This past weekend I upgraded my CPU from an i5-4690s to a secondhand i7-4770k. It was one of the cheapest routes I could take to enter the thread-count race and I’m pretty satisfied with my decision.
The main driving force behind this and most of my past computer upgrades is gaming. In more mundane tasks, I barely noticed any difference when I upgraded from a Core 2 Quad to the i5 I had, and I definitely don’t see any changes at all after jumping to an i7. Other tasks like compiling large software packages should be much shorter, but I don’t run them frequently enough to make a noticeable difference (it’s been several years since I built my last custom kernel). Something similar happens to movie encoding. The i7 is faster but I only do that once in a blue moon and the new CPU won’t make it instantaneous.
When gaming, it’s a different story. For example, I’m playing the Doom reboot now and the initial load time, which is very high for this particular game, is noticeably lower. I’ve monitored CPU usage while the game loads and all cores are being used, with total usage peaking at 91%. My wild guess is the SSD is serving compressed data very fast to the CPU and the game is decompressing assets as fast as possible using all CPU cores. In general, games have started using more cores in recent years and I believe the trend is unstoppable. AMD, years ago, made the mistake of creating CPUs with a high core count but mediocre IPC and floating point performance before the market demanded them. With Ryzen, however, the landscape has changed. Ryzen has very decent IPC and floating point performance, and the market is now ready to accept that we’re not getting significantly higher single-thread performance in the future, so if your game needs more CPU power, multi-threading is the only path forward.
I bought the i7 for 200 euros off Wallapop (the Spanish equivalent to Craiglist regarding computer parts). I think it’s a bit overpriced and would have gladly paid 170 or 180 euros instead (or even for free, duh!), but the way I see the current market, it still made a lot of sense. Right now, in my humble opinion, if you game at 60 frames per second (be it 1080p, 1440p or 4k), the ideal CPU you should get is the Ryzen 5 1600. It has the right amount of cores and threads to make it the sweet spot of the Ryzen lineup. Its IPC and clocks are high enough for anything. It may limit you in a handful of situations that depend heavily on single-core performance, like some emulators and, I believe, specific games like Arma 3. If you don’t play any of those and you don’t own a 120+Hz monitor, there’s no need to get anything else. As you can read in most reviews, the 1600 is powerful enough to push your graphics card beyond 100 FPS, so you’re likely to be GPU-bound before being CPU-bound. The extra cores and threads are also useful if you plan on multi-tasking while gaming, and help in future-proofing the CPU choice, as futile as that may be.
Naturally, every consumer is free to get whatever they want and nothing stops you from buying anything you want and can afford. If you’re a developer and your build times are very long, if you run many programs and virtual machines simultaneously, or if you use a productivity tool that can take advantage of more CPU threads, by all means buy something like the Ryzen 7 1700 or even a more powerful CPU. The Ryzen 7 1700 is also a good option if you want to stream while gaming, because encoding video is a demanding task that always likes more cores and threads. But I’m talking strictly about gaming. If your computer budget is limited somehow, chances are your gaming rig will serve you better if you stick with the Ryzen 5 1600 and spend the extra money somewhere else, like a better graphics card, or getting rid of HDDs and buying a large SSD instead, or replacing your gaming monitor.
Still, coming back to my case, if I wanted to get a new Ryzen 5 1600, that means I would have paid more for the CPU itself (around 210 euros) and I would have needed a new motherboard (70 to 80 euros) and new DDR4 memory (16GB DDR4 retails now for more than 150 euros here). So while the 4770k was a bit overpriced, I didn’t need to spend more money. It was a simple CPU switch. Its big brother, the i7-4790k, usually sells for more than 250 or 300 euros on eBay. By the way, Intel will reveal its new Coffee Lake microarchitecture processors 12 hours after this post goes live. We’ll see what they have to offer.