AMD’s new Zen 4 desktop CPU lineup is its first since supply chains have started clearing up, and now it’s releasing in the middle of massive inflation. But that hasn’t stopped Lisa Su from coming forward with what, on paper, is looking to be the world’s new fastest set of gaming chips. At least until competition like Intel unveils its own next generation lineup.
To be fair, AMD’s initial lineup for its Ryzen 7000 desktop processors has been a bit of an open secret since the company accidentally leaked it in July, but Monday night’s event officially unveiled the first four of the company’s new desktop processors, provided pricing details, and confirmed that there’s not going to be a strictly middle-of-the-road option at launch.
What’s Coming in Zen 4?
AMD’s Ryzen 7000 line (which you can use interchangeably with Zen 4) of desktop processors will be the first desktop PC CPUs from any company that are based on a 5nm process, and they’ll be the first AMD CPUs to have boost clocks over 5GHz. Neither of those necessarily directly translate to more power, but the former points to a higher transistor load, and the latter to quicker data crunching, plus on-paper numbers that are more on par with Intel’s. AMD’s using that to call these the new fastest gaming chips in the world. Yeah, that seems true for now, but remember that AMD’s announcing it’s new chips first.
That doesn’t mean the Zen 4 chips don’t look impressive, though. AMD announced four CPUs, each of which will use the brand new AM5 socket. That means you’ll have to upgrade your motherboard for these chips, but you’ll also gain access to PCIe 5 and DDR5. As for the CPUs themselves, they include:
Ryzen 5 7600X
Ryzen 7 7700X
Ryzen 9 7900X
Ryzen 9 7950X
What Do the Zen 4 Specs Mean?
For the CPU experts among you, that list probably raised a bunch of excitement and at least one red flag, whether it was the lack of a 7800X option or the pricing closely matching that of Zen 3’s processors at launch. You can skip past this section to read about that.
For everyone else, it was probably pretty confusing. The key takeaway here is that 5nm process, which means this generation of chips will have smaller and therefore more transistors than in 2020’s Ryzen 5000 series chips. This lets a chip perform more calculations while generating less heat, usually resulting in more power for the end user. Still, having a smaller nm process isn’t the only thing that matters, as shown by competitors like Intel (more on this later).
Of course, there’s also downsides to more power, in that it takes more electricity. You’ll notice the TDP, which technically measures heat generation but is more often used to figure out how much power your chip will use, is much higher here than it was in Zen 3. Zen 3’s chips topped out at 105W, while that’s where Zen 4 starts. Pick out your PC’s power supply accordingly.
These chips are all made with a 5nm process, so how do you know which is better, aside from looking at which models have higher prices? GHz seems like the most obvious indicator of speed, since it tells you how frequently a processor can manipulate data. But you’ll notice that, even in the above list, some of the more expensive CPUs boast lower base clocks (which is what you’re guaranteed to get without some extra power and cooling) than their slower counterparts. That’s because GHz is only one of the factors contributing to speed. As it’s usually measured now, GHz only refers to how quickly a CPU can work with the data it already has, and not how quickly it can communicate with the system’s memory. So, part of your speed also has to do with your RAM.
But perhaps a bigger indicator of speed is core count. More processor cores means your CPU can handle more tasks at once, so a CPU with a lower GHz but a higher core count could still beat out a CPU with the opposite, since it’ll be working on more simultaneously.
How you use your cores also matters. Intel is AMD’s chief competitor in the desktop CPU space, and its last desktop CPU generation made waves by splitting its core count between efficiency cores and power cores. This let some cores solely handle mundane tasks and cleared up other cores to focus on the more challenging calculations. Overall speed shot up tremendously despite these chips having a 10nm process, which goes to show that a CPU’s specs has to be taken holistically rather than analyzed in isolation.
Finally, there’s the cache, which is straightforward compared to the above. It’s a small, faster memory store that’s kept closer to the processor cores, allowing your CPU more immediate access to commonly used data. A bigger cache means you can store more on it, which means your CPU has to rely on your RAM less often.
What’s special about Zen 4?
Now that CPU 101 is out of the way, let’s talk about what makes this announcement worth paying attention to. Aside from being AMD’s next generation of chips and boasting impressive on-paper specs, the most noticeable takeaways here are the pricing and the lack of an 7800X option being available at launch.
The 800X model of each new AMD CPU generation is usually seen as the baseline, taking the mid-range mantle to handle games and tasks well without making as many sacrifices as the budget options, and without costing as much in both initial price and TDP as the power user options. On a personal note, it’s what I recommend to most people.
Not having it at launch, then, is a bit puzzling. But perhaps it’s a victim of its own popularity. It’s possible AMD is holding the 7800X back so it can include its next generation of V-Cache technology on it right out of the gate. A V-cache is denser than a normal cache, as it places memory vertically on the chip as well as horizontally, and is of particular use to gamers. It’s a unique feature to AMD, increasing efficiency in a way that competes with Intel’s core split strategy. It’s not unthinkable that AMD would want its most popular chip to pack it, so much so that it wouldn’t release a version without V-cache. Intel’s next generation of chips will also likely come out towards the end of the year, so holding the 7800X back would give AMD a competing hot item of its own for that quarter.
In that case, we could expect the 7800X to hit the market closer to the end of the year, based on V-cache development timelines from AMD’s Computex 2022 presentation.
As for pricing, the news here is about what we expected, but still points to a troubling trend. Zen 4 is priced very similarly to AMD’s last desktop CPU lineup, so we can at least breathe a sigh of relief knowing that AMD’s not falling prey to the inflation that’s been hitting consumer tech giants like Meta and Sony lately. At the same time, Zen 3’s chips were more expensive than we’re used to seeing from AMD. Zen 4 is slightly cheaper on two of its models, but not enough to counter the Zen 3 pricing’s issues.
AMD has a dedicated fanbase, to the point where people are making pixel art gifs of its CEO with laser eyes. Much of that goodwill has been thanks to its products having more competitive pricing when compared to Intel’s chips, but that situation’s been reversed now. Intel’s budget i5-12400 CPU currently has a $192 MSRP, which is lower than the starting Ryzen 7000 chip’s by $108. Granted, we have yet to see what Intel’s 13th gen chips will cost, but if Team Blue decides to maintain its pricing as well, AMD’s fans will have to focus on Team Red’s other strengths.
Did we See Zen 4 in action?
At AMD’s Computex presentation earlier this year, we got to see a pre-production version of the Ryzen 9 7950X playing Ghostwire Tokyo while running at 5.5 GHz. If you read our breakdown of these chips’ specs, you’ll know GHz isn’t everything, but this brag from AMD shows that the company wants to more openly match Intel’s numbers. Intel’s top 12th gen chip can hit speeds of 5.2 GHz, whereas the top Zen 3 chip maxed out at 4.9 GHz.
During today’s presentation, we saw a few benchmark charts for the 7950X, with the most impressive one claiming “62% more performance” and “47% better energy efficiency” than Intel’s Core i9-12900K. These kind of PR benchmarks should always be taken with a grain of salt, though, and we’ll have to test for ourselves to be sure.
As for actual gameplay footage, there was a brief demo of the budget Ryzen 5 7600X chip vs the top-of-the-line Core i9-12900K chip. The game of choice was F1 2022, and Dr. Su claimed that this budget chip beat Intel’s flagship by “up to 11%.” Again, another impressive claim that we’ll have to test ourselves.
AMD also briefly showed footage of a next-gen Radeon RDNA3 graphics card playing the unreleased game Lies of P, but details were scant.
When Can I Buy Zen 4?
AMD said that the Ryzen 7000 series will hit markets on September 27th. We’ll have to test all of the company’s performance claims ourselves when we get units in hand, but overall, Ryzen 7000 seems likes it’s going to be great for power users. Pricing poses an issue for budget builders, but it’s also possible that even the cheaper Zen 4 chips will give you more bang for your buck.