AMD unleashed Ryzen earlier this year and it's been happy times for enthusiasts ever since. Budget shoppers recently received the quad-core Ryzen 3 models while those on truly tight budgets have been holding out for the APUs which integrate both a CPU and GPU under one roof.
The first wave of these new APUs are known by the codename "Bristol Ridge" and while they do indeed support the new AM4 platform, they aren't what many believed (or at least hoped) they would be.
These aren't Zen-based APUs, which probably won't arrive till some time next year. What we have here are Excavator-based CPU cores, or a refined Bulldozer architecture, and I am using the word "refined" rather loosely here. The A12-9800 for example sports four Excavator cores alongside a generically named Radeon R7 GPU which features 512 stream processors.
Although Bristol Ridge was released through OEMs late last year, it recently became available on the retail market and this has excited many of you. The A12-9800 now costs $110 and along with promising pretty decent integrated graphics performance, you can take advantage of it on a new AM4 motherboard, such as those sporting the B350 chipset.
There is also a much cheaper and equally popular version without the integrated GPU called the Athlon X4 950 and at $60 people have already started snapping them up. However the less impulsive buyers among you have been desperately asking us to check these new AM4 parts out to see if there any good, so let's do that...
Ryzen System Specs
Kaby Lake System Specs
Let's get this out of the way right off the bat: for now, the Bristol Ridge range only supports up to DDR4-2400 memory. Right now there is simply no way to set the memory speed higher, at least on all the motherboards I tried. Memory performance was always a big issue for the Bulldozer architecture and after numerous revisions it was still rather pathetic compared to the Intel competition. Here we see the G4560 pushing more than twice the bandwidth of the A12-9800. Keep in mind this APU has to also feed an integrated GPU with that measly 11.2GB/s bandwidth, pretty tragic stuff that is.
Next up we have Cinebench R15 which is a good synthetic benchmark for gauging how powerful a CPUs single and multi-thread performance really is. As you can see the dual-core Pentium G4560 has no trouble hosing the A12-9800 in both the single and multi-threaded tests and it's clocked quite a bit lower. Yep, this is all looking very Bulldozerish to me so far.
PCMark 10 throws a number of common productivity workloads at the system and here we can see the individual scores for the writing and spreadsheets tests. Even these basic tasks present a real challenge for the quad-core APU.
Don't even bother with content creation. Here the G4560 outscored the A12-9800 by by a massive 64% margin. Dual-cores rule and old Excavator-based CPUs drool...
Moving on we tried out the Monte Carlo simulation workload and in this test AMD's new APU keep us waiting for almost 16 seconds or 64% longer than the G4560.
Looking to encode on a budget? Well then get the Ryzen 3 1200 because it was 150% faster for the same price. You'll need a cheap GPU but that shouldn't be an issue for more than twice the CPU firepower.
The A12-9800 also took 46% longer than the G4560 in the Corona benchmark and 52% longer than the R3 1200.
The A12-9800's Blender results aren't actually that bad as it beat the G4560, though it has to be said the G4560 puts in a poor showing in this test. The APU was still 46% slower than the Ryzen 3 1200.
If you're buying the A12-9800 for a cheap video creation rig, I hope you're only making minute-long skits because our 1 minute and 30 second video took roughly 13 minutes to render.
Before we test the integrated GPU, we installed an extreme high-end discrete graphics card for an idea of what the CPU can deliver when uncapped and then we'll get to the budget gaming stuff.
So with the brakes off, the A12-9800 was good for just 40fps in this real-time strategy title and was 18% slower than the G4560 in what is a CPU-intensive title. Moreover it was 30% slower than the Ryzen 3 1200.
This looks much worse in Battlefield 1 and these are important results to note even with the Pascal-based Titan GPU. What this means is, regardless of the graphics card used it's not possible for the A12-9800 to average more than 50fps and it will often dip into the low 40s. You guys sometimes ask how consoles with their many Jaguar cores are so much slower than budget CPUs like the Pentium G4560 -- this is your answer.
Finally we have Hitman and here is another title that shows us that no matter what kind of GPU to bring to the table, the A12-9800 isn't going to allow for anywhere near 60fps on average.
Before we get to the integrated GPU stuff, here are the power consumption figures for the system fully configured. That right there shows us just how much of a truly massive step forward AMD made with the Zen architecture. The A12-9800 consumed almost as much power as the 6-core/12-thread Ryzen 5 1600X in the Excel test and we're not even stressing the GPU here.
The figures look much the same in the Cinebench R15 multi-threaded benchmarks as well where total system consumption was 121% higher than that of the Pentium G4560 and we often saw quite a lot less performance.
Here's where the A12-9800 has the Pentium G4560 beat: integrated graphics. Intel's built-in HD graphics is still a joke for the most part, especially on their more affordable CPUs. The G4560 is fine with Windows applications but is virtually useless for any kind of serious 3D rendering tasks. It averaged 14fps in Overwatch for instance while the A12-9800 managed 43fps. That said, using the lowest possible in game quality settings at 1080p, the quad-core APU didn't exactly deliver a smooth experience with regular dips below 30fps.
Installing the $70 GeForce GT 1030 improved performance on both CPUs dramatically though the G4560 did deliver a better overall experience.
The A12-9800’s integrated GPU does to quite well in Rocket League and since this game uses very little CPU power the APU does quite well. The G4560 using the Intel HD graphics is still a pile of snot, though with the GeForce GT 1030 it does well.
In CS:GO the G4560 actually managed an average of 48fps using the HD graphics, though overall the experience was still pretty horrible. The A12-9800 wasn't too bad though even with a discrete GPU we still hit the same 45fps for the 1% low. The G4560 proved to be a beast with the GT 1030 installed and never dipped below 100fps.
You Should Avoid "Bristol Ridge" CPUs
If you can't already tell, we're not impressed with the A12-9800 and we strongly recommend you avoid purchasing any of the Bristol Ridge CPUs. We've thought long and hard and we can't come up with one valid reason or situation where these CPUs make an ounce of sense.
You wouldn't buy any of them as placeholders, which makes about as much sense as using a Kaby Lake-X CPU as a placeholder. Sure the Athlon X4 950 is cheap at $60, but it delivers the exact the same performance as the A12-9800 with a discrete GPU. The G4560 can be had for around $90 and it's worlds better in every single way when compared to the Athlon.
In order to use the Athlon X4 950 or the A12-9800 you need to buy a new AM4 motherboard along with some new DDR4 memory. Let's say you go with an ultra cheap A320 board for $50 and 8GB of DDR4 for $70, that means the A12-9800 upgrade package will set you back $230. The same motherboard and memory combo with the Ryzen 3 1200 plus the GeForce GT 1030 will cost $300, so that's 30% more money for over twice the CPU power, and twice the GPU power.
Meanwhile, if you opt for the Athlon X4 950 and GT 1030 combo instead, that's even worse as the Ryzen 3 1200 with the same discrete graphics card costs just 20% more.
We haven't touched on overclocking and frankly we're not going to bother. Even if you could push the A12-9800 to something insane like 5.5GHz it would still suck. Of course, it can't operate at that frequency. We've heard of people getting up to 4.8GHz and at that rate it would still struggle to keep pace with the G4560 while consuming three times more power.
Faster memory will no doubt help, assuming the memory controller can handle it, but even DDR4-4000 memory isn't going to save these Bristol Ridge CPUs. With the same DDR4-2400 memory as the G4560, we saw less than half the available bandwidth.
There's simply no saving grace here. AMD's intention was to feed the OEM channels with these rubbish chips and now they're buying a little time before the Zen-based APUs arrive next year. In our opinion they've just tainted the AM4 platform with an architecture we'd all like to forget about and I would have thought AMD felt the same way.
Anyway, our advice is to not buy these chips and instead wait for the real deal. We expect the Zen-based APUs to be something quite special and they will no doubt give Intel quite a few headaches.
Pros: Nothing. There's no apparent reason to purchase these Bristol Ridge parts. Stay tuned for Zen-based APUs.
Cons: Poor performance and overall value compared to options such as the Ryzen 3 1200 and Pentium G4560.