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Ryzen 3000 Review: AMD's 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X conquers its past

With its ground-breaking 7nm process, AMD's Ryzen 9 3900X leaves very little room for Intel's best CPUs.

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Ryzen 9 3900X Gaming Performance


It’s pretty much been all sunshine and roses for the Ryzen 9 3900X so far. The final question is its gaming performance. Ever since the original Ryzen 7 1800X launch, gaming, especially at lower resolutions where the game isn’t bottlenecked by the GPU, has been nothing but controversy. It’s also been the one shining area for Intel.

As we said earlier, for our tests, we used GeForce GTX 1080 FE cards and also RTX 2080 Ti cards. We did our primary testing at 1920x1080 resolution and also tested at 2560x1440. To save you space, we pretty much omitted the results at 2560x1440 resolution because, well, you don’t want to look at a bunch of results where they’re all nearly the same. Even in tests where the Ryzen 7 2700X might fall behind, it’s not really that big of a deal in GPU-limited gaming.

First up is Shadows of the Tomb Raider, which we run on the GeForce GTX 1080 FE card using the Highest Quality settting. As you can see, it’s a tie! Win right? Well, not really. The real issue is using the Highest Quality setting is enough to make the now ancient GeForce GTX 1080 FE seem downright slow. It’s the bottleneck with these CPUs.

ryzen 9 3900x sotr 1080p gtx 1080 ultra IDG

As you can see, Shadows of the Tomb Raider, even at 1920x1080 resolution, is bottlenecked by the GPU.

You can see why the minute we swap in the mean, lean GeForce RTX 2080 Ti FE: The Ryzen 7 2700X immediately falls to a distant third place. But how does that Ryzen 9 3900X do? We’d have to say pretty good,as it’s about 7 percent slower than the Core i9-9900K (that has a 8-percent higher clock speed.) It’s certainly better than the Ryzen 7 2700X, which exhibits the same problems with 1080p gaming that the original Ryzen 7 1800X suffered as well.

ryzen 9 3900x sotr 1080p rtx 2080 ultra IDG

Playing modern games with the new Ryzen 9 or Core i9 needs a fast GPU too.

Moving on to the slightly older Rise of the Tomb Raider, we again see just how a “slow” card like the old GeForce GTX 1080 FE is the bottleneck in RoTR. It’s basically a three-way tie on the 1080, and you’d likely see that on any card short of an RTX 2080 and up.

ryzen 9 3900x rotr 1080 gtx 1080 very high IDG

The GeForce GTX 1080 FE is the bottleneck here on gaming.

Fortunately, Nvidia makes that handy $1,200 GeForce RTX 2080 Ti card, which still slightly favors the Core i9 but only by about 2 percent. The Ryzen 7 2700X can’t say the same as it trails by the familiar amount we’re used to with older Ryzen CPUs against Core.

ryzen 9 3900x rotr 1080 rtx 2080 very high IDG

The Ryzen 9 3900X doesn’t beat the Core i9, but it’s pretty close.

If you’re here to see the Ryzen 9 3900X leave the Core i9-9900K eating its dust in gaming benchmarks, prepare to be disappointed. For the most part, in all of the games we tested, the Ryzen 9 3900X generally trailed by single-digit ranges of 1 percent to 7 percent in most games using that wicked GeForce RTX 2080 Ti FE. 

ryzen 9 3900x csgo 19x10 gtx 1080 IDG

The ancient CS:Go is a game we only needed to break out the GTX 1080 FE for. It’s not like you need more than 300 fps.

Ryzen fans shouldn’t take that as a failure. In many ways, we see it as a win for Team Red. Remember: The two previous generations of Ryzens have trailed Core i7 and Core i9 by double digits in the vast majority of games at 1080p resolution. To see the Ryzen 9 close to striking distance in just about every game we ran is a major upgrade. That also means you will occasionally hit games where the Ryzen 9 3900X flops against Core i9.

In Far Cry 5, we actually saw a fairly big gap of about 15 percent between the Ryzen 9 and Core i9.  Of the games we tested, Far Cry 5 coughed up the largest gap but lest you think the situation isn’t improved over 2nd gen Ryzen much that’s not true. As you can see, the Ryzen 7 2700X sits even further back than the Ryzen 9 2900X.

(In our original review, we were unable to run Far Cry 5 the Ryzen 7 2700X due to game activation limitations with our legally licensed copy. We’ve since updated results with Far Cry 5 and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.

ryzen 9 3900x far cry 5 1080p rtx 2080 ultra IDG

Far Cry 5 is one of the titles that Core i9 heavily leads the way on.

That graphic above might give you a heartache, but most of the games looked like Deus Ex: Machina, which gave the Core i9 about a 7-percent lead over the Ryzen 9. (Yes, the copy protection for Deus Ex gave up the ghost during our test runs too, so the Ryzen 7 2700X was not tested with the RTX card.)

We ran the popular game Rainbow Six Siege with similar results. Sure, Ryzen 9 is in second place, but not by much. Compare its results to the Ryzen 7 2700X.

ryzen 9 3900x deus ex mankind rtx 2080 ti 1080 IDG

Yes, Ryzen gaming  has improved. One look at the performance of Deux Ex: Mankind Divided between the two Ryzen chips.

If we had to call a victor based solely on gaming, we’d give it to the Core i9. But the slim victory makes it hardly a victory at all, because even the Core i9’s wins are by such small margins—certainly far smaller than against any older Zen or Zen+ CPU. And we have to move all the way to a $1,200 graphics card to see the separation. We really think anything below an RTX 2080 will likely make it nearly impossible to tell the difference between the two CPUs at 1920x1080.

ryzen 9 3900x ashes of the singularity escalation crazy rtx 2080 ti IDG

The CPU Focused Test in Ashes is indeed a CPU test, because we barely saw frame rates budge going from a GeForce GTX 1080 to GeForce RTX 2080 Ti.

Conclusion

To close off our review, we like to run Cinebench using from 1 thread to 24 threads. Cinebench R20 is a 3D modeling benchmark that doesn’t predict gaming performance or other application performance, but a lot of games and applications just can’t take advantage of all the threads in modern CPUs. That’s why Cinebench R20 has value in demonstrating performance when the CPU is loaded up from 1 thread and up. 

On the chart below, AMD typically dominates the right side of the chart, where it almost always has an advantage in the number of cores over Intel chips.

Intel, on the other hand, typically loses on the right side but wins on the left side, because it usually has a clock speed and IPC advantage over AMD chips. That’s basically given Intel’s Core chips their only edge, because the vast majority of applications and games rely on performance on the left side of our chart. Well, if you look at our chart today between the Ryzen 9 3900X and the Core i9-9900K, that last reason is essentially gone now.

ryzen 9 3900x vs 9900k pbo off mce on IDG

When you run Cinebench R20 using 1 thread to 24 threads, we can see the Ryzen 9 3900X’s real strength as it gives up no quarter to the mighty Core i9.

For another view of the same data, we’ve whipped up a chart that shows the performance advantage as a percentage. As you can see, the simple math of 12 cores > 8 cores wins big time.

The worst news for Intel’s Core i9 is once again on the left side of the chart. There’s nothing left here. The two are are a dead tie up to six threads, where the Ryzen 9 takes over. 

ryzen 9 3900x vs 9900k pbo off mce on thread scaling percentage IDG

The Ryzen 9 is basically dead even with the Core i9 when loaded up to 8 threads. After that, the 12-core chip pulls away at warp speed from the 8-core chip.

On those low-thread-count loads, the Ryzen 9 3900X is every bit as fast as the Core i9-9900K. This basically means there are very few reasons left to buy a Core i9 today. The reasons left are real, but for probably 9 out of 10 consumers looking at a high-end CPU, they’ll want to buy the Ryzen 9 3900X.

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Fantastic multi-core performance and comparable single-threaded performance
    • Competes with far pricier CPUs
    • Native PCIe 4.0 support

    Cons

    • PCIe 4 only when paired with newest motherboard chipset
    • Motherboards slightly more expensive than before
    • Slightly trails Intel in gaming performance
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