Date: November 5, 2020
Author(s): Rob Williams
AMD has just launched its much-anticipated Zen 3 processors, with four on offer for mainstream budgets. We’re kicking off our coverage with a look at the top dog Ryzen 9 5950X in gaming, as it goes up against the last-gen Ryzen 9 3950X, and Intel’s de facto best gaming CPU, the Core i9-10900K.
It’s proving to be an incredibly busy time for PC hardware releases. NVIDIA just last week launched its third Ampere-based GeForce in a month-and-a-half, and we’re of course seeing AMD release its first Zen 3-based processors today. Soon, AMD is going to also be launching its new ‘Big Navi’ Radeons, so overall, we definitely have our benchmarking work cut out for us this fall.
We’d normally greet a new AMD Zen launch with a plethora of workstation benchmarks, but for a couple of reasons, we’re focusing this article largely around gaming performance instead. We will have some normal software benchmarks below, but our full look will come next week after we can get more test scripts updated and more CPUs tested.
The biggest reason to explore gaming is that it’s one of the biggest catch-ups AMD claims to have made. While the previous Zen processors were great for most purposes, those who wanted super-high frame rates at lower resolutions found themselves sticking with Intel, and Intel has made it obvious through its marketing that a chip like the 10900K can’t be beat. Or can it?! That’s what we’ll find out here.
Before going further, here’s a quick refresher of AMD’s current lineup as of today’s launch:
|AMD’s Ryzen & Ryzen Threadripper Lineup|
|3990X||64 (128T)||2.9 GHz (4.3)||288MB||Quad||280W||$3990|
|3970X||32 (64T)||3.7 GHz (4.5)||144MB||Quad||280W||$1999|
|3960X||24 (48T)||3.8 GHz (4.5)||140MB||Quad||280W||$1399|
|R9 5950X||16 (32T)||3.4 GHz (4.9)||72MB||Dual||105W||$799|
|R9 3950X||16 (32T)||3.5 GHz (4.7)||72MB||Dual||105W||$749|
|R9 5900X||12 (24T)||3.7 GHz (4.8)||70MB||Dual||105W||$549|
|R9 3900X||12 (24T)||3.8 GHz (4.6)||70MB||Dual||105W||$499|
|R7 5800X||8 (16T)||3.8 GHz (4.7)||36MB||Dual||105W||$449|
|R7 3800X||8 (16T)||3.9 GHz (4.5)||36MB||Dual||95W||$399|
|R7 3700X||8 (16T)||3.6 GHz (4.4)||36MB||Dual||65W||$329|
|R5 5600X||6 (12T)||3.7 GHz (4.6)||35MB||Dual||65W||$299|
|R5 3600X||6 (12T)||3.8 GHz (4.4)||35MB||Dual||95W||$249|
|R5 3600||6 (12T)||3.6 GHz (4.2)||35MB||Dual||65W||$199|
|R3 3300X||4 (8T)||3.8 GHz (4.3)||18MB||Dual||65W||$120|
|R3 3100||4 (8T)||3.6 GHz (3.9)||18MB||Dual||65W||$99|
|Ryzen w/ Radeon Vega Graphics|
|R5 3400G||4 (8T)||3.7 GHz (4.2)||0.5+4MB||Dual||65W||$149|
|R3 3200G||4 (4T)||3.6 GHz (4.0)||0.5+4MB||Dual||65W||$99|
These new Zen 3 CPUs will work in current motherboards, as long as those motherboards have either an X570 or B550 chipset. If so, you should see an EFI update from your board vendor. That EFI will also introduce access to the new Smart Access Memory (resizable bar) feature, although that’s something we can’t test until AMD releases its new Radeons later this month.
While this article focuses around gaming, we know that there are many readers who come here today expecting to see some workstation performance, so we wanted to deliver some results for the time-being, and as mentioned above, we’ll expand with a full article next week.
|AMD 3950X||AMD 5950X|
|Adobe Lightroom Export||158 s||154 s|
|BRAW 8K 3:1||50 FPS||57 FPS|
|HandBrake x264 Encode||107 s||99 s|
|HandBrake x265 Encode||279 s||252 s|
|LameXP Music Transcode||184 s||174 s|
|Arnold E-Type Render||181 s||174 s|
|Blender BMW Render||101 s||99 s|
We’d wager that the generational gains seen in workstation workloads isn’t quite as dramatic from Zen 2 to Zen 3 as it was from Zen to Zen 2, but any improvement on top of what was already great performance (and market-leading in some cases) is still really welcomed. This is only a handful of workloads, as well; we’re sure some others might flex the 5950X’s architectural improvements better.
With that really quick look at workstation performance out-of-the-way, we can move onto a look at gaming performance – aka: the true reason for this article’s existence today. We tested all three processors listed in the table below with the same memory, and in the case of AMD, both were tested using the same EFI.
|Techgage Test Systems|
|Processors||AMD Ryzen 9 5950X (16C/32T; 3.4GHz)
AMD Ryzen 9 3950X (16C/32T; 3.5GHz)
Intel Core i9-10900K (10C/20T; 3.7GHz)
|Motherboards||AMD X570: ASRock X570 Taichi
Intel Z490: ASUS ROG Maximus XII Hero Wi-Fi
|Cooling||AMD X570: Corsair iCUE H115i RGB PLATINUM
Intel Z490: Corsair iCUE H100i RGB PRO XT
|Chassis||AMD X570: Fractal Design Define C
Intel Z490: Corsair Crystal X570
|Graphics||NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090 (Game Ready 457.09)|
|Memory||Corsair VENGEANCE (CMT64GX4M4Z3600C16)
4x16GB; DDR4-3600 16-18-18 (Operating as DDR4-3200)
|Et cetera||Windows 10 (20H2)|
|All product links in this table are affiliated, and support the website.|
We intended for this article to include test results from both an AMD Ryzen Threadripper and Intel Core X processor, but time got the best of us, and we had to stick to just the three listed. Testing a single CPU in the number of games we did takes quite a bit of time, especially since more than the usual number of runs need to be conducted since we’re not comparing GPUs, but CPUs using the same exact GPU.
Ultimately, Core X and Threadripper are not needed for inclusion here, but would have been nice to bulk the charts up a bit. What we would see is that neither of those series would came ahead in any one of the tests, so ultimately, we can still accomplish our goal of establishing where AMD’s current gaming performance is, compared against the last-gen top dog Ryzen, 3950X, and also the Core i9-10900K – Intel’s fastest gaming CPU.
Bear in mind that gaming performance across multiple CPUs is sometimes boring, so don’t expect a whack of excitement from half of these. The only time a CPU will become a bottleneck in gaming is when the graphics card isn’t being given enough work, so at 1080p, the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090 we used in testing is overkill, but will show us scaling, while at 4K, the bottleneck is more on the GPU, so CPU differences will often be minimal between two competitor chips.
This article includes a few games that we’ve tested for our CPU content before, but also some new ones we recently explored and added: Death Stranding, Dirt 5, and Red Dead Redemption 2. And with that, let’s head into the meat of this article:
Thanks to that exhaustive testing, we can confidently say that AMD has caught up to Intel in gaming performance, as has been promised. It wasn’t a total domination, as Intel still came ahead in a bunch of titles at each res, but overall, AMD won more lower-resolution battles, sometimes to a significant degree (even if we’re talking in hundreds of FPS).
Who benefits most from this performance uplift are those equipped with high-refresh monitors. 200 FPS isn’t going to matter quite as much on a 60Hz panel, so hopefully with the performance we’re seeing from today’s hardware and in today’s games, we’ll start to see more folks adopt high-refresh monitors.
All of the games tested here were using realistic graphics settings, not ones deliberately toned down just to make for a better CPU benchmark (we want our testing to be relevant). Even then, no game came close to a 100 FPS low on any CPU at 1080p – all of them kept well above. Conversely, at 4K, the differences overall between chips is largely minimal, unless a game happens to be incredibly CPU-bound.
There were a couple of examples of those really CPU-bound games in this article. CS: GO has plagued us with a roadblock for a while, where each new generation of CPU saw the most modest of improvements. Well, imagine our surprise when we saw AMD finally defeat this bottleneck, increasing the FPS at 4K from 240 to 274. Obviously, this doesn’t matter too much considering there are no 4K/200Hz monitors, and even if there were, all configurations delivered ample performance. Still, it’s nice to see a gain in a place we were not expecting it.
Similarly, our Siege test with the 5950X gave us a nice gain over the Intel Core i9-10900K, nearly hitting 500 FPS at 1080p. Siege is nowhere near a demanding game, but it sure is fun to benchmark considering its ultra-fast frame rates at top detail.
We hate that this initial Zen 3 look didn’t include more workstation tests, but the rest of our day will be spent getting things prepared to start churning through the myriad benchmarks until all data is acquired. We will then deliver a fuller workstation performance look next week.
After a lot of testing so far, we’re really impressed with Zen 3, but that’s primarily based on the $799 5950X, as it’s the only chip of the four we’ve tested at this point. Because each of the launch chips have different internal designs, it could lead to some detriment in gaming performance versus the full-blown 5950X, so if you’re eyeing a chip that’s not the 5950X, we’d encourage looking at other reviews from those who did test games with your chip of choice, just to make sure it aligns with our findings here.
This is an exciting launch from AMD, so let’s hope those who want a new CPU will actually be able to score one. We suspect they will sell out fast.
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