Going up against a competitor as big and well known as Intel must be hugely daunting, but AMD has pulled off a surprising series of victories after starting from scratch with its first-generation Zen architecture in 2017. The company has slowly begun regaining trust and market share across desktop PCs, laptops, workstations, and servers, though it still has a long way to go. Zen has been a huge turnaround for AMD, but can the company use it as a base on which to build itself back up for the long term? That's where Zen 2, the second-geen architecture underlying the newly launched Ryzen 3000 series consumer desktop CPUs, comes in.
With a little momentum now on its side, AMD is in a good position. Meanwhile, Intel has been struggling with modernising its production, shortages and price spikes in the market, and hardware-level security. AMD's big success story with Zen 2 is the migration to a 7nm manufacturing process, while Intel looks like it won't even have a handle on 10nm for the next year or two.
Has AMD managed to capitalise on its good fortune? Has it finally managed to dethrone Intel? We're reviewing the 12-core Ryzen 3 3900X and the more modest 8-core Ryzen 3 3700X today to answer those questions.
Before we get started, we recommend you read our exhaustive overview of Zen 2, including details of the entire third-gen Ryzen 3000 desktop CPU lineup, AMD's innovative “chiplet” design, architectural and manufacturing improvements, the high-speed PCIe 4.0 system bus, and the X570 chipset that accompanies the Ryzen 3000 series launch.
Our review subjects are two of the five Zen 2-based CPUs that have just been launched. The Ryzen 9 3900X is the world's first mainstream 12-core CPU for gamers, enthusiasts and home users, and while that's cool enough on its own, it will soon be upstaged by the 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X.
AMD is positioning this model squarely against Intel's current top-end Core i9-9900K and is promising equal or better gaming performance (which is roughly translated to single-threaded or lightly threaded workloads) but up to 47 percent better content creation performance (tasks that can run in parallel using as many cores and threads as are available) and 58 percent better energy efficiency.
These are bold claims for a company that's still associated with low-end, bargain-basement CPUs that run hot and guzzle power. However it also shows that AMD needs 12 cutting-edge 7nm cores to do some of what Intel does with eight cores on its long-in-the-tooth 14nm++ process.
The Ryzen 9 3900X is priced at around Rs. 42,500 in India, including taxes. It has a 105W TDP, 4.6GHz boost clock, 3.8GHz base clock, and 64MB of L3 cache memory. On the other hand, we have the Ryzen 7 3700X, which offers eight cores and 16 threads in a 65W TDP envelope at around Rs. 29,500. This chip has a 4.4GHz boost clock, 3.6GHz base speed, and 32MB of L3 cache memory. Neither chip features integrated graphics capabilities so the cost and value of a discrete graphics card need to be factored into your final purchase decision.
All Ryzen 3000 series models use the existing AM4 socket and work with nearly all the same motherboards as all previous Ryzen CPUs, for easy and cost-saving upgrades. Sadly though, you'll need a new motherboard based on the X570 chipset if you want to take advantage of PCIe 4.0 bandwidth for upcoming ultra-fast SSDs.
Both third-gen Ryzen models ship with AMD's premium Wraith Prism RGB cooler, which not only gives you programmable RGB LEDs but could also shave a few thousand rupees off your total PC build cost (unless you're going in for a liquid cooler anyway).
As for other system requirements, the Windows 10 May 2019 Update is highly advised. AMD says it has worked with Microsoft to allow Windows 10 to intelligently assign processes to the best available CPU threads, and also make clock speed switching about 20X quicker, which saves significant amounts of power.
For our tests, we're using a complete kit provided on loan by AMD so that we can really see what this platform overall is capable of. In addition to the two CPUs, we have an Asus ROG Crosshair VIII Hero Wi-Fi motherboard, a 2x8GB kit of G.skill Trident Z Royal DDR4-3600 RAM, and a Corsair Force MP600 PCIe 4.0 SSD. We should note that all these components have been pre-validated by AMD before being sent out to reviewers.
Asus has just launched the non-Wi-Fi version of this motherboard in India, priced at Rs. 29,525 (not including tax). It of course features the new AMD X570 chipset which requires a small cooling fan. We're happy to report that it did not make any noise during our review – at least none that could be distinguished from the sound of our extra-wide graphics card which sat right above it and covered it completely.
This board has the obligatory RGB LEDs and addressable headers, but doesn't go overboard with them. It has two PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 slots with heatsinks and a pre-attached IO shield, which we like. There's on-board 2.5Gb Ethernet, eight USB 3.2 Gen2 (10Gbps) ports (one of them Type-C) plus four USB 3.2 Gen1 (5Gbps) ports on its rear IO panel. Asus says its power circuitry is suitably high-end, and there are easily accessible BIOS reset and update controls as well as overclocker-friendly fan and liquid cooling management support.
We liked this motherboard's overall layout and found it easy to work with – up until we had to install our PCIe 4.0 SSD which has its own shroud and tall heatsink. The board's design (and an adhesive rubber spacer) had to be sacrificed to make it fit, and we just about managed to seat the SSD without scraping the sides of the two PCIe x16 slots flanking it. This isn't necessarily a design flaw on Asus' part, but it's the kind of thing early adopters will need to watch out for when selecting components.
Speaking of the SSD, we're happy to note that PCIe 4.0 isn't just some future-looking standard with nebulous value; its benefits are tangible right now, with several SSDs beginning to go on sale around the world. Of course we had to fire up our SSD benchmarks once we were up and running.
The Corsair Force MP600 uses the Phison PS5016-E16 controller which we saw all over Computex this year. It's unfortunate that such a large heatsink is required, but this is a first-generation product so hopefully future revisions will run cooler. Sequential read and write speeds are rated at up to 4,950MBps and 4,250MBps respectively which eclipses even the 3,480MBps and 3,000MBps respectively that Corsair's own premium Force MP510 SSD is rated for.
We have the 2TB version of this drive which is already on sale in some parts of the world for $450 (approximately Rs. 30,780). That price isn't bad at all for a top-end 2TB SSD. There's also a 1TB model for $250 (approximately Rs. 17,100). Corsair has used 3D TLC Endurance is rated at 3600TBW (Terabytes written) and 1800TBW respectively. Power consumption ranges from 1.1W at idle to 6.6W under full load.
Benchmark performance figures are of course the highest we've ever seen. CrystalDiskMark showed sequential read and write speeds of 4,971.7MBps and 4,245.1MBps respectively, which line up with Corsair's claims. The more realistic random read and write speeds were 640.7MBps and 577.1MBps respectively. Anvil gave us read and write scores of 7,321.49 and 10,103.67, for a combined score of 17,425.16.
AMD's latest consumer platform enables a whole new level of storage access speed, which could make a huge difference to many kinds of workloads that involve huge databases or data visualisation. Ordinary users might not notice much of a difference compared to a PCIe 3.0 NVMe SSD. Of course many everyday applications might not even be able to take advantage of the bandwidth available.
The G.skill Trident Z Royal F4-3600C16D-16GTRG RAM kit we used is available in India, priced at around Rs. 19,500. This is of course high-end RAM selected specifically by AMD to complement its CPU, and many people will buy lower rated modules. Apart from performance, not everyone will like the gold heat spreaders and RGB LED strips designed to look like jewels. We thought the look was gaudy and clashed hard with the rest of our setup, but taste is of course subjective.
In addition to the Asus ROG Crosshair VIII Hero Wi-Fi motherboard, Corsair Force MP600 PCIe 4.0 SSD, and G.skill Trident Z Royal DDR4-3600 RAM kit, we used our own Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 590 graphics card, Corsair RM650 power supply, and Asus PB27Q monitor. We tested both CPUs with their own Wraith Prism RGB coolers. We were running a completely fresh installation of Windows 10 (1903) with all current patches, as well as the latest drivers and motherboard BIOS.
Our tests included a variety of synthetic benchmarks and real-world tasks, geared to test both single-threaded and multi-threaded performance. Since neither of these CPUs has integrated graphics capabilities, our game tests use a discrete Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 590 graphics card.
|AMD Ryzen 9 |
|AMD Ryzen 7 3700X||Intel Core i9-9900K||AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX||AMD Ryzen 7 2700X|
|Cinebench R15 CPU single-threaded||200||198||213||168||174|
|Cinebench R15 CPU multi-threaded||3,007||1,995||1,996||5,182||1,817|
|Cinebench R20 CPU single-threaded||495||489||NA||NA||NA|
|Cinebench R20 CPU multi-threaded||6,785||4,521||NA||NA||NA|
|Geekbench 4 single-threaded||5,182||5,537||6,024||NA||5,028|
|Geekbench 4 multi-threaded||42,409||33,802||30,781||NA||26,473|
|POVRay*||41 seconds||1 minute, 1 second||57 seconds||23 seconds||1 minute, 8 seconds|
|VRAY CPU*||48 seconds||1 minute, 9 seconds||1 minute, 2 seconds||27 seconds||NA|
|Corona Renderer Benchmark*||1 minute, 19 seconds||1 minute, 57 seconds||1 minute, 42 seconds||53 seconds||NA|
|Blender Benchmark*||10 minutes, 59 seconds||16 minutes, 37 seconds||15 minutes, 21 seconds||6 minutes, 13 seconds||NA|
|Basemark Web 3.0||549.99||515.72||394.61||759.36||NA|
|3DMark Fire Strike Ultra (Physics)||27,471||23,933||21,550||18,320||21,158|
|SiSoft SANDRA CPU arithmetic||366GOPS||244.52GOPS||282.45GOPS||740.81GOPS||255GOPS|
|SiSoft SANDRA CPU multimedia||1.26GPix/s||876.32MPix/s||918.22MPix/s||1.64GPix/s||505.54MPix/s|
|SiSoft SANDRA CPU encryption||18.09GBps||18.36GBps||12.12GBps||35.22GBps||17.53GBps|
|SiSoft SANDRA cache bandwidth||589.9GBps||378GBps||307.32GBps||832.48GBps||267.14GBps|
|SiSoft SANDRA memory bandwidth||26.62GBps||32.84GBps||21.85GBps||59.47GBps||38.62GBps|
|7Zip file compression*||1 minute, 33 seconds||1 minute, 37 seconds||2 minutes, 12 seconds||2 minutes, 25 seconds||3 minutes, 19 seconds|
|Handbrake video encoding*||35 seconds||43 seconds||39 seconds||52 seconds||49 seconds|
|*lower is better|
Starting with the top-end Ryzen 9 3900X, it's clear to see that AMD has stolen a huge lead over Intel in highly parallel workloads such as video rendering and 3D modelling, since these tasks can easily be broken up into any number of threads and executed simultaneously. There are several tests in which the top-end Ryzen beats the Core i9-9900K by large margins.
However the win isn't decisive. In single-threaded or only lightly multi-threaded situations, the Core i9-9900K is quite likely to pull out ahead. This can be seen with tests such as Cinebench and Geekbench, which provide single-thread and all-thread scores. What's even more interesting is that the Ryzen 7 3700X comes very close to its bigger sibling and even exceeds its scores in some single-threaded tests, despite being significantly less expensive and having a lower TDP. One possible explanation for this is that having two separate chiplets with their own cores and L3 cache in the Ryzen 9 model could be introducing a little overhead, whereas the 8-core Ryzen 7 model has a more straightforward design.
For the most part, the Ryzen 7 3700X's multi-threaded scores scale down logically and evenly to about two-thirds of what the Ryzen 9 3900X delivers. It also matches or comes very close to Intel's Core i9-9900K despite its lower positioning. If you're thinking about investing in the 12-core Ryzen 9, you might want to check whether you can live with with the Ryzen 7 3700X or even the Ryzen 7 3800X, which would save you some money.
That does seem very much to be the case when it comes to gaming. In all our tests, the Ryzen 9 3900X provided virtually no benefit over the Ryzen 7 3700X. We ran Far Cry 5's internal benchmark at 1920x1080 using the High preset and got exactly 83fps on average with both CPUs. It was the same story with Shadow of the Tomb Raider at 4K using its High preset with TAA enabled – both CPUs gave us 30fps.
We tried Metro: Last Light Redux at 1920x1080 using the Very High preset. The two CPUs gave us 101.97fps and 102.01fps respectively with SSAA disabled, and 58.47fps and 58.07fps with it enabled. This seems like an argument against the expensive Ryzen 9, but AMD does point out that the extra cores will come in handy if you're gaming, encoding, and streaming simultaneously.
AMD has said that Ryzen 3000-series CPUs don't have a lot of overclocking headroom. On one hand, that's disappointing because you lose the thrill of getting more for your money. On the other, it means that the company has already tapped all the power these chips have to give. You can still play with the Precision Boost Overdrive and Auto Overclock settings with AMD's free Ryzen Master software, or boost voltages manually to see how far you can go — if you have adequate cooling and are fine with voiding your warranty).
One final note is that AMD's Wraith Prism RGB heatsink-fan unit was quiet and trouble-free, as against our experience with it when testing the Ryzen 7 2700X last year. We could only hear it when either CPU was running full-tilt in a benchmark. Either AMD has managed to refine its design, or our previous unit had been damaged in shipping.
AMD has now firmly established itself as a contender. Both the Ryzen 9 3900X and the Ryzen 7 3700X would be excellent choices for anyone building a high-end PC for gaming, content creation, and general productivity. If your usage involves all these things, the Ryzens are actually better choices than Intel's lineup right now.
That said, the situation isn't black-and-white. The former underdog has come very, very close to dominating Intel completely with this set of processors, but ultimately even the advantages of a much smaller 7nm manufacturing process and more cores don't give the third-gen Ryzens a definitive upper hand. Intel will catch up eventually, and given how good the current Core i9-9900K is despite Intel's setbacks, AMD cannot afford to rest on its laurels.
Of course you'll want to consider the cost of an X570 motherboard, PCIe 4.0 SSD, and high-end RAM in order to take full advantage of these processors. Also, keep in mind that AMD has fulfilled its promise that Socket AM4 will last till 2020, so at this point buying into the platform is no guarantee of future compatibility.
Finally, AMD needs to work on its image. The fans and enthusiasts are on board, and positive sentiment will trickle down slowly, but right now many people still think of AMD CPUs as low-end and only associate them with running hot – which in Indian conditions makes them instant write-offs. All the benchmark wins in the world will count for nothing if people are unwilling to buy these products.
AMD Ryzen 9 3900X: Rs. 35,990 + taxes
AMD Ryzen 7 3700X: Rs. 24,990 + taxes
Ratings (out of 5)