For videographers and photographers, a good computer can mean the difference between struggling and success during post-processing. A combination of announcements means your Intel powered computer is no longer the best tool for the job.
As you’ve certainly seen, if you’ve read any tech news recently, AMD has released new processors. AMD’s 3rd generation Ryzen chips, including the 3900x, 3800x, and 3700x offer a number of key advancements for digital content producers. The launch of these highly acclaimed chips couldn’t come at a worse time for Intel, as their long awaited 10nm desktop chips have been further delayed and their existing processors face numerous performance-crippling vulnerabilities.
The combination of high performing chips from a newly resurgent AMD, new technologies like PCIe 4.0, and a deterioration of Intel’s performance thanks to patches to vulnerabilities means it’s time for both new buyers and current users to re-evaluate their computer choices. If you just upgraded or bought a new computer, these concepts should still be kept in mind for future purchases. If your computer is older, you’ve recently gotten a higher megapixel camera, or are shooting 4K+ video, there are a number of compelling upgrade opportunities.
AMD’s New Chips
AMD’s new Ryzen processors are a continuation of their higher thread count design philosophy, but now have the single thread performance to go toe-to-toe with Intel’s best. Historically, the higher thread counts of AMD’s processors meant reduced IPC and single threaded numbers, forcing users to prioritize things like video rendering performance at the expense of performance in Photoshop, for example.
Now however, the top 3000 series CPUs, like the 3700x and 3900x feature 16 and 24 threads respectively, which match or beat Intel’s top offerings at a lower cost, while virtually matching their chips in single threaded workloads.
These chips offer leading performance in almost any workload, at a comparative bargain to Intel’s top offerings. Beyond just the performance gains, AMD also introduced a new chipset, the X570. This chipset, which determines much of the motherboard’s functionality, is the first to provide support for PCIe 4.0. This new standard means faster drives and higher performing graphics cards. For example, these new PCIe 4.0 drives are capable of 5 GB/sec transfers. Boards like MSI’s X570 ACE offer all these new features at a competitive price.
Taken together, a new computer built with the 3900x and PCIe 4.0 devices can offer top of the line performance, without the incredible premium previously required for this level of computing power.
Newer, Faster Standards
While PCIe 4.0 is one of the headline offerings of the new chipset, for users of older computers, there are a number of tech advancements they may have been missing out on. These include Thunderbolt, USB-C, and NVMe. Each of these standards offers a substantial step up in performance from the standard it replaced.
USB-C, along with a far better connector design, typically includes support for USB 3 or 3.1. By allowing for 5Gbps and 10 Gbps transfers, files can be moved around quickly and easily across any devices. USB PD enables much higher current to pushed across the wire, allowing for 1 cable to charge your laptop while plugged into an external display, or a device to be quickly recharged in the field, right from a portable battery. While USB C adoption was slow, an increasing number of devices support it, and it is clearly the future of cabled connections for most purposes.
NVMe, a storage interface for SSDs, allows for greatly reduced latency over SATA based SSDs. Faster drives are always better, since many operations relevant to users can be bottlenecked by disk or cache speed.
While older standards are still perfectly viable, a number of these new standards have reached levels of adoption across devices that they are becoming relevant to daily use. They can offer a meaningful improvement over older gear, while also being backwards compatible in many cases.
Intel’s Old Chips Are Getting Stale
Intel’s current top offerings for content creation, such as the i9-9900K, face a number of challenges. Besides being bested in many benchmarks by AMD’s top offering, the processor’s performance has had to be reduced to fix a number of recently discovered vulnerabilities. The aging 14nm process, first introduced by Intel back in 2014, is showing its age, while its replacement 10nm tech has been repeatedly pushed back.
Among the biggest issues facing users of Intel’s current offerings are the patches to fix security problems like Meltdown and Spectre. These catchy names refer to issues where rogue processes can access memory that it isn’t authorized to read. The fixes introduce performance losses of up to 14%. Meanwhile, a newer flaw, referred to as Zombieload, could require disabling HyperThreading to fix, turning your 12 thread processor back into a 6 thread processor.
Importantly, these fixes do not impact AMD chips at all, or at least to the same extent that they reduce performance of Intel’s offerings.
What To Buy Going Forward
Considering the impact that the vulnerability fixes have had, in combination with AMD’s new product introductions, many users should consider basing a new computer around the 3000 series Ryzen processors. The 3900x appears to be a performance king, while the 3700x is a more compelling value for the majority of users who will not need a full 24 thread chip. Regardless of the exact Ryzen processor, a X570 motherboard will enable greater throughput on current and future SSDs and graphics cards, as well as greater connectivity with USB 3.1 devices.
If you have an older Intel chip, consider testing the performance of your rig when fully updated. With degraded speed and heavier workloads like 50MP+ raw files and 4K video now commonplace, it may be a great time to upgrade.
I’ve personally built many computers around Intel’s top chips, while still using a i7-4770K as one of my primary computers. I’ve not had a compelling reason to upgrade since then, with all the subsequent generations offering only slight performance improvements. I suspect, however, that the combination of these factors will mean an upgrade is imminent. If you’re in a similar situation, you should consider it too.