Unsurprisingly, AMD’s new chips beat Intel’s GPUs. But can gamers ditch their graphics cards?
However, AMD still didn’t offer Intel much competition, because its chips lacked an important feature: integrated GPUs. In both the laptop and the mainstream and corporate desktop markets, most processors sold combine a CPU with a GPU, while discrete GPUs are reserved for high performance, gaming, and other specialized systems. The first wave of Ryzen chips all needed to be paired with video cards. That made it appealing to enthusiasts and certain high-performance markets, but irrelevant to Intel’s bread-and-butter market.
We knew that situation was temporary. A few mobile processors that combined Zen with a GPU hit the market late last year, and desktop parts were promised for February at CES. The first two chips to use the “AMD Ryzen Desktop Processors with Radeon Vega Graphics” moniker were released today. (FYI: AMD is regrettably no longer using its much more concise “Accelerated Processing Unit” (APU) terminology for CPU-GPU combinations.)
The basic building block of the Zen architecture is a “core complex” (CCX), which is a block of four cores/eight threads combined with a level 3 cache shared across all four cores. The first Zen chips used a die that joins a pair of CCXes into a single eight-core/16-thread unit with AMD’s Infinity Fabric between the CCXes; the desktop Ryzens have one pair, the high-end ThreadRippers have two pairs, and the Epyc server chips have four pairs, for a total of 32 cores and 64 threads.
The new APUs, in contrast, match a single CCX with a Vega CPU on a single die, again using Infinity Fabric between them. As with the other Ryzens, the memory controllers and I/O hubs are also connected to the Infinity Fabric. In these APUs, those are joined by multimedia engines and display engine. These are separate from the GPU, so the processor can do things like refresh the screen and decode motion video without having to keep the GPU portion powered up.
The two chips launched today. Both the AMD Ryzen 3 2200G and AMD Ryzen 5 2400G sport two configurations of this combined die. The low-end Ryzen 3 part disables symmetric multithreading and has 8 Vega cores; the Ryzen 5 part retains the multithreading, has 11 Vega cores, and slightly higher clockspeeds.
Like other Ryzen-branded chips, these new processors use the AM4 socket. With a suitable firmware update, they should work in any existing AM4 motherboard (though not all AM4 motherboards include the video outputs necessary to use the integrated GPU).
At this price point, the AMD chips are more-or-less competing with processors such as the four core/four thread Intel i3-8100 ($117) for the Ryzen 3. AMD is also competing with the six core/six thread i5-8400 ($182) for the Ryzen 5. Both Intel chips have the same UHD Graphics 630 integrated GPU.
The GPU-less Ryzen processors offered a contrast to the Intel chips. Intel’s per-core performance is better than AMD’s; not only do the Intel chips have higher clock speeds than the AMD parts, they also do more each cycle, resulting in an overall performance win.
However, this was offset—at least in some workloads—when AMD offered more cores and threads for less money. For example, AMD pitted an eight-core/16-thread chip against competitors with four or six cores and between four and 12 threads. The result was that, while the Intel chips were arguably better for most people, there are workloads where the higher thread counts make the AMD chips the better option.
The new parts don’t offer the same sizable core and thread-count advantage. Rather, their big advantage comes from their GPU, with the Vega cores being faster than Intel’s Gen 9 GPU cores. The benchmark results reflect this. For example, from Anandtech, the AMD chips can manage around 30 frames per second at 1080p in Civilization VI, compared to a meager 10 fps from the Intel parts. In Grand Theft Auto V, the 2400G is just shy of 20 fps, to sub-5 fps for the Intel parts. From Tech Report, Dota 2 at 1080p manages 46 fps on the 2400G, compared to just 16 fps on an Intel system.
AMD has clearly raised the bar for integrated GPU performance. Its old APUs already tended to beat Intel’s integrated graphics (even in spite of its much weaker CPUs), and the upgrade to Vega just increases that lead. Without a doubt, these are the fastest integrated, on-die GPUs to hit the market.
But even with that improvement, the same old foibles of integrated graphics remain. Most of the testing was done at 1080p with high-graphics settings, and, most of the time, the chips were a long way from offering 60 fps; often even a reliable 30 fps was too much to hope for.
If you care about gaming performance, none of these chips offers consistent, playable frame rates unless you cut the resolution or graphical quality (or both). The Ryzens with Vega get much closer than integrated GPUs have ever managed, but with 1080p at 60 fps—a reasonable minimum for desktop gaming—you’re still going to have to look at discrete GPUs.
AMD’s new chips don’t leave much room in the sub-$100 discrete GPU space. The $80-90 Nvidia GT 1030 can pull ahead in some titles—the 1030 is healthily faster than the 2400G in Dota 2, Rocket League, and Doom, for example—but in other, AMD-favoring titles, such as Hitman, it loses out to the integrated parts. To consistently beat the integrated GPUs—and consistently hit that 1080p60 threshold—you’re eyeballing something like the AMD Radeon RX460 or the $150 Nvidia GTX 1050. Looking forward, cheap video cards are going to have to get a lot faster to justify their existence against this kind of integrated GPU.
Together, this puts the AMD processors in a strange position. If you don’t care about gaming performance (or other GPU-intensive tasks, such as GPU-based computation), the difference between Intel and AMD graphics will simply never be noticed. Intel’s often better CPU performance, especially in single-threaded workloads and browser benchmarks, is much more likely to offer a better computing experience.
If you do care about gaming performance, the AMD parts come tantalizingly close to being “good enough.” This is especially true if your preference is more Civilization than Dota 2 or Rocket League. With reaction times taken out of the picture, 30 fps is much less unappealing than it would otherwise be. If you’re willing to dial back graphical quality and/or resolution, the Ryzen 3 2200G and Ryzen 5 2400G can offer entry-level, cut-price gaming without the discrete GPU.