Technology 8 min read

AMD's Processors are so Good They may Make Graphics Cards Obsolete

AMD Ryzen Chip, Akura Yochi | Shutterstock

AMD Ryzen Chip, Akura Yochi | Shutterstock

Even just a few years ago, Nvidia outpaced AMD when it came to graphics processors.

When it comes to graphics processing units, Nvidia and AMD are the two main names. CPUs are similar, but instead with Intel and AMD competing for the top spot.

After the failure of both the Bulldozer and Vishera CPUs, AMD took a break from the CPU game. They reassessed their strategies and goals, debuting the Ryzen APUs line in 2018.

Can AMD’s latest accelerated processing unit Ryzen models really make a GPU obsolete?

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The Fall and Rise of AMD

AMD stands for Advanced Micro Devices. They began to gain traction in the chip game in the late 1990s with the release of their Athlon series. These chips successfully competed with Intel chips to net the company almost 1 billion USD in profits

Despite keeping pace with Intel in the dual-core duel, sales dwindled in the early 2010s. So much so that AMD lost over 1 billion USD during this period. After that, AMD was gradually shut out by other companies who did what AMD did but better, faster, or cheaper.

It’s a reality in tech and something that the AMC show Halt and Catch Fire displays constantly. A company has to be both a jack of all trades and a master of all; first to market, first to innovate, better, faster, cheaper, and lighter. There are so many variables that can dictate a company’s success or downfall in a day.

Coasting by with large-scale sales, the PC market kept dwindling for AMD. Intel made better processors that lasted longer and Nvidia made more robust GPUs. The commitment to commercial business kept AMD going and able to innovate.

However, by 2013, AMD’s tech was in every major console, including the Nintendo WiiU, Microsoft XBox One, and Sony PlayStation 4. By 2014, Boeing chose Radeon™ graphics cards for next-gen cockpit display systems. AMD also won the “Best of Mobile World Congress 2014” award for their “Nano PC” concept.

By 2016, Radeon™ graphics cards continued to rise in popularity. AMD even debuted a graphics card designed for large flow workstations with 32GB memory support.

Now, AMD gives us a CPU with integrated graphics that claims to negate the need for GPUs.

What is the Ryzen APU Line and How Does it Work?

This APU varies from previous architecture families that used clustered multithreading. That dated process is now entirely out the window. The Ryzen APU use something called “Zen” architecture, which arose out of another project.

Having lost out to Nvidia on a large chunk of the GPU market, AMD began to diversify into cheaper cards. The AMD Vega 64 and AMD Vega 56 were designed to compete with the Nvidia 1080 graphics cards. According to Gizmodo, they managed to do this with very little performance differences.

Differing from the Bulldozer architecture, processors that are Zen-based utilize a 14 nm FinFET process. Each processor core can run two threads on a Zen-based processor. These systems use different sockets for desktop and mobile, server processors, and high-end desktops.

However, this new tech won’t cost you an arm and a leg to put in your own desktop PC.

One of AMD’s core features has always been its affordability relative to competitors. In keeping with this tradition, the Ryzen 5 2400G debuted at $170. A cheaper model known as the Ryzen 2200G debuted for just $100.

As Gizmodo’s Alex Cranz pointed out, the AMD Ryzen 5 is fairly similar to the Intel i5-8600K in performance.

Pro-tip: the AMD Ryzen 5 clocks in around $85 cheaper than the Intel rival. The difference this time around is that the performance levels outweigh the cost differentials.

As we move further into 2018, everyone is asking what the next generation will reveal. Expectations include:

  • Increased overclocking compatibility and performance
  • Faster processor speeds with latency improvements
  • Lower power usage
  • Precision Boost 2 – an improvement to the previous version that uses CPU temperature to allow for core by core performance
  • An improved chipset for enhanced performance and compatibility

But are the integrated graphics really that good?

How Does This Get Me Better Graphics?

Pictured above, you see an image from Rise of the Tomb Raider with Lara Croft’s retro skin. This game is hella fun, but it can be very unforgiving on even high-end PCs. Luckily, it wasn’t quite as bad as Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and (sometimes) XCOM 2.

Having recently upgraded to a new card in 2017, I saw vast improvements in games in certain ranges. The Division looks awesome with those proprietary engine particle and weather effects. However, Mass Effect: Andromeda STILL hogs nearly 100% of CPU and GPU usage at max graphics settings.

Part of this boils down to developer optimization, drivers, and other facets of hardware and software. Part of it also goes back to the performance of your CPU and GPU. I have an older model Intel i5 4670k CPU which will affect the performance of my upgraded GPU.

Since the new AMD Ryzen processors are integrated, will they have these same issues?

Furthermore, since the Zen architecture is more efficient and more powerful, can you get the same results as with top of the line gear?

image of Ryzen benchmark tests from PCWorld for article AMD's Processors are so Good They may Make Graphics Cards Obsolete

Previous Processor Performance Indicators of Ryzen 3 and Ryzen 5?

PCWorld ran a series of tests to benchmark the performance of the Ryzen 7 processor against its rivals.

Side Note: before doing more research, I did not know that they also tested this on Tomb Raider games. That just goes to show how resource intensive those game are (and how beautiful).

While the Ryzen 7 performed well in power output, the graphics output was less impressive at lower settings. In fact, when tested at realistic resolutions and settings, the Ryzen chips performed similarly to rivals. There is no other way to put it; this is bizarre.

It may have to do with the fact that AMD cards are not traditionally known for their games performance. AMD could be attempting to shift its focus to high-end gaming machines with Ryzen.

John Taylor at AMD told PCWorld that Bethesda, developer of the Fallout games, paired with AMD exclusively. They want to help optimize Ryzen CPUs for new games using Vulkan API optimizations.

Read More: When Will Fallout 5 Come out? Our Prediction

The integrated graphics models are the mid-range and lower budget models. Logically, anyone who wants to build a sick gaming rig is going to just invest in top of the line equipment, right? But, if you could get solid performance for a fraction of the price, why wouldn’t you?

With a cheaper price, laptop gaming could be revolutionized, or at least improved. The kiddos could build their first gaming PC without their parents having to invest a massive chunk of their income on it.  More importantly, I could finally build my unnecessary third home PC just so I can have a gaming computer in every room.

More importantly than this, what could it mean for current gamers?

Bottom Line: Do I Need to Switch from Nvidia and Intel to a Ryzen?

As you might have surmised by now, the Ryzen APUs are mid-range for graphics. While the performance is efficient, it won’t compare to an elite gaming machine. However, the next generation of Ryzen products could change this.

It is clear that one of AMD’s main goals with the Ryzen APUs is to disrupt the GPU market. Merging Ryzen processors with Radeon Vega graphics was a stroke of genius. One can only assume that they have further plans to improve this tech.

As we move forward to an Internet of Things future, this is a smart move. It’s also clever because that future also means increased population, which could mean less space. It could also mean a need for leaner, meaner machines.

Either way, I’m in if I can save a buck (or $300) and get a similar gaming performance.

image of cryptocurrency mining machine from Pixabay for article AMD's Processors are so Good They may Make Graphics Cards Obsolete
rebcenter-moscow | Pixabay

How Could This Be Used for Other Projects?

One of the first things I thought of when I heard this news was cryptocurrency mining. Anyone who mines requires a GPU with robust performance. Could an APU with integrated graphics mean better or more efficient mining over traditional GPUs?

Cryptocurrency miners bought 3 million Nvidia and AMD graphics cards in 2017. Despite that insane number, sales were actually down in 2017 compared to 2016. As someone who replaced her GPU purchased in 2013 in 2017, that tracks.

In all, APUs could incite a further drop in sales of GPUs as their purposes diversify. As always, the tech world continues to change faster than we can predict its direction. 

What other uses could APUs in the Ryzen line have?

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Juliet Childers

Content Specialist and EDGY OG with a (mostly) healthy obsession with video games. She covers Industry buzz including VR/AR, content marketing, cybersecurity, AI, and many more.

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