AMD Ryzen 3 1300X & 1200 Performance Review
I’m biased when it comes to CPUs but my preference doesn’t lie with any one company. Rather, I have a love affair with certain budget processors like the i3-6100, FX 4300 and Athlon 880K. They remain among the most memorable products I’ve ever come across. Not because of any blistering performance metrics but rather due to the fact they were all over achievers in relative to miniscule asking prices. That’s why when AMD announced Ryzen 3 a few weeks ago, I was beside myself with excitement. Could these new processors hit that key combination of pricing, application performance and in-game framerates? I certainly found myself hoping so.
The reason why I mention gaming should be pretty obvious. Whereas these days gamers are spoon fed marketing shenanigans screaming “more cores are better”, the number of games that can effectively take advantage of more than four processing threads can be counted on a single hand. Lower end CPUs can also be advantageous for folks who simply want to spread their limited budgets over many components rather than dropping big time cash on the processor alone.
Yet the appeal of Ryzen 3 and its mates from Intel’s side of the pond will be quite limited for some. Higher priced alternatives like Intel’s i7 or AMD’s own Ryzen 5 / 7 parts can act as chameleons of sorts by offering a high level of processing for everything from streaming to raw parallel processing workloads and even gaming. For some tasks they won’t have an optimal price / performance ratio but they do have quite a few more tricks up their proverbial sleeves.
Now that I’ve set the stage, let’s get under the skin of Ryzen 3 and see how AMD is going to leverage their Zen microarchitecture to steamroll Intel in the sub-$150 segment. The competition from Intel’s own Kaby Lake is fierce even though –for the most part at least- Ryzen has held a distinct feature set advantage. Also, if you want to read a lot more about the baseline Zen architecture and its various intricacies, I recommend you head over to our launch day article which has pretty much everything covered.
At the heart of every Ryzen processor is the CPU Complex or CCX which consists of four distinct cores along with their associative L2 and L3 caching structures. If the feature is enabled, these four cores can also be set to process up to eight parallel working threads through the use of simultaneous multithreading. Basically, a processor like the Ryzen 7 1800X has two of these CCX’s working in tandem which results in eight physical cores and sixteen threads. Those complexes communicate with one another over AMD’s Infinity Fabric high speed interconnect.
Ryzen 3 goes about things a bit differently and in many ways mirrors what we saw with the 4-core, 8-thread Ryzen 5 parts. Rather than simply use a single four-core 4:0 CCX layout AMD has implemented bifurcated a 2:2 design wherein two cores and cache blocks within each CCX are effectively disabled. Not only does this allow for continued communication over the Infinity Fabric but it also insures manufacturing commonality. On Ryzen 3, SMT is also turned off in an effort to distinguish these more affordable parts from their Ryzen 5 cousins.
For the time being AMD is launching a pair of Ryzen 3 processors: the 1300X and 1200. Each of them has four cores, a quartet of threads, 2MB of L2 cache and 3MB of L3 cache which makes them quite similar –from a baseline microarchitecture level- in scope to the Ryzen 5 1400. Even their TDP is the same at 65W.
The areas of distinction lie in two key areas: clock speeds and of course pricing. Starting with the 1300X and it looks like this affordable $129 chip could very well run head to head against the Ryzen 5 1500X in situations that don’t call for a large number of worker threads. Its Base Clock of 3.5GHz is generous and AMD says we can expect it to run at a nominal 3.6GHz on all cores provided adequate cooling is supplied. Meanwhile the 2-core Boost rate hits 3.7GHz while AMD’s Extended Frequency Range (or XFR) can pump things to 3.9GHz if the stars align in single threaded workloads.
AMD’s Ryzen 3 1200 may look the same but its frequency capabilities have been cut down significantly. Its Base Clock of 3.1GHz is quite low and unlike the 1300X which allowed for a higher “All Core Boost” speed, that baseline remains at 3.1GHz until only two cores are required. When that happens, you should see that 3.4GHz number rear its head. Since this isn’t an X-series part the 200MHz of additional headroom for XFR is cut down to just 50MHz so this CPU will run at a maximum of 3.45GHz even in single threaded tasks.
Now this may all sound confusing so here is a quick chart to recap:
This launch may prove to be interesting for AMD since unlike more expensive Ryzen 5 and 7 processors which could leverage a sometimes-significant thread count advantage over their Intel opposites, Ryzen 3 can’t. The 1300X’s $129 price point aligns with the $139, 4-thread i3-7300 whereas the $109 Ryzen 3 1200 will find itself going toe to toe against the $115 i3-7100. In addition, with TDPs of just 51W the Intel i3 processors seem to be quite a bit more efficient.
While looking at those stats may cause things to look a bleak for Ryzen 3 from day one, there’s more here than what first meets the eye. The thread counts look quite similar, but AMD could hold an advantage since their quad thread layout is achieved through four physical cores whereas the i3 CPUs are actually dual core chips that have SMT enabled. If history is any indication, implementing SMT does cause some on-die latency increases. Ryzen 3 is also fully unlocked so you can overclock to your heart’s content (or within AMD’s predefined limits that is…) whereas on Intel’s side of the fence you’ll need to pony up $160 for the “privilege” of owning an i3-7350K.
I also need to talk about memory support quickly since it remains something of a minefield. AMD has indeed improved memory compatibility and stability with their latest microcode updates but they still support 2400MHz with dual rank DDR4 and 2666MHz with single rank modules.
If you don’t have the right kit or win the memory controller lottery, achieving stability over 2667MHz is a challenge without significantly loosening timings. Remember, these are the “officially supported” memory frequencies I’m listing for the time being, even though the latest AGESA updates allow for some single rank DIMMs to theoretically hit the 3200MHz mark through overclocking.
I actually lived this situation firsthand during the opening stages of testing the Ryzen 3 processors. By mistake I installed a Corsair Vengeance LPX 3000MHz 16GB kit and the system flat out refused to complete its POST sequence. Realizing my mistake I instead installed an identical looking 2666MHz kit and was able to boot without any problems. Naturally this experience will vary wildly depending upon which memory kit is being used but I’ll nonetheless recommend you search out one of the few Ryzen-certified kits around.
With Ryzen 3 processors hitting such affordable levels, it should go without saying that AMD’s B350 platform is a perfect companion in the frugality game. B350-based motherboards have quickly become a mainstay for folks who want access to all the benefits that Ryzen has to offer like native NVMe storage connected directly to the CPU and a chipset that boasts USB 3.1 Gen2 capabilities. AMD also included a full stack of overclocking options on their more affordable motherboards which is a breath of fresh air when compared against Intel’s walled garden approach with Z170.
The X370 does have support for dual graphics cards at x8 speeds, a few more chipset-derived SATA ports and two more USB 3.1 Gen 1 nodes but the vast majority of users won’t need that extra connectivity anyways. B350’s real selling factor is its price with most well equipped examples going for between $80 and $110.
Unlike some of their higher-end brethren in the Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 5 lineups, all Ryzen 3 processors come with Wraith Stealth coolers. Many tend to discard included heatsinks and upgrade to something else. However, the Stealth is a very competent and decently quiet stock cooler that even provides some measure of thermal headroom for a bit of overclocking. This could allow buyers to repurpose some cash towards other components without the fear of sacrificing performance or acoustics.
This all leaves us with a few salient points about Ryzen 3. AMD is obviously positioning these processors as value-added propositions against Intel’s i3 series and they’re backed up by both clock speeds, overclocking potential and physical core counts. But will that be enough to compete against a bunch of very well entrenched competitors?