AMD Ryzen 9 3900X and Ryzen 7 3700X review in progress

AMD Ryzen 9 3900X in X570 motherboard
(Image credit: Future)

The buildup to AMD's launch party for its Ryzen 3000 CPUs, aka third gen Ryzen, aka Zen 2, has been huge. And if that's not enough, AMD is also launching the Radeon RX 5700 family of GPUs today. But Zen 2 is the more interesting I think, and the Ryzen 3000 processors are the first mainstream CPUs to utilize a 7nm manufacturing process. After flirting with the crown for the first two Ryzen generations, this could be the day when AMD claims an outright victory. Will the Ryzen 9 3900X be the best CPU for gaming—and everything else? And how does the Ryzen 7 3700X fare, with fewer cores but a more palatable price tag? It's time to find out.

I've already done a deep dive into the Ryzen 3000 and Zen 2 architectural updates. That's 3,000 words of primer for the interested, so start there if you want to know the nitty gritty details of why things have changed. For this launch review, I'm going to focus on the high-level overview and the real-world performance results. However, the short summary of changes for the Zen 2 architecture is still quite extensive.

Note: This is a review in progress as some of our early testing results are a bit lower than expected. We are working with AMD and the motherboard companies to ensure we have the best BIOS for testing and will be posting full, separate reviews of the new Ryzen 3000 CPUs once we've had time to retest and verify our performance results.

[The following slides from AMD list additional details.]

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Zen 2 adds an improved L2 TAGE branch predictor, has a larger micro-op cache, doubles the maximum size of the L3 cache (to 32MB per CCX), and doubles the AVX floating point performance. There's also a third address generation unit, larger buffers (eg, reorder buffer, integer scheduler, physical register file, entry store queue, and more), multiplication latency is reduced to 3 cycles (from 4), and there are wider buses (256-bit instead of 128-bit) to improve bandwidth. PCIe Gen4 support is included, along with changes to the Infinity Fabric that links everything together, and there are improvements in memory compatibility.

Wrap all of that up in a 7nm bow, then move the memory controller out of the main CPU chiplet and into a secondary IO chiplet, and stick both into a single package—with the option to have dual CPU chiplets on higher tier models. That's the Ryzen 3000 family, currently with everything from 6-core/12-thread models like the Ryzen 5 3600 that use a single CPU chiplet with two CCXes, up through the current king of the hill Ryzen 9 3900X with 12-cores and 24-threads spread out over two CPU chiplets—and the Ryzen 9 3950X will be a 16-core/32-thread solution, coming in September. Whew!

But how does third gen Ryzen perform? That's the question we've been waiting to answer for several months now, and in particular we want to see if AMD can truly close the gap with Intel when it comes to gaming performance. AMD has been more than willing to sell users more cores and threads at lower —-prices than Intel, and in turn that forced Intel to step up from 4-core/8-thread mainstream CPUs like the i7-7700K and finally start offering 6-core/12-thread and 8-core/16-thread models without forcing users onto the 'enthusiast' X299 platform. It's a good thing, too, as X299 often ends up performing quite a bit worse than Z390/Z370 when it comes to games. That's because the more complex HEDT (high-end desktop) platforms end up increasing the latency of certain operations, and games are often very sensitive to such latencies.

(Image credit: Future)

Let me set the stage for all the testing that goes into these articles first. In the past month or so—after the release of the Windows 10 May 2019 update—I retested every processor you'll see in charts. I also added some new benchmarks and ditched some old ones, and swapped to the RTX 2080 Ti, currently the fastest consumer graphics card when it comes to gaming (I don't include Titan cards), to provide the highest potential for differences in CPU performance to show up. In total, I've tested 21 CPUs across seven different platforms, doing my best to minimize differences that might affect performance.

That means using 16GB of fast DDR4-3200 CL14 memory for all the mainstream platforms—but AMD's Threadripper and Intel's X299 platforms were tested with 32GB of DDR4-3200 CL14 memory (because they're quad-channel and I didn't have 4x4GB kits available). All the newer platforms also use an M.2 NVMe SSD for a boot drive, though it's not the same drive on every system (which shouldn't matter as none of the tests are storage intensive). Games are run from a secondary SATA SSD, and again storage performance isn't a major factor.

What I didn't have time to do—and what generally isn't practical given the way game and driver updates arrive—is to test every single CPU in the charts with the latest game patches, using the latest drivers. I also didn't have time to fully investigate overclocking, though it looks like the 3900X and 3700X are already running pretty close to maximum performance. (You can use Precision Boost Overdrive to potentially get an extra 200MHz with adequate cooling, which I'll be looking into more later this week.) I also didn't test every AMD Ryzen CPU on the same motherboard—you can't run first gen Ryzen in an X570 board, and running third gen Ryzen in an X370 or X470 board wouldn't really make sense as we're evaluating the latest and greatest tech. And the Ryzen 3000 CPUs are definitely AMD's latest and greatest.

For this first round of testing, we're using AMD's third gen Ryzen 9 3900X and Ryzen 7 3700X (provided by AMD) in an Asus ROG CrossHair VIII Hero Wi-Fi (X570) motherboard. The memory for the new Ryzen 3000 processors (also provided by AMD) is 16GB G.Skill TridentZ Royal DDR4-3600 CL16. Time constraints and travel prevented me from doing testing with the usual DDR4-3200 CL14 RAM, but I'll be looking at that later to see if it helps (since it has better latencies). We've also got a Gigabyte Aorus NVMe Gen4 1TB SSD for the main drive (another part of the AMD review kit), with a GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition graphics card running 430.86 drivers.

Here's what performance looks like, starting with gaming. All ten games are tested at 1080p 'ultra' (generally the highest possible settings, outside of super-sample anti-aliasing), and each test is run multiple times to ensure the consistency of results. Minimum fps is calculated as the average fps for the bottom three percent of frametimes—find the 97 percentile frametime, and sum up all frametimes above that, dividing by the number of frames. This provides a more useful metric than pure minimum fps.

Ryzen 3000 gaming performance

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The good news is that gaming performance is improved by nearly 10 percent on average relative to the Ryzen 7 2700X. The bad news is that overall the Core i9-9900K is still about 10 percent faster. The other good news is that this difference between AMD and Intel CPUs when it comes to gaming performance really only matters if you're running at 1080p ultra with an RTX 2080 Ti—maybe you're aiming for 144fps and above. If you run a slightly slower GPU, even an RTX 2080 or 2070 Super, the gaming performance gap between the CPUs will shrink. Running at 1440p or 4K will also shrink the gap (4K usually ends up as a ten-way tie), and if you run 1440p and use an RTX 2080 or slower GPU, most differences won't be visible short of running benchmarks.

That's not to say that Intel's CPUs aren't faster—they are. Even the Core i7-7700K and Core i5-9600K come out just ahead of the Ryzen 9 3900X in our test suite. But AMD does beat Intel's i9-9980XE, if you're thinking about a $2,000 CPU for gaming purposes. It's pretty consistent across games at settings where we're at least somewhat CPU limited—Strange Brigade is an example of a game that's still GPU limited at 1080p ultra. There are certainly games where AMD CPUs do better, and games where they do worse, but four of the ten games tested boldly declare AMD Ryzen | Radeon branding, so this is a pretty fair representation of how third gen Ryzen stacks up to Intel's 8th and 9th Gen Core desktop CPUs in terms of gaming performance at CPU limited settings.

AMD loses in absolute gaming performance, again, but not by much. I wish that weren't the case, because even if AMD just tied Intel in gaming performance it would basically make this a clean sweep. As it stands, the Zen 2 architecture improves performance compared to Zen+, but it doesn't fully close the singlethreaded and gaming performance gap.

Ryzen 3000 CPU performance

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The other side of the coin is non-gaming performance, and here AMD makes some massive inroads against Intel. The Core i7-8700K overall was slower than the Ryzen 7 2700X last year, which is why Intel released the Core i9-9900K. That's an 8-core/16-thread CPU, and going up against AMD's new Ryzen 7 3700X—also an 8-core/16-thread CPU—Intel is barely hanging on to a lead in multithreaded CPU performance. Toss in the 12-core/24-thread Ryzen 9 3900X and it's not even close: AMD's 3900X is 21 percent faster than Intel's i9-9900K. At the same nominal price (Intel is more expensive because you need an aftermarket cooler.)

Factoring gaming and singlethreaded performance into the mix, AMD's Ryzen 9 3900X still claims a 9 percent lead over the i9-9900K, while the i9-9900K leads the 3700X by 9 percent in multithreaded testing and 11 percent overall. With the Ryzen 7 3700X, the closest Intel competitors by price are the i7-8700K and i7-9700K (again, AMD has a price advantage as you don't need to buy a separate cooler). Intel leads by 8 percent and 13 percent in the gaming tests (respectively), but AMD leads by 24 percent and 14 percent (again, respectively) in multithreaded performance. Overall, the 3700X is about 5 to 10 percent faster than Intel's 8th and 9th Gen Core i7 parts.

How much do those differences really matter? It depends on how you use your PC. I know a ton of people that never do any form of 3D rendering, which means four of the multithreaded tests I've included are basically meaningless. Even video encoding (or transcoding) isn't something that 'most' people do on a regular basis—it's very important for streamers and video professionals, but not really a critical item for a lot of users. If it takes five minutes instead of six minutes to encode a video, but still takes 15 minutes to upload the result to YouTube, does the one minute saved really matter? There are also a few oddities—VeraCrypt AES performance looks quite poor on the 3900X for some reason (application or architecture, I couldn't say). The reality is that most non-enthusiasts (and non-professionals) likely wouldn't notice a difference between any of the Core i5/i7/i9 and Ryzen 5/7/9 products in the charts in day to day use. We've definitely hit a plateau in terms of what 'typical' people ask of their computers.

But again, that's not to say AMD's new Ryzen 9 3900X isn't clearly faster than any mainstream Intel CPU when it comes to multithreaded performance. It easily wins, sometimes by 30 percent or more. On the other hand, of the three singlethreaded tests included in our results, the i9-9900K wins by 8 to 17 percent. The Geekbench 4 result is probably representative of a wider set of workloads and has Intel leading by 10 percent.

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As a value proposition, it's easy to love AMD and its Ryzen processors. Intel sat around making 4-core/8-thread as its top non-HEDT solution for seven years when AMD wasn't really competitive. Then Ryzen comes along and delivers 8-core/16-thread solutions to the masses, and suddenly Intel starts selling 6-core and 8-core mainstream processors. With Ryzen 9 3900X, AMD keeps the pressure on, delivering higher clockspeeds and better latency than its previous generation, with a 12-core/24-thread CPU for the same price as Intel's 8-core/16-thread CPU.

Unless gaming performance and more specifically, high framerate gaming is your overriding goal, AMD's third gen Ryzen CPUs are now in the lead. For all the people buying Radeon RX 5700 XT and lower graphics cards—or GeForce RTX 2070 and below from Nvidia—any differences in CPU performance when it comes to gaming are going to be mostly meaningless. A few percent slower or faster won't really matter, and future games may even begin pushing beyond the point where 4-core/8-thread and 6-core/12-thread CPUs are all that's needed.

If you've been debating between and AMD or Intel rig for your next PC build, AMD is generally the better pick now. You can get excellent multithreaded performance, gaming performance is close enough that only benchmarks or extremely competitive gamers would likely even notice (and then only with an extreme GPU like a 2080 Ti), and price and features are also in AMD's favor. You get PCIe Gen4 (it doesn't really matter for most people, but like Nvidia's ray tracing support, I'd rather have it than not going forward), you get a dedicated x4 PCIe connection for your primary M.2 NVMe SSD, you get more cores, you even get lower power use. And so far (knock on wood), all of the side-channel attack exploits like Spectre, Foreshadow, MDS, and Fallout target Intel CPUs and don't work on AMD's CPUs. What's more, you get all of that at equivalent or lower prices than you'd pay for Intel.

Probably the most important factor is what you're currently using for a PC, and what you plan to do. I've still got an old i7-965 PC that my family uses, and it does everything my wife needs. (But it's "too slow" for me!) And that PC is faster than most of the PCs that my extended family is running. Ouch. For home and office use, modest PCs that are 5 or more years old still continue to work. But if you're an enthusiast or professional, and your PC has a pre-Ryzen AMD CPU or an Intel 7th Gen or earlier processor, now is a great time to upgrade to a Ryzen 3000 system.