AMD is on a roll, in more ways than one. Its CPUs are rolling off store shelves at a furious clip, lifting the company's shares to 10-year highs and taking a serious bite out of Intel's market share, while its GPU division is rolling downhill, heading straight for the precipice. Its much-anticipated July 31st product announcements only provides more evidence that both of these product trajectories are going to stay their current course.
A little bit of background may be helpful to understand how we got here. AMD's dual-core Athlon 64 X2 CPU line had beaten Intel's aging Pentium 4 line into submission back in 2003. And so, riding high on a wave of tremendous success, in 2006 AMD bought GPU innovator ATI for $5.4 billion. It was a match made in heaven, except for one little issue: AMD was about to see its entire CPU business implode. This was the same year the Intel empire struck back with the Core 2 Duo, which knocked the upstart rebels at AMD back on their heels. In fact, it wasn't until Spring of 2017, 11 years later, that AMD regained its footing in the CPU arena.
Let's start with that good news. AMD is simply rocking the CPU world with its new Ryzen family of CPUs. Starting with its intial release in March of 2017, Ryzen has brought something new and interesting to the table with each new announcement. While Ryzen isn't perfect, it's more than enough to shake things up a bit, given that Intel has been stuck in neutral since the release of its Sandy Bridge CPU architecture in 2011. The bar was set low over these past six years, and while AMD hasn't clearly beaten Intel, it's offered a true alternative in its Ryzen platform. First came the Ryzen 7 eight-core processors starting at $330 (now below $300), then came the fabulous Ryzen 5 six-core processors starting at an amazing $220, then came the Ryzen 3 four-core processors starting at $110 (which we're a bit less excited about), and now comes the big kahuna, AMD's Threadripper, in eight-, twelve-, and sixteen-core variants, for $550, $800, and $1,000 respectively. While we have no interest in the eight-core version, since it's unlikely to outperform a $300 Ryzen 7 1700, the Ryzen Threadripper 1920X (12-core) and 1950X (16-core) are going to teach the boys at Intel a lesson. You can't just keep spitting out the same old product year after year. While we already know AMD can't beat Intel on intructions per clock cycle or even clockspeed, offering a 16-core processor for the same price as Intel's Core i9-7900X 10-core processor is a serious triumph. Why? Because in this market, cores really do matter. If you're buying a CPU for $1,000, you aren't doing it for gaming, or at least not exclusively. And for productivity and content creation, software developers have actually realized we're living in a multi-core world, and you know what that means? Sixteen cores are better than ten, even if each one is 10-20% slower. Doing the math, you're going to get at least 20% more performance per dollar with the 1950X than you get with the Core i9-7900X (which is essentially vaporware anyway). We've already pulled Intel's Core CPUs from half a dozen of the PCs in our do-it-yourself PC Buyer's Guides, and we expect to pull a few more when Threadripper arrives on August 10th. AMD is making a real impact in the CPU market, and we want our readers to reap the benefits.
Alas, we're not going to see AMD perform the same magic with its once-proud Radeon GPU division. At CES 2017 back in January of this year, we had a long sit-down chat with Scott Wasson, founder of The Tech Report and current GPU evangelist at AMD. We knew then and there that Vega was going to be a disappointment. He regaled us with the finest details of Vega's architecture, but would answer no questions about performance. Alas, the demo AMD had running in the media room told us all we really needed to know. We compared the results of that pre-release Vega to our own GTX 1080 benchmarks to show that Vega wasn't going to beat Nvidia's GPU, which was released in May of 2016. Our guess is that Vega actually hasn't changed at all since January, as AMD is simply promising that at its $500 MSRP, its new RX Vega 64 will "trade blows" with the GTX 1080, which unfortunately for AMD dropped from $700 to $500 months ago. Making matters worse is that Vega will suck down an extra 100 watts to accomplish this mesmerizing feat. We believe AMD could have released Vega back at CES, but it wasn't going to sell well then, just as it isn't going to sell now. So why did AMD wait? In our opinion, the answer is simple: AMD knew that Ryzen would right its sinking ship. The brand has some new spring in its step, which the company is probably banking on with regard to moving Vega out the door. That and the silly brushed-metal housing of the "Limited Edition" pictured here. It adds an extra $50 above and beyond the stock RX Vega 64, without adding any performance. Come on, AMD, are you serious? We don't need a collector's edition of a GPU that's as disppointing as Vega.
Our advice: sit tight, watch for reviews, but don't expect Vega to make even the slightest of dents in the GPU market. We think it may well be time for AMD to jettison its Radeon Technologies Group (RTG). It was a fun ride, but AMD's future depends on the continued success of its CPU division. It's time to acknowledge that Nvidia has won the GPU race. It's painful for us to say this, as it doesn't help gamers for there to be just one GPU manufacturer. But the truth is AMD could do so much more for PC users of all stripes by investing all the money it's sinking into the RTG into Ryzen instead. And to fans of AMD, we suggest you spend your dollars on Ryzen, not Vega, to get your AMD fix. You'll be rewarded with value and performance to spare.