For months, readers and pundits have watched for any sign of how AMD’s upcoming Zen architecture would perform against Intel’s Core family, as well as Sunnyvale’s own line-up of Piledriver, Carrizo, and Kaveri products. It’s no secret that AMD’s Zen is the company’s do-or-die moment — and while the CPU isn’t expected to completely close the gap with Intel in terms of performance per clock, it has to deliver an enormous uplift over AMD’s current lineup to be considered a success.
Now, thanks to some leaked benchmarks and sleuthing at WCCFTech, we’ve got our first glance at how AMD’s Zen engineering samples perform against other hardware in Ashes of the Singularity.
These results should be read with buckets of salt over both shoulders. They’re from a single benchmark, they weren’t tested in a controlled setting, and the results are based on engineering samples, not final hardware. This last point is extremely significant, because it’s common for prototype chips and engineering samples to offer less performance than the final version. In Hollywood and TV, the word “prototype” is often used to refer to new superweapons and powerful starships — in reality, the prototype often has wires hanging out the back and isn’t ready to be deployed in any fashion. All tests were run with an RX 480 GPU.
The results are… pretty good, actually. Granted, this is a game benchmark, and those tend to compress CPU results more than actual CPU-centric workloads (some games scale well with CPUs, some don’t). Ashes has always tended to respond well to higher CPU clocks, so it should be at least a fair example of game performance.
The fact that Zen is pulling ahead of the Core i5-4670K is significant, because it’s the first time we’ve seen an AMD chip leading an Intel CPU in, well, a very long time. The fact that it’s leading while still an engineering sample and running at a relatively low clock speed is also impressive.
And, of course, the fact that it leads the FX-8350 by 1.38x in this test puts it bang on the nose of AMD’s claimed 40% improvement — though we’re comparing against Piledriver, not Carrizo. We’re also comparing at a severe clock speed disadvantage and against prototype hardware.
If these new results are in the slightest way indicative of what AMD will debut with Zen, the company will deliver what it promised — a CPU with significantly higher performance than anything it’s shipped in the past five years, and a solution that’s capable of challenging Intel on a clock-for-clock basis in a way no Bulldozer or Piledriver CPU ever could.
I strongly caution against drawing conclusions about CPU scaling, multi-core performance, or clock speed based on this data. These results are from the GPU benchmark in Ashes, not the CPU test — and that means they aren’t really meant to test maximum scaling across all 16 threads. DirectX 12 does allow the game to make use of multi-threading, but the GPU test in Ashes of the Singularity doesn’t scale well above four cores according to tests by SemiAccurate.