3D rendering and video processing
The Cinebench benchmark is based on Maxon's Cinema 4D rendering engine. It's multithreaded and comes with a 64-bit executable. This test runs with just a single thread and then with as many threads as CPU cores (or threads, in CPUs with multiple hardware threads per core) are available.
AMD favors Cinebench for its demonstrations of Zen's single-threaded performance, and it's not hard to see why. The Ryzen 7 1800X nearly matches the Core i7-6950X here, but it can't catch the higher-clocked Intel mainstream desktop parts.
Surprise! More cores, higher scores. All of the Ryzen CPUs best the Core i7-5960X and its relatively slow all-core Turbo speed, but they can't quite catch the Core i7-6950X with its unfair advantage of two extra cores and four extra threads. Still, this is another solid win for Ryzen.
Until recently, Blender was another common sight at Ryzen demo events. Its recent absence may be because of the version 2.78b update, which includes a number of optimizations for SSE and AVX2-compatible CPUs that improve performance. Our guess is that those updates might favor Haswell and friends more than they do Zen, as we've seen throughout this test.
The Blender project offers several standard scenes to render with Cycles for benchmarking purposes, and we chose the CPU-targeted version of the "bmw27" test file to put Cycles through its paces.
Whatever the Blender devs did to Cycles under the hood, every chip with AVX2 support enjoys huge gains compared to our last round of tests in our Core i7-7700K review. AMD needn't have been bashful about Ryzen's performance in these tests, either. Only the Core i7-6950X runs better.
Handbrake is a popular video-transcoding app that recently hit version 1.0. To see how it performs on these chips, we converted a roughly two-minute 4K source file from an iPhone 6S into the legacy "iPhone and iPod touch" preset using the x264 encoder's otherwise-default settings.
x264 doesn't seem to be scaling across all of the Core i7-6950X's cores and threads, so the Ryzen chips all bunch up roughly under it. The gap between run times for even the more modest chips in this suite aren't that far apart, however, so perhaps the program isn't scaling beyond eight threads. The only CPUs that really suffer under Handbrake are those without AVX2 support, as we've come to expect. Perhaps that's a good reason to consider moving up to a newer chip.
Digital audio workstation performance with DAWBench DSP
Here's perhaps the most interesting addition to our benchmarking suite. DAWBench DSP is a freely-available project file for a number of digital audio workstation applications that lets us turn on a large number of instances of a standard VST (or effects plugin) while monitoring a looping audio track. The moment one starts hearing pops or crackles from the loop, it means the chip has reached its limit.
We chose the Reaper version of the project file and used the included ReaXcomp compressor plugin in its 64-bit form. To monitor the audio track, we plugged in a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB audio interface using the USB 3.1 port (where available) on each of our test motherboards. We then installed Focusrite's ASIO driver and selected the Scarlett as our playback device.
After some toying around, we decided that an ASIO buffer depth of 32 struck a good balance of low latency and CPU demand with our test setup. For the sake of time, we elected not to test at higher buffer depths, which decrease CPU load and increase performance. This is a CPU review, after all. Our graph describes the number of compressor instances we were able to turn on before overloading the CPU.
Given how similarly DAWBench scales compared to the Y-Cruncher results on our opening pages, it's probably safe to say that Reaper and our plugin of choice both lean hard on AVX instructions (and AVX2, where available) to do their thing. We think that's evidenced by the big leap in performance enjoyed by newer chips with AVX2 support like Zen.
Intel's cores still have an undeniable advantage in SIMD throughput, though. The four-core, eight-thread Core i7-7700K does about as well as the eight-core, 16-thread Ryzen 7 1700 in this test, highlighting the fact that Zen's floating-point unit has to halve its throughput in order to execute 256-bit AVX instructions. In contrast, the Haswell-E Core i7-5960X enjoys almost perfect performance scaling compared to the Core i7-4790K. The Zen CPUs trail it despite having the same number of cores and threads on tap (plus relatively higher base clocks, to boot). We'd be curious to see what Ryzen could do with similar SIMD throughput as Haswell and company.
Right now, though, music pros may still be elated by the R7 1800X's value proposition. The hottest Ryzen 7 is just 18% behind the Haswell-E chip in the number of VST instances it can handle, but it's a whopping 54% less expensive. Assuming Intel doesn't cut the prices of its Broadwell-E chips to compensate, we think the Ryzen 7 lineup could be a great friend to audio producers on a budget.