Upcoming AMD UEFI Update Will Improve Ryzen Boost Clocks


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One ongoing question reviewers have been digging into for the past few weeks is the expected behavior of AMD 7nm Ryzen CPUs at high boost clock versus the actual, measured behavior. AMD promised to update the user community today, September 10, as to the expected behavior of its CPUs and what changes would be incorporated in upcoming UEFI revisions.

To briefly recap: Reports in late July showed that some AMD CPUsSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce were only reaching top boost clock frequency on a single CPU core. Last week, overclocker Der8aurer reported the results of a user survey showing that only some AMD 7nm Ryzen CPUs were hitting their full boost clocks (the exact percentage varies by CPU model). Late last week, Paul Alcorn of Tom’s Hardware published an extensive test of how different AMD AGESA versions and UEFI releases from motherboard impacted motherboard clocking. AGESA is the AMD Generic Encapsulated Software Architecture — the procedure library used to initialize the CPU and various components. Motherboard vendors use the AGESA as a template for creating UEFI versions.

What THG found was that different UEFI versions and AGESA releases have shown subtly different clocking results. Later releases have hit slightly lower boost clocks compared with the earlier versions that were used for reviews. At the same time, however, these later versions have also frequently held their boost clocks for longer before down-throttling the CPU.

There’s also evidence that the throttle temperatures have been subtly adjusted, from 80C initially down to 75 before creeping back upwards to 77. These changes would not necessarily impact performance — the CPU is boosting a bit lower, but also boosting longer — but it wasn’t clear what, exactly, AMD was trying to accomplish. During its IFA presentation last week, Intel argued that these subtle variations were evidence that AMD was trying to deal with a potentially significant reliability issue with its processors. THG was unwilling to sign on to that explanation without additional information.

Ryzen-Master-AMD

AMD’s Ryzen Master tweaking and monitoring utility

While all of this was unfolding, AMD notified us that it would make an announcement on September 10 concerning a new AGESA update.

AMD’s Update

The text that follows is directly from AMD and concerns the improvements that will be baked into updated UEFIs from various motherboard manufacturers. I normally don’t quote from a blog post this extensively, but I think it’s important to present the exact text of what AMD is saying.

[O]ur analysis indicates that the processor boost algorithm was affected by an issue that could cause target frequencies to be lower than expected. This has been resolved. We’ve also been exploring other opportunities to optimize performance, which can further enhance the frequency. These changes are now being implemented in flashable BIOSes from our motherboard partners. Across the stack of 3rd Gen Ryzen Processors, our internal testing shows that these changes can add approximately 25-50MHz to the current boost frequencies under various workloads.

Our estimation of the benefit is broadly based on workloads like PCMark 10 and Kraken JavaScript Benchmark. The actual improvement may be lower or higher depending on the workload, system configuration, and thermal/cooling solution implemented in the PC. We used the following test system in our analysis:

AMD Reference Motherboard (AGESA 1003ABBA beta BIOS)
2x8GB DDR4-3600C16
AMD Wraith Prism and Noctua NH-D15S coolers
Windows 10 May 2019 Update
22°C ambient test lab
Streacom BC1 Open Benchtable
AMD Chipset Driver 1.8.19.xxx
AMD Ryzen Balanced power plan
BIOS defaults (except memory OC)
These improvements will be available in flashable BIOSes starting in about two to three weeks’ time, depending on the testing and implementation schedule of your motherboard manufacturer.

Going forward, it’s important to understand how our boost technology operates. Our processors perform intelligent real-time analysis of the CPU temperature, motherboard voltage regulator current (amps), socket power (watts), loaded cores, and workload intensity to maximize performance from millisecond to millisecond. Ensuring your system has adequate thermal paste; reliable system cooling; the latest motherboard BIOS; reliable BIOS settings/configuration; the latest AMD chipset driver; and the latest operating system can enhance your experience.

Following the installation of the latest BIOS update, a consumer running a bursty, single threaded application on a PC with the latest software updates and adequate voltage and thermal headroom should see the maximum boost frequency of their processor. PCMark 10 is a good proxy for a user to test the maximum boost frequency of the processor in their system. It is expected that if users run a workload like Cinebench, which runs for an extended period of time, the operating frequencies may be less than the maximum throughout the run.

In addition, we do want to address recent questions about reliability. We perform extensive engineering analysis to develop reliability models and to model the lifetime of our processors before entering mass production. While AGESA 1003AB contained changes to improve system stability and performance for users, changes were not made for product longevity reasons. We do not expect that the improvements that have been made in boost frequency for AGESA 1003ABBA will have any impact on the lifetime of your Ryzen processor. (Emphasis added).

Separately from this, AMD also gave information on firmware changes implemented in AGESA 1003ABBA that are intended to reduce the CPU’s operating voltage by filtering out voltage/frequency boost requests from lightweight applications. The 1003ABBA AGESA now contains an activity filter designed to disregard “intermittent OS and application background noise.” This should lower the CPU’s voltage down to 1.2v as opposed to the higher peaks that have been reported.

New Monitoring SDK

Finally, AMD will release a new monitoring SDK that will allow anyone to build a monitoring tool for measuring various facets of Ryzen CPU performance. There will be more than 30 API calls exposed in the new application, including:

Current operating temperature: Reports the average temperature of the CPU cores over a short sample period. By design, this metric filters transient spikes that can skew temperature reporting.
Peak Core(s) Voltage (PCV): Reports the Voltage Identification (VID) requested by the CPU package of the motherboard voltage regulators. This voltage is set to service the needs of the cores under active load but isn’t necessarily the final voltage experienced by all of the CPU cores.
Average Core Voltage (ACV): Reports the average voltages experienced by all processor cores over a short sample period, factoring in active power management, sleep states, VDROOP, and idle time.
EDC (A), TDC (A), PPT (W): The current and power limits for your motherboard VRMs and processor socket.
Peak Speed: The maximum frequency of the fastest core during the sample period.
Effective Frequency: The frequency of the processor cores after factoring in time spent in sleep states (e.g. cc6 core sleep or pc6 package sleep). Example: One processor core is running at 4GHz while awake, but in cc6 core sleep for 50% of the sample period. The effective frequency of this core would be 2GHz. This value can give you a feel for how often the cores are using aggressive power management capabilities that aren’t immediately obvious (e.g. clock or voltage changes).
Various voltages and clocks, including: SoC voltage, DRAM voltage, fabric clock, memory clock, etc.

Ryzen Master has already been updated to give average core voltage values. AMD expects motherboard manufacturers to begin releasing new UEFIs with the 1003ABBA AGESA version incorporated within two weeks. As we wrote last week and despite rumors from Asus employee Shamino, AMD is not portraying these adjustments to clocking behavior as being related to reliability in any way.

As for AMD’s statements about the improved clocks, I want to wait and see how these changes impact behavior on our own test CPUs before drawing any conclusions. I will say that I don’t expect to see overall performance change much — 25-50MHz is only a 0.5 to 1 percent improvement on a 4.2GHz CPU,SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce and we may not even be able to detect a performance shift in a standard benchmark from such a clock change. But we can monitor clock speeds directly and will report back on the impact of these changes.

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Razer’s Upcoming Intel-Powered Switch 13 Will Offer 25W Switchable TDP


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When Intel took the lid off of Ice Lake, we noted that the performance data for the CPU was complex. On the GPU side of things, Ice Lake is a huge leap forward, with substantially higher performance than anything we’ve seen from Intel integrated graphics before. The CPU, however, was a rather mixed bag. When restrained to a 15W TDP, Ice Lake CPUs weren’t necessarily faster than the Coffee Lake chips they are intended to replace and were often somewhat slower. If you give the CPU additional headroom, this problem resolves — but of course, giving the chip more power to play with has a negative impact on heat and battery life.

When Intel invited reviewers to test Ice Lake, the test systems it offered had a toggle switch to flip from 15W to 25W envelopes. That’s how PCMag and other publications were able to test the laptop in both modes, as shown below:

Users don’t usually have this kind of option. TDP ranges are typically pre-defined by the OEM and are not something that the end user can modify, for obvious reasons — cranking up laptop TDP is a good way to overheat the system if you don’t know what you’re doing and if the laptop isn’t specifically designed to run at the higher power level. To the best of our knowledge (until today), no consumer laptop could actually change its TDP values on the fly. At the Ice Lake testing event, Intel told reviewers that the Ice Lake laptops sold at retail wouldn’t have this option, either.

There appears to be at least one exception to this rule, however. The Razer Blade 13 will have an adjustable TDP that can be configured through Razer’s Synapse software. Supposedly this capability has always existed, going back to the original Razer Blade. If this is true, it’s not something the company previously seems to have highlighted — Google doesn’t bring up any results referring to an adjustable TDP on previous versions of the Razer Blade,SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce unless you count the fact that the laptop would down-clock under load in some circumstances. To be clear, the ability to run the CPU in a lower power envelope under load isn’t the same thing as being able to voluntarily put it in a higher TDP mode and operate it with additional power headroom.

Given that Intel had already told reviewers not to expect adjustable TDP ranges as a major laptop feature, this raises the question: Is this specific to Razer, or will we see more laptop manufacturers taking advantage of these new capabilities? Will Intel make adjustable TDPs a feature that high-end customers can shell out for if they want the option?

Razer’s website for the new Blade states that the system will use a 25W Ice Lake CPU, but does not mention anything about the system being adjustable within a 15W versus a 25W power envelope.

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Intel Core i9-9900KS Ships in Oct., Cascade Lake-X Nearly Doubles Performance Per Dollar


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Intel made some product announcements at a pre-IFA event in Berlin this week, including news on the Core i9-9900KS that it announced earlier this summer and an upcoming product refresh for its Core X family. Intel has been pushed onto its proverbial heels by AMD’s 7nm onslaught, and it has yet to respond to those products in a significant way. These new parts should help do that, albeit at the high end of the market.

First, there’s the Core i9-9900KS. This CPU is a specially-binned Core i9-9900K, with the ability to hit 5GHz on all eight CPU cores, and a 4GHz base clock. That’s a 1.1x improvement over base clock on the 9900K, but the impact of the all-core 5GHz boost is harder to estimate. A sustained all-core 5GHz clock speed would be substantially higher than the Core i9-9900K we have here at ET — but Intel CPUsSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce no longer hold their full clocks under sustained load. Our Core i9-9900K will turbo up to high clocks for 20-30 seconds, depending on the workload, before falling back to speeds in the lower 4GHz range when run on our Asus Z390 motherboard.

A faster Core i9 will undoubtedly improve Intel’s positioning against the Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 9 family,SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce but even a chip that could hold an all-core 5GHz boost won’t catch the 12-core/24-thread Ryzen 9 3900X in most multi-threaded applications that can scale up to 12 cores. The gap between the two parts is too large to be closed in such a manner.

What the 9900KS will do for Intel, however, is give it a little more room to maneuver in gaming performance, which is where the company is making its stand. On the desktop side of things, Intel is facing a genuinely tough competitive situation, and even the advent of 10-core desktop CPUs may not solve the problem.

Cascade Lake May Meaningfully Respond to Threadripper

For the past two years, AMD has hammered Intel with high-performing, (relatively) low-cost workstation processors. Even though Intel’s Skylake X CPUs have often punched above their weight class compared with the Core family, AMD’s willingness to shove tons of cores into its chips has secured it the lead as far as performance/dollar, as well as the absolute performance lead in many well-threaded applications.

Intel may intend to challenge this in a far more serious way this year. The company showed the following slide at IFA:

The implication of this slide is that Intel will launch new Cascade X CPUs at substantially lower per-core prices than it has previously offered. We say “implication,” however, because technically this is a slide of performance per dollar, not price. Imagine two hypothetical CPUs, one with a price of $1,000 and performance of 1x, while the other chip costs $1,500 and has 2x the performance of the first chip. The second chip is 1.5x more expensive than the first but offers 1.33x more performance/dollar.

With AMD potentially eyeing Threadripper CPUs with up to 64 cores, however, Intel may not feel it has a choice. We haven’t heard from AMD on this point yet, so much is up in the air. There seems to be a battle brewing in these segments — hopefully, Intel will bring a much more price-competitive series of parts to market.

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Intel Is Suddenly Very Concerned With ‘Real-World’ Benchmarking


Since at least Computex, Intel has been raising concerns with reviewers about the types of tests we run, which applications reviewers tend to use, and whether those tests are capturing ‘real-world’ performance. Specifically, Intel feels that far too much emphasis is put on tests like Cinebench, while the applications that people actually use are practically ignored.

Let’s get a few things out of the way up-front.

Every company has benchmarks that it prefers and benchmarks that it dislikes. The fact that some tests run better on AMD versus Intel, or on Nvidia versus AMD, is not, in and of itself, evidence that the benchmark has been deliberately designed to favor one company or the other. Companies tend to raise concerns about which benchmarks reviewers are using when they are facing increased competitive pressure in the market. Those of you who think Intel is raising questions about the tests we reviewers collectively use partly because it’s losing in a lot of those tests are not wrong. But just because a company has self-interested reasons to be raising questions doesn’t automatically mean that the company is wrong, either. And since I don’t spend dozens of hours and occasional all-nighters testing hardware to give people a false idea of how it will perform, I’m always willing to revisit my own conclusions.

What follows are my own thoughts on this situation. I don’t claim to speak for any other reviewer other than myself.

Maxon-Cinema4D

One wonders what Maxon thinks of this, given that it was a major Intel partner at SIGGRAPH.

What Does ‘Real-World’ Performance Actually Mean?

Being in favor of real-world hardware benchmarks is one of the least controversial opinions one can hold in computing. I’ve met people who didn’t necessarily care about the difference between synthetic and real-world tests, but I don’t ever recall meeting someone who thought real-world testing was irrelevant. The fact that nearly everyone agrees on this point does not mean everyone agrees on where the lines are between a real-world and a synthetic benchmark. Consider the following scenarios:

  • A developer creates a compute benchmark that tests GPU performance on both AMD and Nvidia hardware. It measures the performance both GPU families should offer in CUDA and OpenCL. Comparisons show that its results map reasonably well to applications in the field.
  • A 3D rendering company creates a standalone version of its application to compare performance across CPUs and/or GPUs. The standalone test accurately captures the basic performance of the (very expensive) 3D rendering suite in a simple, easy-to-use test.
  • A 3D rendering company creates a number of test scenes for benchmarking its full application suite. Each scene focuses on highlighting a specific technique or technology. They are collectively intended to show the performance impact of various features rather than offering a single overall render.
  • A game includes a built-in benchmark test. Instead of replicating an exact scene from in-game, the developers build a demo that tests every aspect of engine performance over a several-minute period. The test can be used to measure the performance of new features in an API like DX11.
  • A game includes a built-in benchmark test. This test is based on a single map or event in-game. It accurately measures performance in that specific map or scenario, but does not include any data on other maps or scenarios.

You’re going to have your own opinion about which of these scenarios (if any) constitute a real-world benchmark, and which do not. Let me ask you a different question — one that I genuinely believe is more important than whether a test is “real-world” or not. Which of these hypothetical benchmarks tells you something useful about the performance of the product being tested?

The answer is: “Potentially, all of them.” Which benchmark I pick is a function of the question that I’m asking. A synthetic or standalone test that functions as a good model for a different application is still accurately modeling performance in that application. It may be a far better model for real-world performance than tests performed in an application that has been heavily optimized for a specific architecture. Even though all of the tests in the optimized app are “real-world” — they reflect real workloads and tasks — the application may itself be an unrepresentative outlier.

All of the scenarios I outlined above have the potential to be good benchmarks, depending on how well they generalize to other applications. Generalization is important in reviewing. In my experience, reviewers generally try to balance applications known to favor one company with apps that run well on everyone’s hardware. Oftentimes, if a vendor-specific feature is enabled in one set of data, reviews will include a second set of data with the same featured disabled, in order to provide a more neutral comparison. Running vendor-specific flags can sometimes harm the ability of the test to speak to a wider audience.

Intel Proposes an Alternate Approach

Up until now, we’ve talked strictly about whether a test is real-world in light of whether the results generalize to other applications. There is, however, another way to frame the topic. Intel surveyed users to see which applications they actually used, then presented us with that data. It looks like this:

Intel-Real-World

The implication here is that by testing the most common applications installed on people’s hardware, we can capture a better, more representative use-case. This feels intuitively true — but the reality is more complicated.

Just because an application is frequently used doesn’t make it an objectively good benchmark. Some applications are not particularly demanding. While there are absolutely scenarios in which measuring Chrome performance could be important, like the low-end notebook space, good reviews of these products already include these types of tests. In the high-end enthusiast context, Chrome is unlikely to be a taxing application. Are there test scenarios that can make it taxing? Yes. But those scenarios don’t reflect the way the application is most commonly used.

The real-world experience of using Chrome on a Ryzen 7 3800XSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce is identical to using it on a Core i9-9900K.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce Even if this were this not the case, Google makes it difficult to keep a previous version of Chrome available for continued A/B testing. Many people run extensions and adblockers, which have their own impact on performance. Does that mean reviewers shouldn’t test Chrome? Of course it doesn’t. That’s why many laptop reviews absolutely do test Chrome, particularly in the context of browser-based battery life, where Chrome, Firefox, and Edge are known to produce different results. Fit the benchmark to the situation.

There was a time when I spent much more time testing many of the applications on this list than we do now. When I began my career, most benchmark suites focused on office applications and basic 2D graphics tests. I remember when swapping out someone’s GPU could meaningfully improve 2D picture quality and Windows’ UI responsiveness, even without upgrading their monitor. When I wrote for Ars Technica, I wrote comparisons of CPU usage during HD content decoding, because at the time, there were meaningful differences to be found. If you think back to when Atom netbooks debuted, many reviews focused on issues like UI responsiveness with an Nvidia Ion GPU solution and compared it with Intel’s integrated graphics. Why? Because Ion made a noticeable difference to overall UI performance. Reviewers don’t ignore these issues. Publications tend to return to them when meaningful differentiation exists.

I do not pick review benchmarks solely because the application is popular, though popularity may figure into the final decision. The goal, in a general review, is to pick tests that will generalize well to other applications. The fact that a person has Steam or Battle.net installed tells me nothing. Is that person playing Overwatch or WoW Classic? Are they playing Minecraft or No Man’s Sky? Do they choose MMORPGs or FPS-type games, or are they just stalled out in Goat Simulator 2017? Are they actually playing any games at all? I can’t know without more data.

The applications on this list that show meaningful performance differences in common tasks are typically tested already. Publications like Puget Systems regularly publish performance comparisons in the Adobe suite. In some cases, the reason applications aren’t tested more often is that there have been longstanding concerns about the reliability and accuracy of the benchmark suite that most commonly includes them.

I’m always interested in better methods of measuring PC performance. Intel absolutely has a part to play in that process — the company has been helpful on many occasions when it comes to finding ways to highlight new features or troubleshoot issues. But the only way to find meaningful differences in hardware is to find meaningful differences in tests. Again, generally speaking, you’ll see reviewers check laptops for gaps in battery life and power consumption as well as performance. In GPUs, we look for differences in frame time and framerate. Because none of us can run every workload, we look for applications with generalizable results. At ET, I run multiple rendering applications specifically to ensure we aren’t favoring any single vendor or solution. That’s why I test Cinebench, Blender, Maxwell Render, and Corona Render. When it comes to media encoding, Handbrake is virtually everyone’s go-to solution — but we check in both H.264 and H.265 to ensure we capture multiple test scenarios. When tests prove to be inaccurate or insufficient to capture the data I need, I use different tests.

The False Dichotomy

The much-argued difference between “synthetic” and “real-world” benchmarks is a poor framing of the issue. What matters, in the end, is whether the benchmark data presented by the reviewer collectively offers an accurate view of expected device performance. As Rob Williams details at Techgage, Intel has been only too happy to use Maxon’s Cinebench as a benchmark at times when its own CPU cores were dominating performance. In a recent post on Medium, Intel’s Ryan Shrout wrote:

Today at IFA we held an event for attending members of the media and analyst community on a topic that’s very near and dear to our heart — Real World Performance. We’ve been holding these events for a few months now beginning at Computex and then at E3, and we’ve learned a lot along the way. The process has reinforced our opinion on synthetic benchmarks: they provide value if you want a quick and narrow perspective on performance. We still use them internally and know many of you do as well, but the reality is they are increasingly inaccurate in assessing real-world performance for the user, regardless of the product segment in question.

Sounds damning. He follows it up with this slide:

Intel-OEM-Optimization

To demonstrate the supposed inferiority of synthetic tests, Intel shows 14 separate results, 10 of which are drawn from 3DMark and PCMark. Both of these apps are generally considered to be synthetic applications. When the company presents data on its own performance versus ARM, it pulls the same trick again:

Intel-versus-ARM

Why is Intel referring back to synthetic applications in the same blog post in which it specifically calls them out as a poor choice compared with supposedly superior “real-world” tests? Maybe it’s because Intel makes its benchmark choices just like we reviewers do — with an eye towards results that are representative and reproducible, using affordable tests, with good feature sets that don’t crash or fail for unknown reasons after install. Maybe Intel also has trouble keeping up with the sheer flood of software released on an ongoing basis and picks tests to represent its products that it can depend on. Maybe it wants to continue to develop its own synthetic benchmarks like WebXPRT without throwing that entire effort under a bus, even though it’s simultaneously trying to imply that the benchmarks AMD has relied on are inaccurate.

And maybe it’s because the entire synthetic-versus-real-world framing is bad to start with.

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AMD Sales Are Booming, but High-End Ryzen 3000 CPUs Still in Short Supply


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After the Ryzen 3000 family debuted on 7nm, German retailer Mindfactory.de released data from its own CPU sales showing that demand for the smaller CPU manufacturer’s products had skyrocketed. That demand continued straight through August, but product shortages may be hampering overall sales.

Once again, Ingebor on Reddit has shared data on CPUSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce sales, CPU revenue share, and average selling prices. The results are once again a major win for AMD, though overall shipments declined this month compared with July.

Mindfactory-Sept

While the absolute number of CPUs fell, AMD held virtually the same market share. Sales of second-generation products continue to be strong, even with third-gen Ryzen in-market. On the AMD side, shipments of the Ryzen 9 3900X fell, as did sales of the Ryzen 7 3700X, and 3800X. The Ryzen 5 3600 substantially expanded its overall market share. Intel shipments appear to have been virtually identical, in terms of which CPU SKUs were selling the best.

Mindfactory-Sept-Revenue

Now we look at the market in terms of revenue. Intel’s share is higher here, thanks to higher selling prices. The Ryzen 9 3900X made a significantly smaller revenue contribution in August, as did the Ryzen 7 3700X. Sometimes the revenue graphs show us a different side of performance compared with sales charts, but this month the two graphs generally line up as expected.

One place where the Ryzen 5 3600’s share gains definitely hit AMD is in terms of its average selling price. In June, AMD’s ASP in Euros was €238.89. In August, it slipped downwards, to €216.04, a decline of 10.5 percent. Intel’s ASPs actually improved slightly, from €296.87 to €308.36, a gain of ~4 percent. This could be read as suggesting that a few buyers saw what AMD had to offer and opted to buy a high-end Core CPUSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce instead. And on Reddit, Ingebor notes that low availability on the Ryzen 9 3900X definitely hit AMD’s revenue share, writing:

Except for the 3900X, all Matisse CPUs where available for most of the time and sold pretty well (not so much the 3800X, which dropped in price sharply towards the end of the month). These shortages can be seen in the revenue drop and a lower average sales price compared to last month.

For most of the month, the 3900X was unavailable with a date of availability constantly pushed out by mindfactory. Seems like the amount of CPUs they got do not suffice to satisfy their backlog of orders. The next date is the 6th of September. Hopefully the next month will finally see some decent availability. Also it remains to be seen when the 3950X will start to sell and whether it will be in better supply.

Ingebor also noted that there’s been no hint of official Intel price cuts, despite rumors that the company might respond to 7nm Ryzen CPUs by enacting them.

The Limits of Retail Analysis

It’s incredibly useful that Mindfactory releases this information, but keep in mind that it represents sales at one company, in one country. We don’t doubt that AMD is seeing sales growth across its 7nm product lines, but the retail channel is a subset of the desktop market, and the desktop market is dwarfed by the laptop market.

Statista-PC-Market-Share

Data from Statista makes the point. Even if we ignore tablets, only about 36.7 percent of the computing market is desktops. Trying to estimate the size of the PC retail channel is difficult; figures I’ve seen in the past suggest it’s 10-20 percent of the space. If true, that would suggest Mindfactory, Newegg, Amazon, and similar companies collectively account for 3.6 to 7.3 percent of the overall PC market. AMD and Intel split this space, with the size of the split depending on the relative competitive standing of each company, hardware availability in the local market, and any country-specific preferences for one vendor versus the other.

This is why you’ll see websites write stories about how AMD is dominating sales at a specific retailer, followed by stories that show a relatively small gain in total market share. It’s not that either story is necessarily wrong; they capture different markets.

Overall, AMD is in a strong competitive position at the moment. Just keep in mind that data sets like this, while valuable and interesting, only capture a small section of the overall space.

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Survey: Many AMD Ryzen 3000 CPUs Don’t Hit Full Boost Clock


Overclocker Der8auer has published the results of a survey of more than 3,000 Ryzen 7nm owners who have purchased AMD’s new CPUs since they went on sale in July. Last month, reports surfaced that the Ryzen 3000 family weren’t hitting their boost clocks as well as some enthusiasts expected. Now, we have some data on exactly what those figures look like.

There are, however, two confounding variables. First, Der8auer had no way to sort out which AMD users had installed Windows 1903 and were using the most recent version of the company’s chipset drivers. AMD recommends both to ensure maximum performance and desired boost behavior. Der8auer acknowledges this but believes the onus is on AMD to communicate with end-users regarding the need to use certain Windows versions to achieve maximum performance.

Second, there’s the fact that surveys like this tend to be self-selecting. It’s possible that only the subset of end-users who aren’t seeing the performance they desire will respond in such a survey. Der8auer acknowledges this as well, calling it a very valid point, but believes that his overall viewing community is generally pro-AMD and favorably inclined towards the smaller CPU manufacturer. The full video can be seen below; we’ve excerpted some of the graphs for discussion.

Der8auer went over the data from the survey thoroughly in order to throw out results that didn’t make sense or were obviously submitted in bad faith. He compiled data on the 3600, 3600X, 3700X, 3800X, and 3900X.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce Clock distributions were measured at up to two deviations from the mean. Maximum boost clock was tested using Cinebench R15’s single-threaded test, as per AMD’s recommendation.

Der8auer-3600

Data and chart by Der8auer. Click to enlarge

In the case of the Ryzen 7 3600, 49.8 percent of CPUs hit their boost clock of 4.2GHz, as shown above. As clocks rise, however, the number of CPUs that can hit their boost clock drops. Just 9.8 percent of 3600X CPUs hit their 4.4GHz. The 3700X’s chart is shown below for comparison:

Data and chart by Der8auer. Click to enlarge

The majority of 3700X CPUs are capable of hitting 4.375GHz, but the 4.4GHz boost clock is a tougher leap. The 3800X does improve on these figures, with 26.7 percent of CPUs hitting boost clock. This seems to mirror what we’ve heard from other sources, which have implied that the 3800X is a better overclocker than the 3700X. The 3900X struggles more, however, with just 5.6 percent of CPUs hitting their full boost clock.

We can assume that at least some of the people who participated in this study did not have Windows 10 1903 or updated AMD drivers installed, but AMD users had the most reason to install those updates in the first place, which should help limit the impact of the confounding variable.

The Ambiguous Meaning of ‘Up To’

Following his analysis of the results, Der8auer makes it clear that he still recommends AMD’s 7nm Ryzen CPUs with comments like “I absolutely recommend buying these CPUs.” There’s no ambiguity in his statements and none in our performance review. AMD’s 7nm Ryzen CPUs are excellent. But an excellent product can still have issues that need to be discussed. So let’s talk about CPU clocks.

The entire reason that Intel (who debuted the capability) launched Turbo Boost as a product feature was to give itself leeway when it came to CPU clocks. At first, CPUs with “Turbo Boost” simply appeared to treat the higher, optional frequency as their effective target frequency even when under 100 percent load. This is no longer true, for multiple reasons. CPUs from AMD and Intel will sometimes run at lower clocks depending on the mix of AVX instructions. Top-end CPUs like the Core i9-9900K may throttle back substantially when under full load for a sustained period of time (20-30 seconds) if the motherboard is configured to use Intel default power settings.

In other realms, like smartphones, it is not necessarily unusual for a device to never run at maximum clock. Smartphone vendors don’t advertise base clocks at all and don’t provide any information about sustained SoC clock under load. Oftentimes it is left to reviewers to typify device behavior based on post-launch analysis. But CPUs from both Intel and AMD have typically been viewed as at least theoretically being willing capable of hitting boost clock in some circumstances.

The reason I say that view is “theoretical” is that we see a lot of variation in CPU behavior, even over the course of a single review cycle. It’s common for UEFI updates to arrive after our testing has already begun. Oftentimes, those updated UEFIs specifically fix issues with clocking. We correspond with various motherboard manufacturers to tell them what we’ve observed and we update platforms throughout the review to make certain power behavior is appropriate and that boards are working as intended. When checking overall performance, however, we tend to compare benchmark results against manufacturer expectations as opposed to strictly focusing on clock speed (performance, after all, is what we are attempting to measure). If performance is oddly low or high, CPU and RAM clocks are the first place to check.

It’s not unusual, however, to be plus-or-minus 2-3 percent relative to either the manufacturer or our fellow reviewers, and occasional excursions of 5-7 percent may not be extraordinary if the benchmark is known for producing a wider spread of scores. Some tests are also more sensitive than others to RAM timing, SSD speed, or a host of other factors.

Now, consider Der8auer’s data on the Ryzen 9 3900X:

Der8auer-3900X

Image and data by Der8auer. Click to enlarge

Just 5 percent of the CPUs in the batch are capable of hitting 4.6GHz. But a CPU clocked at 4.6GHz is just 2 percent faster than a CPU clocking in at 4.5GHz. A 2 percent gap between two products is close enough that we call it an effective tie. If you were to evaluate CPUs strictly on the basis of performance, with a reasonable margin of say, 3 percent, you’d wind up with an “acceptable” clock range of 4,462MHz – 4,738MHz (assuming a 1:1 relationship between CPU clock and performance). And if you allow for that variance in the graphs above, a significantly larger percentage — though no, not all — of AMD CPUs “qualify” as effectively reaching their top clock.

On the other hand, 4.5GHz or below is factually not 4.6GHz. There are at least two meaningfully different ways to interpret the meaning of “up to” in this context. Does “up to X.XGHz” mean that the CPU will hit its boost clock some of the time, under certain circumstances? Or does it mean that certain CPUs will be able to hit these boost frequencies, but that you won’t know if you have one or not? And how much does that distinction matter, if the overall performance of the part matches the expected performance that the end-user will receive?

Keep in mind that one thing these results don’t tell us is what overall performance looks like across the entire spread of Ryzen 7 CPUs. Simply knowing the highest boost clock that the CPU hits doesn’t show us how long it sustained that clock. A CPU that holds a steady clock of 4.5GHz from start to finish will outperform a CPU that bursts to 4.6GHz for one second and drops to 4.4GHz to finish the workload. Both of these behaviors are possible under an “up to” model.

Manufacturers and Consumers May See This Issue Differently

While I don’t want to rain on his parade or upcoming article, we’ve spent the last few weeks at ET troubleshooting a laptop that my colleague David Cardinal recently bought. Specifically, we’ve been trying to understand its behavior under load when both the CPU and GPU are simultaneously in-use. Without giving anything away about that upcoming story, let me say this: The process has been a journey into just how complicated thermal management is now between various components.

Manufacturers, I think, increasingly look at power consumption and clock speed as a balancing act in which performance and power are allocated to the components where they’re needed and throttled back everywhere else. Increased variability is the order of the day. What I suspect AMD has done, in this case, is set a performance standard that it expects its CPUs to deliver rather than a specific clock frequency target. If I had to guess at why the company has done this, I would guess that it’s because of the intrinsic difficulties of maintaining high clock speeds at lower process nodes. AMD likely chose to push the envelope on its clock targets because it made the CPUs compare better against their Intel equivalents as far as maximum clock speeds were concerned. Any negative response from critics would be muted by the fact that these new CPUs deliver marked benefits over both previous-generation Ryzen CPUs and their Intel equivalents at equal price points.

Was that the right call? I’m not sure. This is a situation where I genuinely see both sides of the issue. The Ryzen 3000 family delivers excellent performance. But even after allowing for variation caused by Windows version, driver updates, or UEFI issues on the part of the manufacturer, we don’t see as many AMD CPUs hitting their maximum boost clocks as we would expect, and the higher-end CPUs with higher boost clocks have more issues than lower-end chips with lower clocks. AMD’s claims of getting more frequency out of TSMC 7nm as compared with GF 12/14nm seem a bit suspect at this point. The company absolutely delivered the performance gains we wanted, and the power improvements on the X470 chipset are also very good, but the clocking situation was not detailed the way it should have been at launch.

There are rumors that AMD supposedly changed boost behavior with recent AGESA versions. Asus employee Shamino wrote:

i have not tested a newer version of AGESA that changes the current state of 1003 boost, not even 1004. if i do know of changes, i will specifically state this. They were being too aggressive with the boost previously, the current boost behavior is more in line with their confidence in long term reliability and i have not heard of any changes to this stance, tho i have heard of a ‘more customizable’ version in the future.

I have no specific knowledge of this situation, but this would surprise me. First, reliability models are typically hammered out long before production. Companies don’t make major changes post-launch save in exceptional circumstances, because there is no way to ensure that the updated firmware will reach the products that it needs to reach. When this happens, it’s major news. Remember when AMD had a TLB bug in Phenom? Second, AMD’s use of Adaptive Frequency and Voltage Scaling is specifically designed to adjust the CPU voltage internally to ensure clock targets are hit, limiting the impact of variability and keeping the CPU inside the sweet spot for clock.

I’m not saying that AMD would never make an adjustment to AGESA that impacted clocking. But the idea that the company discovered a critical reliability issue that required it to make a subtle change that reduced clock by a mere handful of MHz in order to protect long-term reliability doesn’t immediately square with my understanding of how CPUs are designed, binned and tested. We have reached out to AMD for additional information.

I’m still confident and comfortable recommending the Ryzen 3000 family because I’ve spent a significant amount of time with these chips and seen how fast they are. But AMD’s “up to” boost clocks are also more tenuous than we initially knew. It doesn’t change our expectation of the part’s overall performance, but the company appears to have decided to interpret “up to” differently this cycle than in previous product launches. That shift should have been communicated. Going forward, we will examine both Intel and AMD clock behavior more closely as a component of our review coverage.

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AMD Overtakes Nvidia in Graphics Shipments for First Time in 5 Years


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AMD saw its share of the graphics market surge in Q2 2019, with total shipments larger than Nvidia for the first time in five years. At the same time, Nvidia retains a hard lock on the add-in board market for desktops, with approximately two-thirds of total market share. And while these gains are significant, it’s also worth considering why they didn’t drive any particular “pop” in AMD’s overall financial figures for Q2.

First, let’s talk about the total graphics market. There are three players here: Intel, AMD, and Nvidia. Because this report considers the totality of the graphics space, and 2/3 of systems ship without a separate GPU,SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce both AMD and Nvidia are minority players in this market. AMD, however, has an advantage — it builds CPUs with an onboard graphics solution, like Intel. Nvidia does not. Thus, we have to acknowledge that the total market space includes companies with a very different suite of products:

Intel: Integrated-only (until next year), no discrete GPUs, but accounts for a majority of total shipments.
AMD: Integrated GPUs and discrete cards, but with very little presence in upper-end mobile gaming.
Nvidia: No integrated solutions. Discrete GPUs only.

Graphics-Market-Share-JPR

According to JPR, AMD’s shipments increased by 9.8 percent, Intel shipments fell by 1.4 percent, and Nvidia shipments were flat, at 0.04 percent. This jives with reports from early in the year, which suggested that AMD would take market share from Intel due to CPU shortages. Separately from its global report, JPR also publishes a separate document on the desktop add-in board (AIB) market. This report only considers the discrete GPU space between Nvidia and AMD (Intel will compete in this space when it launches Xe next year). AMD and Nvidia split this space — and again, AMD showed significant growth, with a ten percent improvement in market share.

Image by Jon Peddie Research

If you pay attention to financial reports, however, you may recall that AMD’s Q2 2019 sales results were reasonable, but not spectacular. Both companies reported year-on-year sales declines. Nvidia’s fiscal year Q2 2020 results, which the company reported a few weeks back, showed gaming revenue falling 27 percent year-on-year. AMD doesn’t break out GPU and CPU sales — it combines them both into a single category — but its combined Compute and Graphics revenue reports were lower on a yearly basis as well:

AMD-Financial-Q2-2019

During the first half of the year, AMD was thought to be gaining market share at Intel’s expense, but these gains were largely thought to be at the low-end of the market. AMD launched its first Chromebooks with old Carrizo APUs, for example. This explains the growth in unit shipments in the total GPU space, as well as why the company didn’t show a tremendous profit from its gains. Growth in the AIB market may be explained by the sale of GPUs like the RX 570. This card has consistently been an incredibly good value — Nvidia didn’t bother distributing review GPUs for the GTX 1650 because the RX 570 is decisively faster, according to multiple reviews. But GPU sales have been down overall. According to JPR, AIB sales fell 16.6 percent quarter-to-quarter, and 39.7 percent year-on-year.

This explains why AMD’s strong market share gains didn’t translate to improved C&G sales revenue. The company earns less revenue on low-end sales compared with high-end cards. And its market share improvements have been overshadowed by a huge decline in AIB sales year-on-year, likely due to the combination of lingering crypto hangover and a weak overall enthusiast market in Q2.

Q3 will be a much more significant quarter for both companies. Not only does it typically improve on the basis of seasonality alone, but both Nvidia and AMD introduced price cuts and new products. AMD’s Navi powers the excellent 5700 and 5700 XT, which are both faster than the Nvidia refreshes of the RTX 2060 and RTX 2070 (now dubbed the RTX 2060 Super and RTX 2070 Super, respectively). Nvidia, in turn, offers ray tracing and variable rate shading — two features that are used in very few games today but may become more popular in the future. AMD lacks these features.

The two companies have staked out opposing strategies for boosting their respective market share. It’ll be interesting to see how consumers do or don’t respond to their separate value propositions.

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AMD Will Pay $12.1M to Settle Bulldozer CPU False Marketing Claims


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Back in 2015, AMD was sued by a pair of individuals claiming that the company lied when it sold Bulldozer products to customers. The lawsuit — which I have always believed is without technical merit — essentially conflated being disappointed with the FX family’s performance with the idea that AMD had lied by marketing Bulldozer as an eight-core CPU.

AMD has agreed to settle the case for the relatively low sum of $12.1M. According to the lawsuit, this is a sufficient sum of money to ensure that the members of the class will receive compensation of at least $35, even if up to 20 percent of the class members notify that they wish to be included in the settlement — a rather high number. The brief estimates that between 50,000 and 150,000 people may seek reimbursement for purchases of Bulldozer or Piledriver parts.

Members of the settlement class are defined as individuals who purchased “one or more of the following AMD computer chips either (1) while residing in California or (2) after visiting the AMD.com website: FX-8120, FX-8150, FX-8320, FX-8350, FX-9370, and FX 9590.”

That’s one of the ways you can tell that this lawsuit didn’t actually have any merit to it: It’s confined to AMD’s eight-core CPUs. There’s no logical reason for this to be true — if AMD actually falsely advertised its eight-core chips, it also falsely advertised its six-core, quad-core, and dual-core CPUs as well. AMD had a top-to-bottom product mix in-market based on Bulldozer and its derivatives. If the eight-core chips aren’t “real” eight-cores because they shared resources, then why are the other chips off the hook?

There’s one line in the brief that still grates on me, even though the lawsuit is settled. “According to Plaintiffs, the “cores” in the Bulldozer line are actually sub-processors that cannot operate and simultaneously multitask as actual cores.”

Bulldozer Blend

Bulldozer shared resources. It didn’t use a processor / sub-processor configuration

This is untrue. For an example of a CPUSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce with true sub-processors, look to Sony’s Cell Broadband Engine. The Cell had a Power Processor Element (PPE) and up to eight secondary Synergistic Processing Elements (SPEs). Seven of these were enabled for the PS3. As RealWorldTech wrote (concerning Cell):

The function of the PPE is to act as the host processor and perform real time resource scheduling for the SPEs. To implement those functionalities, PPE modules must be written to perform generic processing tasks and I/O handling. Then, to fully utilize the power of the CELL processor, programmers must focus their attention on the creation of SPE modules. Each SPE module should use multiple SPE threads to take advantage of the parallelism afforded by the multiple SPE’s. To simplify the task of scheduling, all SPE threads in an SPE module are always scheduled simultaneously. Furthermore, SPE threads within an SPE module are started and stopped at the same time to reduce the complexity of synchronization. However, the complexity of scheduling remains and a PPE module must handle the scheduling of the SPE’s on a module-by-module basis.

If you want an example of a CPU that has “sub-processors” that must then be corralled and properly fed in order to keep performance high, it’s Cell, not Bulldozer. Bulldozer didn’t have “sub-processors.” Bulldozer shared certain execution units and, as we’ve documented before, continued to offer improved performance when workloads scaled above four threads. It did not have an asymmetrical core configuration with one core used for scheduling workloads on all the others.

No, Bulldozer and Piledriver chips didn’t offer equivalent performance to their Intel counterparts, which is why AMD’s CPU prices were so low for much of the same time period. In 2014, an FX-9590 could be had for as little as $229. The equivalent eight-core Broadwell HEDT CPU in 2015 was well over $1000. And one of the basic rules of PC components that still generally holds true is that higher prices tend to equal generally higher performance.

The problem with this lawsuit is the same as it ever was. The plaintiffs wanted to pretend that AMD’s lower performance constituted false marketing because one AMD core offered dramatically less performance than one Intel core. But CPU cores are not defined by performance, and this lawsuit has never even attempted to articulate a technical distinction between Bulldozer and Piledriver’s resource sharing and the resource-sharing of other CPUs.

This lawsuit was never grounded in a technical argument over the definition of a CPU core. At least now it’s dealt with.

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New 3DMark Benchmark Shows the Performance Impact of Variable Rate Shading


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One of the new features baked into DirectX 12 is support for variable-rate shading, also known as coarse-grained shading. The idea behind variable-rate shading is simple: In the vast majority of 3D games, the player doesn’t pay equal attention to everything on-screen. As far as the GPU is concerned, however, every pixel on-screen is typically shaded at the same rate. VRS / CGS allows the shader work being done for a single pixel to be scaled across larger groups of pixels; Intel demoed this feature during its Architecture Day last year, showing off a 2×2 as well as a 4×4 grid block.

In a blog post explaining the topic, Microsoft writes:

VRS allows developers to selectively reduce the shading rate in areas of the frame where it won’t affect visual quality, letting them gain extra performance in their games. This is really exciting, because extra perf means increased framerates and lower-spec’d hardware being able to run better games than ever before.

VRS also lets developers do the opposite: using an increased shading rate only in areas where it matters most, meaning even better visual quality in games.

VRS is a trick in a long line of tricks intended to help developers focus GPU horsepower where they need it most. It’s the sort of technique that’s going to become ever more important as Moore’s law slows down and it becomes harder and harder to wring more horsepower out of GPUsSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce from process-node advances. 3DMark recently added a new benchmark to show the impact of VRS.

First, here’s a comparison of what the feature looks like enabled versus disabled.

VRS Disabled. Image provided by UL. Click to enlarge.

VRS Enabled. Image provided by UL. Click to enlarge.

There’s also a video of the effect in action, which gives you an idea of how it looks in motion.

As for the performance impact, Hot Hardware recently took the feature for a spin on Intel’s 10th Generation GPUs. Performance improvement from activating this feature was ~40 percent.

Data by Hot Hardware

These gains are not unique to Intel. HH also tested multiple Nvidia GPUs and saw strong gains for those cards as well. Unfortunately, VRS is currently confined to Nvidia and Intel-only — AMD does not support the capability and may not have the ability to activate it in current versions of Navi.

Elements in red receive full shading. Elements in green receive variable shading.

It always takes time to build support for features like this, so lacking an option at debut is not necessarily a critical problem. At the same time, however, features that save GPU rendering horsepower by reducing the impact of using various features tend to be popular among developers. It can help games run on lower-power solutions and in form factors that they might not otherwise support. All of rasterization is basically tricks to model what the real world looks like without actually having to render one, and choosing where to spend one’s resources to maximize performance is an efficiency boosting trick developers love. Right now, support is limited to a few architectures — Turing and Intel Gen 11 integrated — but that will change in time.

VRS isn’t currently used by any games, but Firaxis has demoed the effect in Civilization VI, implying that support might come to that title at some point. The new VRS benchmark is a free update to 3DMark Advanced or Professional Edition if you own those versions, but is not currently included in the free Basic edition.

The top image for this article is the VRS On screenshot provided by UL. Did you notice? Fun to check either way. 

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RTX 2080 vs. Radeon VII vs. 5700 XT: Rendering and Compute Performance


Most of our GPU coverage focuses on the consumer side of the business and on game benchmarking, but I promised to examine the compute side of performance back when the Radeon VII launched. With the 5700 XT having debuted recently, we had an opportunity to return to this question with a new GPU architecture from AMD and compare RDNA against GCN.

In fact, the overall compute situation is at an interesting crossroads. AMD has declared that it wishes to be a more serious player in enterprise compute environments but has also said that GCN will continue to exist alongside RDNA in this space. The Radeon VII is a consumer variant of AMD’s MI50 accelerator, with half-speed FP64 support. If you know you need double-precision FP64 compute, for example, the Radeon VII fills that niche in a way that no other GPU in this comparison does.

AMD-versus-Nvidia-Chart

The Radeon VII has the highest RAM bandwidth and it’s the only GPU in this comparison to offer much in the way of double-precision performance. But while these GPUs have relatively similar on-paper specs, there’s significant variance between them in terms of performance — and the numbers don’t always break the way you think they would.

One of AMD’s major talking points with the 5700 XTSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce is now Navi represents a fundamentally new GPU architecture. The 5700 XT proved itself to be moderately faster than the Vega 64 in our testing on the consumer side of the equation, but we wanted to check the situation in compute as well. Keep in mind, however, that the 5700 XT’s newness also works against us a bit here. Some applications may need to be updated to take full advantage of its capabilities.

Regarding Blender 2.80

Our test results contain data from both Blender 2.80 and the standalone Blender benchmark, 1.0beta2 (released August 2018). Blender 2.80 is a major release for the application, and it contains a number of significant changes. The standalone benchmark is not compatible with Nvidia’s RTX family, which necessitated testing with the latest version of the software. Initially, we tested the Blender 2.80 beta, but then the final version dropped — so we dumped the beta results and retested.

Image by Blender

There are significant performance differences between the Blender 1.0beta2 benchmark and 2.80 and one scene, Classroom, does not render properly in the new version. This scene has been dropped from our 2.80 comparisons. Blender allows the user to specify a tile size in pixels to control how much of the scene is worked on at once. Code in the Blender 1.0beta2 benchmark’s Python files indicates that the test uses a tile size of 512×512 (X/Y coordinates) for GPUs and 16×16 for CPUs. Most of the scene files actually contained within the benchmark, however, actually use a tile size of 32×32 by default if loaded within Blender 2.80.

We tested Blender 2.80 in two different modes. First, we tested all compatible scenes using the default tile size those scenes loaded with. This was 16×16 for Barbershop_Interior, and 32×32 for all other scenes. Next, we tested the same renders with a default tile size of 512×512. Up until now, the rule with tile sizes has been that larger sizes were good for GPUs, while smaller sizes were good for CPUs. This appears to have changed somewhat with Blender 2.80. AMD and Nvidia GPUs show very different responses to larger tile sizes, with AMD GPUs accelerating with higher tile sizes and Nvidia GPUs losing performance.

Because the scene files we are testing were created in an older version of Blender, it’s possible that this might be impacting our overall results. We have worked extensively with AMD for several weeks to explore aspects of Blender performance on GCN GPUs. GCN, Pascal, Turing, and RDNA all show a different pattern of results when moving from 32×32 to 512×512, with Turing losing less performance than Pascal and RDNA gaining more performance in most circumstances than GCN.

All of our GPUs benefited substantially from not using a 16×16 tile size for Barbershop_Interior. While this test defaults to 16×16 it does not render very well at that tile size on any GPU.

Troubleshooting the different results we saw in the Blender 1.0Beta2 benchmark versus the Blender 2.80 beta and finally Blender 2.80 final has held up this review for several weeks and we’ve swapped through several AMD drivers while working on it. All of our Blender 2.80 results were, therefore, run using Adrenaline 2019 Edition 19.8.1.

Test Setup and Notes

All GPUs were tested on an Intel Core i7-8086K system using an Asus Prime Z370-A motherboard. The Vega 64, Radeon RX 5700 XT, and Radeon VII were all tested using Adrenalin 2019 Edition 19.7.2 (7/16/2019) for everything but Blender 2.80. All Blender 2.80 tests were run using 19.8.1, not 19.7.2. The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 and Gigabyte Aorus RTX 2080 were both tested using Nvidia’s 431.60 Game Ready Driver (7/23/2019).

CompuBench 2.0 runs GPUs through a series of tests intended to measure various aspects of their compute performance. Kishonti, developers of CompuBench, don’t appear to offer any significant breakdown on how they’ve designed their tests, however. Level set simulation may refer to using level sets for the analysis of surfaces and shapes. Catmull-Clark Subdivision is a technique used to create smooth surfaces. N-body simulations are simulations of dynamic particle systems under the influence of forces like gravity. TV-L1 optical flow is an implementation of an optical flow estimation method, used in computer vision.

SPEC Workstation 3.1 contains many of the same workloads as SPECViewPerf, but also has additional GPU compute workloads, which we’ll break out separately. A complete breakdown of the workstation test and its application suite can be found here. SPEC Workstation 3.1 was run in its 4K native test mode. While this test run was not submitted to SPEC for formal publication, our testing of SPEC Workstation 3.1 obeyed the organization’s stated rules for testing, which can be found here.

Nvidia GPUsSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce were always tested with CUDA when CUDA was available.

We’ve cooked up two sets of results for you — a synthetic series of benchmarks, created with SiSoft Sandra and investigating various aspects of how these chips compare, including processing power, memory latency, and internal characteristics, and a wider suite of tests that touch on compute and rendering performance in various applications. Since the SiSoft Sandra 2020 tests are all unique to that application, we’ve opted to break them out into their own slideshow.

The Gigabyte Aorus RTX 2080 results should be read as approximately equivalent to an RTX 2070S. The two GPUs perform nearly identically in consumer workloads and should match each other in workstation as well.

SiSoft Sandra 2020

SiSoft Sandra is a general-purpose system information utility and full-featured performance evaluation suite. While it’s a synthetic test, it’s probably the most full-featured synthetic evaluation utility available, and Adrian Silasi, its developer, has spent decades refining and improving it, adding new features and tests as CPUs and GPUs evolve.

Our SiSoft Sandra-specific results are below. Some of our OpenCL results are a little odd where the 5700 XT is concerned, but according to Adrian, he’s not yet had the chance to optimize code for execution on the 5700 XT. Consider these results to be preliminary — interesting, but perhaps not yet indicative — as far as that GPU is concerned.

Our SiSoft Sandra 2020 benchmarks point largely in the same direction. If you need double-precision floating-point, the Radeon VII is a compute monster. While it’s not clear how many buyers fall into that category, there are certain places, like image processing and high-precision workloads, where the Radeon VII shines.

The RDNA-based Radeon 5700 XT does less to distinguish itself in these tests, but we’re also in contact with Silasi concerning the issues we ran into during testing. Improved support may change some of these results in months ahead.

Test Results

Now that we’ve addressed Sandra performance, let’s turn to the rest of our benchmark suite. Our other results are included in the slideshow below:

Conclusions

What do these results tell us? A lot of rather interesting things. First of all, RDNA is downright impressive. Keep in mind that we’ve tested this GPU in professional and compute-oriented applications, none of which have been updated or patched to run on it. There are clear signs that this has impacted our benchmark results, including some tests that either wouldn’t run or it ran slowly. Even so, the 5700 XT impresses.

Radeon VII impresses too, but in different ways than the 5700 XT. SiSoft Sandra 2020 shows the advantage this card can bring to double-precision workloads, where it offers far more performance than anything else on the market. AI and machine learning have become much more important of late, but if you’re working in an area where GPU double-precision is key, Radeon VII packs an awful lot of firepower. SiSoft Sandra does include tests that rely on D3D11 rather than OpenCL. But given that OpenCL is the chief competitor to CUDA, I opted to stick with it in all cases save for the memory latency tests, which globally showed lower latencies for all GPUs when D3D was used compared with OpenCL.

AMD has previously said that it intends to keep GCN in-market for compute, with Navi oriented towards the consumer market, but there’s no indication that the firm intends to continue evolving GCN on a separate trajectory from RDNA. The more likely meaning of this is that GCN won’t be replaced at the top of the compute market until Big Navi is ready at some point in 2020. Based on what we’ve seen, there’s a lot to be excited about on that front. There are already applications where RDNA is significantly faster than Radeon VII, despite the vast difference between the cards in terms of double-precision capability, RAM bandwidth, and memory capacity.

Blender 2.80 presents an interesting series of comparisons between RDNA, GCN, and CUDA. Using higher tile sizes has an enormous impact on GPU performance, but whether that difference is good or bad depends on which brand of GPU you use and which architectural family it belongs to. Pascal and Turing GPUs performed better with smaller tile sizes, while GCN GPUs performed better with larger ones. The 512×512 tile size was better in total for all GPUs, but only because it improved the total rendering time on Barbershop_Interior by more than it harmed the render time of every other scene for Turing and Pascal GPUs. The RTX 2080 was the fastest GPU in our Blender benchmarks, but the 5700 XT put up excellent performance results overall.

I do not want to make global pronouncements about Blender 2.80 settings; I am not a 3D rendering expert. These test results suggest that Blender performs better with larger tile settings on AMD GPUs but that smaller tile settings may produce better results for Nvidia GPUs. In the past, both AMD and Nvidia GPUs have benefited from larger tile sizes. This pattern could also be linked to the specific scenes in question, however. If you run Blender, I suggest experimenting with different scenes and tile sizes.

Ultimately, what these results suggest is that there’s more variation in GPU performance in some of these professional markets than we might expect for gaming. There are specific tests where the 5700 XT is markedly faster than the RTX 2080 or Radeon VII and other tests where it falls sharply behind them. OpenCL driver immaturity may account for some of this, but we see flashes of brilliance in these performance figures. The Radeon VII’s double-precision performance put it in a class of its own in certain respects, but the Radeon RX 5700 XT is a far less expensive and quieter card. Depending on what your target application is, AMD’s new $400 GPU might be the best choice on the market. In other scenarios, both the Radeon VII and the RTX 2080 make specific and particular claim to being the fastest card available.

Feature image is the final render of the Benchmark_Pavilion scene included in the Blender 1.02beta standalone benchmark. 

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