generations with the low latency performance hole.

So, we thought there might be a few usable scenarios to be had, but then we ran the DSP test and hit another snag. The projects in that SGA DSP test would always overload at around 60 %- 65% load and I didn’t see a way around this in the time I spent with it. I’ve tried different memory types and speeds, but no matter what it seemed to cap out there.

I also took a look at the mighty 3990X, although was beaten here as well for a slightly different reason. There have been reports in the wider press about software having trouble addressing all the cores currently due to underlying Windows interactions, and we saw pretty much that there. With Reaper, we could only address 64 threads out of the 128 and it behaved much like the 3970X in the testing above. I had wondered if the Windows Pro Workstation build with its support for improved addressing across more cores might help, but the feedback so far is that it’s currently ineffective and comments from Microsoft and AMD would appear to currently bear this out and it remains one to keep an eye out in the future.

I have managed to take a look at a number of the Intel 10 series enthusiast range chips, although what we see here is a platform that is starting to look like it’s approaching the end of its current life cycle. Having attempted to change process a few times now, the strain of extracting ever more performance out of the current platform is beginning to show. This is the first time in a long time, where I’ve had to drop the all core turbo clock lock setting from the Intel enthusiast range as the overhead simply doesn’t seem to be there at this time to allow for it.

I’ve also retested the common Intel mid-range selection, including the ever popular 9900K. These were amongst the last chips that I took a look a proper look at and throughout 2019 remained popular options, still offering a strong solution where the utmost compatibility is concerned.

However, where the excitement stands then is with AMD’s mid-range in the shape of Ryzen and most notably the previously mentioned 3950X launch. One of the last articles I published last year was looking into the differences that overclocking your RAM could make to the system, with improvements to performance becoming ever more obvious as you increased the RAM clock and tightened the timings.

If you look at the officially rated RAM recommendations that accompany the current Ryzen chips they still outline that 3200Mhz kits are recommended and whilst they work fine, they still result in the performance hole that we’ve seen in previous generations of hardware. Even with the 3950X it remains recommended and whilst I’m sure it’s fine for gaming or other less intensive time sensitive workloads, for high performance audio system you want to be cranking those RAM clocks for the best results it seems.

It’s been discussed quite a lot with this generation that the internal data bus is running around 3733MHz or there about. Having tried it with 3733MHz RAM kits, it does indeed work great, but packs of RAM at that speed are both fairly rare and pretty expensive in comparison with more common speeds.

The 3200MHz “AMD Optimized” RAM packs that are in circulation do help, reducing the performance hit from 15 – 20% we’ve seen previously, down to around 8 – 15%. By going up to the 3600MHz AMD optimized kits we can pretty much remove the performance hole that we saw with previous generations.

So the question comes up, is more, simply more? Apparently not, as going over 3733MHz in a lot of testing appears to be having the opposite effect than the one desired, as it switches the controller ratio to another divider setting that allows the performance hole to creep in again, meaning that just adding a kit of 4000MHz isn’t being advised as a solution.

If you don’t have pre-optimized RAM packs already, fear not, with a bit of RAM tweaking you can possibly clock your RAM up to be more efficent. There is an excellent AMD Ram Calculator tool that I was playing with early in testing and you want to be looking at getting better than 90NS for optimizing your RAM for audio. I was hitting 74NS through manual tweaking of a none AMD optimized kit and 80NS through using a kit with a predefined profile and simply selecting that in the BIOS. For the sake of a few hours work overclocking it and testing, I would suggest that anyone who wants the best from their system pays the little extra for the pre-approved packs and have the hassle taken out of it, as regular packs running at stock settings were offering in the region of 110NS and above which isn’t great for our requirements.

So, testing this time is carried out with that in mind and a few additional notes before I lay out the charts.

All tests done using the current Reaper 6.0.4 build.
All testing done with an RME Babyface.
X299 systems are running 2933MHz which is the optimum RAM for the current 10 series.
Z390 systems are running 2666MHz RAM, again the optimum for the platform.
The AMD systems are all testing with 3600MHz RAM packs with pre-optimized timings as discussed above.
Windows 10 running the 1909 build, which is latest at the time of writing.

Regarding all core boosting, as already noted the X299 platform is simply running too hot for this to be viable without some much heavier duty cooling, due in large to the 260w+ power draw that it requires when clocked up. Whilst my standard cooler can handle it, by the time you’ve ramped up the cooling to that level it’s not exactly ideal for an audio recording setup.

AMD has suggested not overclocking the chips themselves this generation, rather letting the system manage it for you. Indeed, so far in practice I’ve seen that any attempt to carry out a manual overclock will then tend to restrict the RAM clocking we can then carry out. Given that optimizing the RAM gives us far more benefit over adding a few hundred MHz to the CPU itself, we’ve chosen to go that route instead. Our Z390 setups by comparison remain active with an all core turbo setup on each chip and officially rated RAM as the more optimum setup.

With that said about the AMD overclocking, I’ve been particularly impressed by AMD’s own turbo handling in this round of testing, with the cores boosting fairly consistent to all core levels when dealing with busy multi-threaded workloads and then pretty much just sitting there, which in most cases with the Ryzen 3000 series appears to be about 4.2Ghz.

With that out of the way, what exactly are we looking at results wise this time?

DAWBench DSP SGA1566 (2020 Build).

DAWBench DSP - SGA 1566 Test
DAWBench DSP – SGA 1566 Test – Click To Expand

DAWBench VI Kontakt Test (2020 Build).

DAWBench VI Test - Q1 2020
DAWBench VI Test – Q1 2020 – Click To Expand

So, as expected with the memory lag cleared up, we see the performance restored at the lowest latency settings and it makes a sizable difference.

The DSP test, which is essentially loading up each core to see where they top out was always the stronger test for AMD and the additional gains put them squarely ahead now at each price point.

Of the chips tested, the 9600K and 9700K sit at the bottom of the results and given the competition that’s not overly surprising. It’s interesting to note that the 3700X and 3800X are fairly similar results wise, with about 300MHz separating the chips on paper, we saw both of these turbo to roughly the same level meaning that there wasn’t a lot between them in real terms. That means that In this instance the 3700X looks to offer the better value out of these two models and indeed from pretty much the whole sub £500 segment.

Moving up to the more expensive “enthusiast” segment, this is where the AMD’s value lead is most apparent at this time. The Intel chips that we’ve seen look have made the standard 10% – 15% generational gains on the previous models, but the launch of the 3950X really pushed the results in AMD’s favour.

Of course, the performance hole we saw previously was always more apparent in the VI test and again the difference here is clear.

The 10980XE holds its crown in the VI test but not by a huge margin, whilst falling behind in the DSP test, meaning that if the chips were more equally priced then this would be far too tough to call. However, even with Intels price adjustments over recent months the 10980XE is sat around the £1250 price point at the time of writting and looking at the chart and specifically that 3950X in comparison which is sat at less than £700, it becomes clear that whilst the 10980XE is a perfectly fine chip in isolation it really should be £300 cheaper than it currently is in order to make sense in a value comparison with the rest of the market.

In fact, that’s the take home right now. Intels prices cuts should have made them more competitive and to be fair they briefly did, but AMD’s continued monitoring of the market and aggressive counter pricing has left Intel with very little to shout about at this time.

For those old enough to remember the days of the P4 chips and FX64, this was the last time that AMD secured a solid tech jump and dominant market share, right now we find ourselves in a period very much reminiscent of that. For Intel to come back now, it’s going to require that long awaited node change just to keep up with AMD and going forward I suspect that ideally they need a new platform in order to reposition themselves fully, kind of what we saw when the “i” series launched and until then I can’t see this highly competitive era easing up.

Looking forward is always interesting, although at this point I’m not sure anyone can predict how the year ahead will pan out. With much of the first and even second quarter of this year likely to see the entire component industry hit with delays in production and shipping, we might well be seeing shortages across the board for the more popular lines for some time to come. There has certainly been short availability of the 10980XE so far and this is unlikely to clear up anytime soon. The knock on effect has seen the 3950X go through waves of short supply too as AMD continue to try to meet the high demand for its flagship Ryzen chip, although it’s an envious problem to have, I’m sure.

It also means that at the time of writing this may prove to be quite possibly the best time to buy in quite a while, if you can source the parts. With possible supply issues in mind, it could be awhile before it all stabilises again and prices may start to drift if those available supplies struggle to meet demand in the short term.

Intel has 10nm mobile chips out there and more on the way, but it’s all a bit subdued on its desktop range. The already known about i9-10900K 10 core successor to the 9900K is the obvious model of interest but looking at the charts, the predicted up to 20% gains to be had via IPC, additional cores and increased cache are attractive, but I’m not sure it’ll elevate it much above the 3900X a chip that’s already out, established and in easy supply.

Also, notably AMD’s 4000 series were announced at this years CES and looks to be arriving later in the year if they remain on schedule. Crucially this is another overhaul for AMD and it seems like they are well-placed to keep making gains from their platform too, which undoubtedly will apply further pressure to Intel.

The earlier concerns about a limited number of  incompatibilities  have so far not grown and we’re aware that AMD have been working hard to help smooth these out. With the platform not so much “on the map” at this point, as stomping all over it in size 12 boots, we would hope that that developers are now sitting up, paying attention and baking in full compatibility from the ground upwards on future product releases.

We’ve already seen chip prices tumble since the start of this CPU performance war and no doubt it’ll continue for quite possibly a few more years yet.

As we’ve said before the consumer of course remains the big winner in all this. At this point we’re watching the software firms attempting to play optimization catch up as now that more consumers have cheaper and easier access to some absolutely stupendous core counts, it should hopefully lead to more developers taking advantage of this jump in available processing power.

Exciting times and it’s going to be insteresting to see how the rest of the year ahead pans out.

Ryzen Memory testing for audio, does it make an impact?

Today we take another look at the Ryzen chipset and discuss further optimization’s. Memory is always a question that comes up and historically it hasn’t really had an impact for audio, where the bottleneck in performance often ends up being elsewhere in the setup.

Even with the previous generations on Ryzen where the optimal memory advised were around the 2666MHz (first generation) – 3200MHz (second generation) clock speeds and in our own testing moving up from 2666MHz to 3200MHz on either generation didn’t get us any favourable results in audio benchmarking, although it did help for video rendering workloads.

As such, I went with the previous suggested the best memory when testing around launch and AMD has publically outlined that the optimum speed is now 3733MHz with a CAS16 timing as this puts the memory on a perfect 1:1 ratio with the internal Infinity Fabric bus arrangement.

At this point 3733MHz RAM is still not overly common, even more, uncommon is the super low CAS 16 kits. I’ve currently got a 3733MHz pack being shipped to me (although only CAS17) for further testing when it arrives, although I’ll keep that for when I do a full retest in the coming week.

The results I have today is more of a comparison to show some basic gains and at a slightly cheaper price point. Above 3600MHz memory carries a sizable price premium and some of you may be wondering what gains can be achieved at what price points.

To do this testing I’ve got results generated using the 3200 RAM used in the previous testing, 3600 RAM with CAS18 which are the standard packs we use here and then I’ve run the same 3600MHz RAM clocked up to 3733MHz, which in real-terms ended up being around 3725MHz running in Windows.

3900X on X570 memory testing
3900X on X570 – Memory Speed Comparisons – DAWBench DSP Test. (click to expand)
Stock CPU
3200MHz RAM
Stock CPU
3600MHz RAM
Stock CPU
3725MHz RAM
64113115116
128118123124
256120124126
512121130131

The DAWBench DSP test gave us some small gains on the 64 buffer and then became much more apparent at larger buffer sizes, where we’re talking closer to 8% at the 512 buffer.

3900X on X570 – Memory Speed Comparisons – DAWBench Vi Test. (click to expand)
Stock
CPU
3200
RAM
CPU
Over
load
Point
Stock
CPU
3600
RAM
CPU
Over
load
Point
Stock
CPU
3725
RAM
CPU
Over
load
Point
6448070%50070%56075%
128168090%174090%206095%
2562860100%2920100%3240100%
5124020100%4060100%4520100%

What we can see here is similar small gains moving from 3200MHz to 3600MHz, with it being fairly marginal overall moving up at this level.

Clocking the RAM up towards it’s advised 3733MHz clocks in this instance produced us more notable gains with excess to 10% being seen at most buffer sizes. I’ll also note that that between the 3600MHz and 3725MHz results the memory hole started to disappear as the CPU overload point moved upwards. I suspect and remain hopeful when we see perfectly matched 3733MHz RAM with CAS 16 timings as they’ve advised, that we’ll finally see that performance hole disappear for good.

Given that 3600MHz RAM is only about 10% more costly than 3200MHz then that’s a no brainer of an upgrade, but the jump above that to 3733MHz can easily cost twice as much again depending on the quantity and size of RAM sticks that you need.

I’d expect memory costs to continue to drop over the coming months as no doubt many firms will now be ramping up 3733MHz production over the coming months. Our own provider was also on the back foot, having already killed off their 3733MHz supplies due to a lack of customer interest before the AMD launch, it’s only now that they are rapidly bringing back old lines and looking to flesh out their ranges to support the popular new platform.

In regards to overclocking the advice that AMD put forward early on appears to be very true with faster memory installed. In initial testing, I overclocked the systems and ran 3200MHz memory and saw some solid gains. With the faster memory, we see the same if not better gains and we can also run the CPU cooler at stock.

I did note that I had both an overclocked chip up and running with 3600MHz RAM and the memory performance hole pretty much disappeared completely, but the system wasn’t stable under heavy loads an there is no way you would want to run that in a production environment.

Indeed, it seems that overclocking is more or less impossible when taking the memory over 3200MHz at this time, although given the performance boost we see with the faster RAM this isn’t a complaint. This might even improve in the future as the BIOSes get optimized and better high-speed memory continues to arrive, but it’s very much something to be aware of if buying a machine at this point in the lifecycle.

One thing that the results have left me wondering, especially with the closing of the gap as we approach the 3733MHz optimum is has this always been the case. 3733MHz didn’t exist when Ryzen generation 1 arrived and I’m not even sure if it was a widely available product when Ryzen 2 launched. Even now it carries a rather hefty cost premium and I have to ponder is this simply a case of the memory market catching up to the Ryzen chipset.. has Ryzen so far simply been ahead of its time?

The last bit of testing I’m going to carry out over the coming week is to retest with the information that we’ve picked up since the first look. It’ll now be running stock clocks with the 3733MHz RAM that is shipping to us now and it’ll be running a none hybrid test version that of a freshly expanded test setup.

Scan 3XS Audio Systems

Ryzen Generation 2: 2600X & 2700X On The Testbench

Looking back over the rather hectic first few months of 2018 in the PC industry, it’s clear that a lot has changed since the last CPU benchmark session late last year. In the space of 6 months, we’ve seen security concerns and the resulting software patches swing windows performance back and forth as they’ve arrived with us thick and fast. I’ve largely been trying to wait it out and see how the dust settles in the interim, but with the release of new hardware, it’s time to get back into it.

My last bench was based on a build of windows frozen in late 2016 and associated drivers have gone through a number of revisions during the time since, so with the launch of Ryzen 2 it’s very much the time for an all-new software bench to be set up.

Cubase has moved from 8.0 to 9.5 and Reaper too has advanced a number of builds to 5.79 at the point of testing being initiated. This time around we also see the introduction of the newer SGA build of the DSP test, replacing the older DAWBench DSP test and the latest build of the DAWBench Vi test too.

Before getting underway please note that the new results are in no way comparable to the older charts, other than looking at the rough performance curve differences between certain chips which do appear to be in line with prior results. They are certainly not directly value comparable with all the bench changes that have taken place and it’s always key to keep the playing field as level as possible when doing these comparisons.

This time around I’ve tried to run each chip at its turbo frequency across all cores once again. Modern chips will tend to be rated with both a stock clock and a turbo clock, although what isn’t always clear is that the max turbo rating is often only over 1 or 2 cores by default.

Historically it’s been relatively easy to run most CPUs with those cores being pushed and locked off at the turbo max. However, in the event of a platform being pushed too hard, then this isn’t always viable. For instance, I saw this in testing some of the higher end i9’s, where I would choose to all core at 4.1GHz, rather than leave it at stock and let it 2 core to 4.2GHz with a far lower average leaving me open to possible audio interruptions due to clocking.

It’s also the case here with the 2700X where the overclock would hang the machine if trying to push everything to the 4.2GHz rated turbo speed. Instead, I tried to clock it up both manually and using the AMD tool, both of which topped out around 4.1GHz. After speaking to my gaming team and realising this is fairly common (a number of other reviews have picked up on it as well) I ended up using the utility to set everything up with the slightly lower all core turbo at 4.1GHz and testing there.

DAWBench DSP SGA 1566 Test - Q2 2018
DAWBench DSP SGA Test – Q2 2018 (Click To Expand)

So first up is the newest variation of the classic DAWBench DSP test, now making use of the SGA1566 plugin from Shattered Glass Audio to apply CPU load until the project starts to crackle and break up. 

The 2700X here slots in behind the 8700K which leads by just short of 20% extra overhead at the tightest buffer setting, and both chips look to scale upwards in a similar pattern as you increase the buffer setting. The 8700K seems to be the most suitable comparison here as the price point (at time of writing in the UK) is around £30 more or about 10% more than the cost of the 2700X at launch.

The story of the performance curve scaling looks to repeat when we come to examine the 2600X and by comparison the 8600K from Intel. However, this time around the results are reversed with the Intel chip lagging behind the AMD model by about 5% across the buffer settings whilst the AMD costs around £25 less which makes it roughly 12% cheaper at launch.

So a strong showing for the DSP test, where we’re mostly throwing a load of small VST plugs at the CPU. The other test we run here is the DAWBench Vi test, based on stacking up Kontakt instances which allows us to test the memory response through sample loading along the CPU as we see with the DSP test.

With the Gen1 Ryzens, we saw them perform worse here overall, we suspect down to the memory response and performance. AMD saw similar performance issues across various segments with certain core software ranging from gaming to video processing and the was a lot of noise and multiple attempts to improve this over the life cycle of the chip. One suggestion we saw pay off to some extent in other segments (once again, video and gaming made notable gains) was to move over to using faster memory speeds.

We didn’t see any improvement here for audio applications, although in this instance all testing (both Intel and AMD) has been carried out with 3200MHz RAM, in the interest of trying to maximize the performance where we can as well as keeping things level in that regard.

The headline figure this time around suggests a rough 10% improvement to the IPC (instruction per clock) scores, which of course is promising, although notably, this is where AMD was lagging behind Intel even after bringing Ryzen to the market. In the interim we’ve seen the Coffee Lake launch, which also improved Intel’s IPC scores meaning that whilst AMD has been catching up rapidly of late, Intel does seem to remain intent on clawing back the lead on each successive launch.

DawBench Vi Test - Q2 2018 (Click To Expand)
DawBench Vi – Q2 2018 (Click To Expand)

So looking it over this time, both the 2700X and 2600X look to fall behind their Intel comparable chips.  The 2600X is roughly 20% lower than the 8600K this time although it’s moving up to the 2700X that proves more interesting, if only because it helps to outline what’s occurred between the two generation releases.

The older 1800X stood up well against the old 7700K edition at its launch, and indeed that extra 10% IPC boost we see this time may well have given it a solid lead over the Intel, if not for the Coffee Lake release in the interim in the shape of 8700K which pulls off a convincing lead at this price point currently. Indeed, not only does the 8700K show gains over the previous 7700K chip, but it also overtakes the more expensive although admittedly older, entry-level 6 core 7800X on the Intel’s own enthusiast platform. 

The 2700X is comparable to the 7800X at a far keener price point, although as noted the 7800X more or at least exists as a bit of an oddity by this point, even within it’s own range, so whilst this might have been a more impressive comparison 12 months ago, now it feels like they may have landed it just a few months too late to make serious waves.

Speaking from an audio point of view, the chips are good, but not exactly groundbreaking. If you also work in another segment where the AMD’s are known to have strengths, then the good news here is that they offer reasonable bang per buck for audio and hold their ground well as far as giving you performance at those price points.

But once again, they don’t appear to be breaking any performance to cost records overall at least for the audio market. They’ve got solid gains, but then again so has Intel last time around and this is often how it goes with CPU’s when we have the firms battling it out for market share. Not that this is a bad thing, certainly it benefits the end user, whichever your choice of platform.

As a closing note, I saw in my early generation 1 testing a number of interfaces fail to enumerate on the AMD boards. I reported this to a few manufacturers and interestingly the device that first showed up problems on the X370 boards the first time around (in this instance a UAD Twin USB), is behaving superbly on the X470 platform.

Whilst this is a sample size of approximately “1” unit in a range, it does point towards a reconsidering of the USB subsystem this time around, which can only be a positive. Anyone who was perhaps considering this the Ryzen 1 platform, but found themselves out of luck with interface compatibility, might well fare far better this time around. Obviously, if the were problems known before then please do check with the manufacturers your considering for the latest compatibility notes in each instance.

Looking forward there is a rumoured 2800X flagship Ryzen which is already well discussed but as yet no release date on the horizon. The has been already been discussion, rumours and even some testing and validation leaks out in the wild that suggest that Intel might be sitting on an 8 core Coffee Lake. It would certainly make sense for them to be keeping such a chip in the wings waiting on them seeing the public reaction to these new AMD chips. Similarly, it might turn out that the 2800X will be held back as an answer for those rumoured Intel models should they suddenly appear on the market in the near future.

To wrap it up, essentially we’re in peak rumour season and I’ve no doubt we’ll continue to see a pattern of one-upmanship for the foreseeable future which continues to be a very positive thing indeed. If you need to buy a system today, then the charts should help guide you, although if you’re not in rush right now, I’m sure the will be some interesting hardware to also consider coming over the year ahead.

Previous CPU Benchmarking Coverage
3XS Systems @ Scan

AMD Ryzen First Look For Audio

Ryzen is finally with us and it is quite possibly one of the most anticipated chipset launches in years, with initial reports and leaked benchmarks tending to show the whole platform in very favourable light.

However when it comes to pro audio handling we tend to have different concerns over performance requirements, than tends to be outlined and covered by more regular computer industry testing. So having now had a chance to sit and work with an AMD 1700X for a week or so, we’ve had the chance to put this brand new tech through some more audio-centric benchmarking, and today we’ll take a first look at this new tech and see if its right for the studio.

AMD has developed a whole new platform with the  focus based around  improving low level performance and raising the “IPC” or Instructions per clock cycle figure. As ever they have been keen to keep it affordable with certain choices having been made to keep it competitive, and to some extent these are the right choices for a lot of users.

Ryzen Chipset Features

The chipset gives us DDR4 memory but unlike the X99 platform restricts us to dual channel RAM configurations and a maximum of 64GB across the 4 RAM slots which may limit its appeal for heavyweight VSL users. The is a single M.2. connection option for a high speed NVMe drive and 32 lanes for the PCIe connections, so the competing X99 solutions still offer us more scope here, although for the average audio system the restrictions above may offer little to no real downsides at least from a configuration requirements point of view.

One thing missing from the specification however that has an obvious impact in the studio is the lack of Thunderbolt support. Thunderbolt solutions require BIOS level and physical board level support in the shape of the data communication header found on Intel boards, and Thunderbolt itself is an Intel developed standard along with Apple backing. Without either of those companies appearing to be keen to licence it up front, we’re unlikely to see Thunderbolt at launch although the little to say that this couldn’t change in later generations, if the right agreements can be worked out between the firms involved.

Early testing with the drivers available to us have so far proven to be quite robust, with stability being great for what is essentially a first generation release of a new chipset platform. We have seen a few interface issues regarding older USB 2 interfaces and USB 3 headers on the board, although the USB 3 headers we’ve seen are running the Microsoft USB3 drivers, which admittedly have had a few issues over on the Intel boards with certain older USB 2 only interfaces so this looks to be constant between both platforms. Where we’ve seen issues on the Intel side, we’re also seeing issues on the AMD side, so we can’t level this as being an issue with the chipset and may prove to be something that the audio interface guys can fix with either a driver or firmware update.

Overclocking has been limited in our initial testing phase, mainly due to a lack of tools. Current windows testing software is having a hard time with temperature monitoring during our test period, with none of the tools we had available being able to report the temps. This of course is something that will no doubt resolve itself as everyone updates their software over the next few weeks, but until then we tried to play it safe when pushing the clocks up on this initial batch.

We managed to boost our test 1700X up a few notches to around the level of the 1800X in the basic testing we carried out, but taking it further lead to an unstable test bench. No doubt this will improve after launch as the initial silicon yields improve and having not seen a 1800X as yet, that may still proved to be the cherry picked option in the range when it comes to overclocking.

One of the interesting early reports that appeared right before launch was the CPUid benchmark result which suggests that this may shape up to be one of the best performing multi-core consumer grade chips. We set out to replicate this test here and the result of it does indeed look very promising on the surface.

Ryzen 1700x CPU id results

We follow this up with a Geekbench 4 test, which itself is well trusted as a cross platform CPU benchmark and in the single core performance reflects the results seen in the previous test with it placing just behind the i7 7700K in the results chart. The multi-core this time around whilst strong looks to be sat behind the 6900K and in this instance sitting under the 6800K and above the 7700K.

GeekBench 4 AMD 1700X

So moving on to our more audio-centric benchmarks and our standard Dawbench test is first up.  Designed to load test the CPU itself, we find ourselves here stacking plugin instances in order to establish the chips against a set of baseline level results. The AMD proves itself strongly in this test, placing mid-way between the cost equivalent 6 core Intel 6800K and far more expensive 6900K 8 core. With the AMD 1700X offering us 8 physical cores along with threading on top to take us to a virtual 16 cores, this at first glance looks to be where we would expect it to be with the hardware on offer, but at a very keen price point.

Ryzen DPC Test

I wanted to try a few more real world comparisons here so first up I’ve taken the Dawbench test and restricted it to 20 channels of plugins. I’ve then applied this test over each of the CPUs we have on test, with the results appearing under the “Reaper” heading on the chart below.

Sequencer AMD 1700X

The 1700X stands up well against the i7 7700k but doesn’t quite manage to match up with Intel chips in this instance. In a test like this where we’re not stressing the CPU itself or trying to overload the available bandwidth, the advantages in the low level microarchitecture tend to come to the fore and in this instance the two Intel chips based around the same platform perform roughly in line with each other, although in this test we’re not taking into account the extra bandwidth on offer with the 6900K edition.

Also on the same chart we  see two other test results with  one being the 8 Good Reasons demo from Cubase 8 and we tried running it across the available CPUs to gain a comparison in a more real world project. In this instance the results come back fairly level across the two high end Intel CPU’s and the AMD 1700X. The 4 core mid-range i7 scores poor here, but this is expected with the obvious lack of a physical cores hampering the project playback load.

We also ran the “These Arms” Sonar demo and replicated the test process again. This tests results are a bit more erratic this time around, with a certain emphasis looking to be placed on the single core score as well as the overall multi core score. This is the first time we see the 1700X falling behind the Intel results.

In other testing we’ve done along the way in other segments we’ve seen some of the video rendering packages and even some games exhibiting some CPU based performance oddness that has looked out of the ordinary. Obviously we have a concern here that the might be a weakness that needs to be addressed when it comes to overall audio system performance, so with this result in mind we decided to dig deeper.

To do so we’ve made use of the DAWBench Vi test, which builds upon the basic test in DAWBench standard, and allows us to stack multiple layers of Kontakt based instruments on top of it. With this test, not only are we place a heavy load on the CPU, but we’re also stressing the sub-system and seeing how capable it is at quickly handling large complex data loads.

DAWBench Vi

This gave us the results found in the chart above and this starts to shine some light on the concerns that we have.

In this instance the AMD 1700X under-performs all of the Intel chips at lower buffer rates. it does scale up steadily however, so this looks to be an issue with how quickly it can process the contents of a buffer load.

So what’s going on here? 

Well the other relevant information to flesh out the chart above is just how much CPU load was being used when the audio started to break up in playback.

AMD 1700X 3.8 @ GHz

64 = 520 count @ 70% load
128 = 860 count @ 72% load
192 = 1290 count @ 85% load

Intel 6800k 3.8 @ GHz

64 = 780 count @ 87% load
128 = 1160 count @ 91% load
192 = 1590 count @ 97% load

Intel 6900k 3.6 @ GHz

64 = 980 count @ 85% load
128 = 1550 count @ 90% load
192 = 1880 count @ 97% load

Intel 7700k @ 4.5GHz

64 = 560 @ 90% load
128 = 950 @ 98% load
192 = 1270 @ 99% load

So the big problem here appears to be inefficiency at lower buffer rates. The ASIO buffer is throwing data at the CPU in quicker bursts the lower you go with the setting, so with the audio crackling and breaking up it seems that the CPU just isn’t clearing the buffer quickly enough once it gets to around 70% CPU load at those lower 64 & 128 buffer settings

Intel at this buffer setting looks to be hitting 85% or higher, so whilst the AMD chip may have more RAW performance to hand, the responsiveness of the rest of the architecture appears to be letting it down. It’s no big secret looking over the early reviews that whilst AMD has made some amazing gains with the IPC rates this generation they still appear to be lagging slightly behind Intel in this performance metric.

So the results start to outline this as one of the key weaknesses in the Ryzen configuration, with it becoming quite apparent that the are bottle necks elsewhere in the architecture that are coming into play beyond the new CPU’s. At the lower buffer settings the test tends to benefit single core performance, with the Intel chips taking a solid lead. As you slacken off the buffer itself, more cores become the better option as the system is able to spread the load but even then it isn’t until we hit a 192 buffer setting on the ASIO drivers that the performance catches up to the intel 4 Core CPU.

This appears to be one section where the AMD performance still seems to be lacking compared with the Intel family be that due to hardware bottle necks or still not quite having caught up in the overall IPC handling at the chipset level. 

What we also see is the performance start to catch up with intel again as the buffer is relaxed, so it’s clear that a certain amount of performance is still there to be had, but the system just can’t access it quickly enough when placed under heavy complex loads.

What we can safely say having taken this look at the Ryzen platform, is that across the tests we’ve carried out so far that the AMD platform has made some serious gains with this generation. Indeed the is no denying that the is going to be more than a few scenarios where the AMD hardware is able to compete and will beat the competition.

However with the bottlenecks we’ve seen concerning load balancing of complex audio chains, the is a lot of concern here that it simply won’t offer the required bang per buck for a dedicated studio PC. As the silicon continues to be refined and the chip-set and drivers are fine-tuned then we should see the whole platform continue to move from strength to strength, but at this stage until more is known about those strength and weaknesses of the hardware, you should be aware that it has both its pros and cons to consider.

The Full Scan 3XS Pro Audio Workstation Range