We came away impressed with the Ryzen 7 3800X, but motherboard firmwares are still raw, leaving us wondering if there is more performance lurking underneath the heat spreader. Particularly with the Precision Boost Overdrive and Auto Overclock features. If history is any indication, we could see that situation improve as AMD and motherboard vendors work out the kinks. For now, these results reflect our experiences with a chip purchased at retail and with publicly-available firmwares, but your mileage might vary.
In the chart below, we plot gaming performance with both average frame rates and a geometric mean of the 99th percentile frame times (a good indicator of smoothness). It's worth noting that AMD's previous-gen line-up is heavily discounted, so we’re departing from our standard practice of using official price lists. Instead, we’re using average pricing found online (temporary sales excluded). Volatility applies.
For gaming specifically, we did see slightly larger gains with the Ryzen 7 3700X via its PBO feature than we did with the Ryzen 7 3800X, allowing that processor to nearly match the more-expensive Ryzen 7 3800X in average framerates in all configurations. That isn't entirely unheard of – After overclocking, we saw the same trend of less expensive previous-gen models (non-X) offering similar performance to AMD's pricier X-series processors.
As we've seen, gaming remains an advantage for Intel, so if squeezing out every last frame is all you care about, Intel's processors are a good choice. Much of that performance advantage will be less noticeable when gaming at higher resolutions, or if you pair the processors with a lesser graphics card.
But, like most humans, if you do things other than gaming, the Ryzen 7 3800X offers a better mixture of performance in single- and multi-threaded applications. The 3800X offers twice the threads of the price-comparable Core i7-9700K, and it wields them to great effect in threaded workloads. As such, rendering and encoding remain a strong suit of the Ryzen chips, and AMD's improvements to AVX throughput have yielded impressive results.
AMD's platform also supports the PCIe 4.0 interface that provides twice the throughput of the previous-gen standard. The extra throughput doesn't equate to improved performance in gaming, but it does speed up everyday tasks like file transfers and will unlock more performance in storage-bound applications. That's an advantage that Intel can't match.
Unfortunately, the faster interface does result in higher-priced X570 motherboards, but AMD's continued support for the X470 motherboard ecosystem could help blunt the blow. Motherboard partners continue to offer X470 motherboards, and they are cheap and plentiful. You'll lose access to the PCIe 4.0 interface in exchange for lower pricing, but you'll also have a compelling upgrade path in the future.
AMD's Ryzen 7 3800X comes with a bundled cooler while competing Intel processors come with a cardboard box. That's an added value that you should take into consideration, but you might need a beefier cooling solution if you plan on pushing the limits with overclocking.
For now, we don't see massive gains in performance for the 3800X from the automated overclocking features, and AMD says we shouldn't expect too much manual overclocking headroom. Instead, you should look to tuning the Infinity Fabric and memory, which both raise in lockstep to a sweet spot of DDR4-3600. AMD also cites using PBO to boost performance, but in our test environment, that doesn't have a dramatic impact on performance. Given that we overclocked our memory in tandem with activating PBO, it's possible some of those slim gains actually stem from increased memory performance.
That means running the processor cores at stock settings paired with overclocked memory could offer roughly equivalent performance gains in some workloads. We're impatiently awaiting new firmware revisions to gauge how they react, but we have tested a multitude of PBO configurations with the Ryzen 7 3800X, of which there are many potential options, with varying levels of success. None seem to confer large speedups for gaming, though we did see some better uplift in traditional applications.
In either case, AMD is wringing a surprising amount of performance from its comparably lower clock speeds, largely due to the big generational uplift in IPC. In our tests, the Ryzen 3000 series is also more power efficient in terms of the amount of energy required to complete a task, which also equates to lowered thermal output.
Value seekers who aren't afraid to press the Precision Boost Overdrive button and have sufficient cooling should look to the Ryzen 7 3700X for roughly equivalent performance to the 3800X, particularly if gaming factors heavily into the buying decision. That could save you $70, reinforcing our decision to give the Ryzen 7 3700X an Editor's Choice award.
Out of the box, the Ryzen 7 3800X is a better all-arounder than the Core i7-9700K and offers incrementally higher performance than its downstream counterpart. The bundled cooler reduces platform costs, and a wide array of motherboards with both X470 and X570 chipsets offers plenty of choices for builders.
Photo Credits: Tom's Hardware
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