E3: Intel Confident It Will Retain Gaming Performance Leadership Over Ryzen 3000
Intel Challenges AMD to Real-World Battle for Gaming Performance Crown
E3 is happening this week in Los Angeles, and in between announcements of the latest games and consoles, the war for the PC is raging on. As the company told us during its Computex keynote last month, AMD is at E3 to present more details on its upcoming products, but Intel is also on the scene to counter AMD’s recent performance assertions and competitive claims.
As we covered last month, Intel’s response to AMD’s impressive on-paper performance gains with the upcoming Zen 2-based Ryzen 3000 series processors is that those gains may not be relevant to the real-world tasks performed by the majority of users. Ryzen 3000 processors are poised to kill when it comes to benchmarks like Cinebench and LuxMark, but how many consumers, especially those interested primarily in gaming, actually have workloads that are reflected by those types of benchmarks?
In materials provided to the press at E3 this week, Intel revisited its pre-Computex claims, pointing again to usage share data showing that apps like Cinema4D (the 3D animation and rendering application upon which the Cinebench benchmark is based) is ever used by just 0.54 percent of consumers, despite the benchmark’s inclusion in 80 percent of CPU reviews.
Instead, according to Intel’s data, apps like Chrome, Microsoft Word, Photoshop, VLC, and OBS are far more common among users today. In terms of games, titles such as CS: Go, Overwatch, GTA V, World of Tanks, and Skyrim lead the pack. Performance evaluation of these applications and games should be the focus of both the industry and the press, Intel argues, since that’s what actually matters to the majority of consumers.
From this mindset, Intel argues that it hasn’t lost its performance leadership, especially when it comes to the important gaming segment. In terms of mobile graphics — comparing the just-announced Ice Lake to AMD’s second-gen Ryzen mobile parts that launched at CES — Intel has made big strides in gaming performance. As we saw at Computex, Gen11 graphics offer up to double the performance over Gen9, and have caught up with AMD in popular titles.
On the processor side of things, Intel looks at comparisons between the i9-9900K and the Ryzen 7 2700X. Intel acknowledges that the 2700X is about to be replaced by AMD’s 3000-series parts, but believes that these new Ryzen processors won’t fully catch up with the 9900K’s 20 to 50 percent lead.
Then there’s the i9-9900KS, the special edition 8-core, 16-thread, 5GHz all-core boost processor that Intel first teased at Computex. While price and availability are still unknown, the 9900KS gives Intel even more room at the top end of the performance charts to counter AMD’s advances.
Beyond specific processors, there’s also Intel’s inherent advantage in memory performance, particularly when it comes to gaming. Synthetic benchmarks such as Cinebench or common Blender benchmark workloads generally have very high cache hit rates (often above 90 percent for L3). Cache hit rates in real-world gaming, however, are often much lower (ranging from around 60 to 80 percent).
In situations like this, the memory latency of a processor platform becomes much more important. Although AMD has improved memory latency in Zen 2, Intel believes that once the dust settles following the Ryzen 3000 launch, its processors will maintain their lead in overall memory performance.
Now, there’s one major and likely obvious factor that Intel’s arguments don’t address: price, and specifically the price-to-performance ratio. The i9-9900K currently retails for about $490. The Ryzen 7 2700X has a list price of $329 but has regularly been on sale for about $280. And, looking forward, AMD will have the 8c/16t Ryzen 7 3700X and 3800X at $329 and $399, respectively, and the 12c/24t Ryzen 9 3900X at $499.
If all of Intel’s predictions turn out to be true, the company may indeed retain the performance crown for gaming. But absent significant price cuts, the price-to-performance analysis will be another story. There are consumers in every industry who value performance above all else, and we see that now as much as ever in the growing eSports and competitive multiplayer segments where performance consistency is crucial. For the price- and value-focused segments, Ryzen may already be your best bet — new 3000-series processors aside — depending on your intended workloads.
Aside from direct performance comparisons between processors, Intel also has something to say about feature disparities, specifically AMD’s adoption of PCI Express 4.0, which is making its consumer debut on the X570 chipset. During its Computex keynote, AMD announced that its upcoming Navi GPUs will support PCIe 4.0, making them the world’s first consumer graphics cards to do so (Radeon Instinct cards were technically first overall). And while the enhanced bandwidth of PCIe 4.0 opens up new opportunities for future performance and capabilities, the reality is that gamers won’t see any real-world (there’s that word again) performance benefits from the new spec for quite some time, if ever within the useful life of the initial RX 5000-series cards.
Indeed, modern GPUs and games rarely saturate PCIe 3.0 bandwidth as it stands, with a theoretical 4K 144Hz 10-bit HDR signal able to fit within the constraints of PCIe 3.0 x8, let alone PCIe 3.0 x16. Of course, PCIe 4.0 has more near-term potential in the enterprise, in certain high-end production workflows, and perhaps even in custom solutions such as the upcoming AMD-powered Xbox Scarlett and Next-Gen PlayStation. But, in short, consumers looking at discrete solutions for gaming won’t see a significant difference compared to PCIe 3.0.
For now, PCIe 4.0 is still a big deal, but primarily for storage rather than gaming-focused graphics. And that’s good for Intel, considering the company is likely several generations away from moving beyond PCIe 3.0 and to PCIe 5.0, which currently has higher potential for broader market adoption.
Commitment to Software
Another area Intel continues to focus on is software. The company currently employs more than 15,000 software developers and tells us that it “engages” with around 300,000 game developers annually. It’s also reaching out to consumers directly via its gaming-focused website and communities like reddit.
These efforts are not only intended to optimize the experience of its current offerings in integrated graphics, but to prepare for the company’s long-awaited push into the discrete graphics market. They’re part of the reason why Intel has made such significant progress in its Gen11 integrated graphics (first launching with Ice Lake), why Intel offers certain features not currently found in AMD’s APUs such as variable rate shading, and why certain workloads such as the Epic Chaos Physics Demo are faster on high-end Intel processors despite their core count disadvantage compared to AMD’s top Threadripper parts.
Intel also recently announced the Intel Performance Maximizer, a free utility for select 9th Gen desktop processors that can automatically overclock your system. Similar to other utilities often packaged with motherboards or included in the motherboard BIOS, the potential promise of Intel’s utility is that it may be able to more accurately measure the unique performance characteristics of each individual processor to achieve higher or more stable overclocks. The utility’s efficacy remains to be seen as we await its official launch, of course, but it represents an additional area where Intel is making strides to address all sides of the performance equation.
But neither AMD nor NVIDIA are sitting still in terms of software and drivers, so Intel has no room to rest in this area as it continues to push forward in terms of hardware development.
The Gauntlet Thrown
The real-world performance implications of the upcoming Ryzen and Navi parts, coupled with Intel’s commitment to software and technologies that it believes are still vital to overall user experience, leave the company feeling confident that it can still offer superior performance to AMD, particularly in gaming, according to Jon Carvill, Intel’s VP of Tech Market Leadership:
So you’re going to hear a lot about gaming CPUs this week. They may or may not come from certain three letter acronyms. That said, here’s what I want to challenge you. I want to challenge you to challenge them. If they want this crown come beat us in in real world gaming, real world gaming should be the defining criteria that we use to assess the world’s best gaming CPU. I challenge you to challenge anyone that wants to compete for this crown to come meet us in real world gaming. That’s the measure that we’re going to stand by.
Of course, to hold Intel to its own “real-world” standard, much remains to be seen before we can judge the validity of Intel’s confidence. While Intel’s Ice Lake vs. 2nd-gen Ryzen Mobile comparisons are solid considering that we won’t see a mobile update from AMD for some time, its desktop comparison focusing on the Zen+ Ryzen 2000-series is a bit risky on the figurative eve of the Ryzen 3000 launch.
And speaking of unreleased processors, Intel’s i9-9900KS will play a role in the company’s efforts to retain performance leadership in both gaming and certain production or media workflows that can’t scale up as well to the insane core counts of AMD’s higher end Ryzen and Threadripper parts. And while performance of this technically impressive processor can be reasonably extrapolated from its 9900K counterpart, we still have no information about exact release date, thermals, or, most importantly, price and availability. The i9-9900KS may indeed easily beat everything AMD can throw at it in terms of gaming, but if it costs $699 and is available in only miniscule quantities, will it truly, in the real world, matter?
Either way, we’ll know more soon enough. AMD is set to unveil additional details about its new products during its E3 keynote on Monday, June 10th at 3PM PDT. PC Perspective will be in attendance for the event and you can watch it live via AMD’s YouTube and Facebook pages. AMD has already stated that new Ryzen processors will begin shipping on July 7th, and we’ll be sure to follow up on any responses from Intel.