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AMD Ryzen 9 5950X and 5900X Review: Zen 3 Breaks the 5 GHz Barrier

AMD's Magnum Opus

Ryzen 9 5950X
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Tom's Hardware)

Our Verdict

AMD's Ryzen 9 5950X and Ryzen 9 5900X, powered by the Zen 3 architecture, set the new benchmark for high-end gaming and application performance, all while delivering incredible power efficiency.

For

  • Leading 1080p gaming
  • IPC gain, boost frequencies
  • Multi-threaded Performance
  • Overclockable
  • 500/400-series compatible
  • Power efficiency
  • PCIe Gen 4.0 Support

Against

  • Gen-on-gen price increase
  • No integrated graphics
  • No bundled CPU cooler

With the Ryzen 5000 series, it's fair to say that AMD has finally, and fully, eclipsed Intel's performance dominance in desktop PCs. AMD’s flagship $799 Ryzen 9 5950X has landed in our labs, boasting 16 cores and 32 threads bristling with the potent new Zen 3 microarchitecture. AMD’s new halo part expands Ryzen 9’s dominating lead in productivity applications and beats Intel’s competing processors in every other metric, including 1080p gaming performance, by surprising margins. Our 5950X sample even breaks the 5 GHz barrier at stock settings (at least sporadically), outstripping its spec and making it an easy choice for our list of Best CPUs

But the Ryzen 9 5950X is just the tip of the Zen 3 spear. We also have the more amenable $549 Ryzen 9 5900X that comes with 12 cores and 24 threads. Aside from its bruising performance in applications, it’s even faster than the 5950X in gaming, even beating out Intel's overclocked flagships at 1080p, too. 

Much of Ryzen’s early success stemmed from industry-leading core counts and plenty of freebies for enthusiasts, like bundled coolers and unrestricted overclockability paired with broad compatibility. Still, AMD was long relegated to the role of a value alternative. 

AMD’s clockwork execution on new Zen architectures has slowly whittled away Intel’s performance superiority with each new launch, though, leaving Intel an ever-shrinking cross-section of advantages. To counter, Intel added more cores and features of its own, but AMD’s relentless innovation left Intel clinging to the life raft of its single-threaded performance advantage.

AMD narrowed the gap when it transitioned to the denser 7nm process and Zen 2 architecture for the Ryzen 3000 chips, which largely reduced Intel’s gaming advantage to the imperceptible level – particularly in the mid-range of the market. With sales surging, AMD has begun to capitalize by repositioning itself as a premium brand. The first signs of that shift began with the company’s recent Ryzen XT lineup, which found the company largely discarding some of the freebies we’ve become accustomed to and tacking on a higher price tag to its almost imperceptibly-faster chips.

AMD Ryzen 5000 Series CPUs
Zen 3 Ryzen 5000 Series ProcessorsRCP (MSRP) Cores/ThreadsBase/Boost Freq. TDPL3 Cache
Ryzen 9 5950X$79916 / 323.4 / 4.9 GHz105W64MB (2x32)
Ryzen 9 5900X$54912 / 243.7 / 4.8 GHz105W64MB (2x32)
Ryzen 7 5800X$4498 / 163.8 / 4.7 GHz105W32MB (1x32)
Ryzen 5 5600X$2996 / 123.7 / 4.6 GHz65W32MB (1x32)

Ryzen 5000 changes the game entirely, though. The chips come with the same refined 7nm process found in the Ryzen XT processors, but AMD paired the node with a ground-up redesign of the Zen core microarchitecture. AMD says the new Zen 3 microarchitecture provides a 19% average increase in instruction per cycle (IPC) throughput, erasing the last vestiges of Intel’s performance advantages while delivering a new level of power efficiency. 

According to our tests, the Ryzen 5000 processors deliver, beating Intel in nearly all metrics that matter, including performance, power consumption, and thermals, and largely remove Intel’s performance lead after overclocking. And yes, that includes in 1080p gaming. AMD is also leveraging its position as the only CPU maker that also makes discrete GPUs by rolling out its new Smart Memory Access feature. This new tech boosts gaming performance by enhancing data transfer performance between the CPU and GPU, but it only works if you have a Radeon RX 6000 graphics card, Ryzen 5000 processor, and a 500-series motherboard. We won’t know the full implications of this new tech until the Radeon RX 6000 “Big Navi” launch later this month, but it looks promising. 

Now that Ryzen 5000 firmly establishes AMD as the performance leader, the company has hiked up prices by $50 across its entire lineup and left a noticeable gap in its product stack – you'll have to take a steep $150 step up the pricing ladder to get above the entry-level six-core twelve-thread Ryzen 5 5600X. AMD's premium pricing could be an Achilles heel, but it's hard to determine the final pricing story given that AMD's suggested selling prices almost never manifest at retail. 

Meanwhile, Intel is left without a response until the first quarter of 2021 when its Rocket Lake chips blast off, bringing a new back-ported Cypress Cove architecture that grants a “double-digit” IPC increase paired with Intel's never-ending 14nm process. 

Until then, this is how the high-performance chip market stacks up. To put AMD’s gaming performance claims to the test, we’ve switched over to an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 for game testing and also put the company’s new silicon through the paces in a wide range of expanded tests, including several SPEC and Adobe benchmark suites.

Ryzen 9 5950X and Ryzen 9 5900X Specifications and Pricing

The Ryzen 5000 series processors come as four models that span from six cores and twelve threads up to 16 cores and 32 threads. AMD increased its Precision Boost clock rates across the board, with a peak of 4.9 GHz for the Ryzen 9 5950X. However, AMD’s unique boosting algorithms can stretch beyond the advertised speeds if you pair the chips with a quality cooler and a motherboard with robust power circuitry. In fact, our Ryzen 9 5950X sample peaked at 5 GHz at stock settings, albeit sporadically, and reached 5.125 GHz when we engaged the auto-overclocking Precision Boost Overdrive feature, which we'll cover on the following pages. 

AMD increased the boost clock speeds, but it also reduced base frequencies compared to the previous-gen processors. AMD says that if you top the chip with an adequate cooler, it will rarely (if ever) drop to the base frequency, which we confirmed with our testing.

AMD Ryzen 5000 Series Processor Competition
Zen 3 Ryzen 5000 Series ProcessorsRCP (MSRP)Cores/ThreadsBase/Boost Freq.TDPL3 Cache
Ryzen 9 5950X$79916 / 323.4 / 4.9105W64MB (2x32)
Core i9-10980XE$815 (retail) 18 / 363.0 / 4.8165W24.75MB
Ryzen 9 3950X$74916 / 323.5 / 4.7105W64MB (4x16)
Ryzen 9 5900X$54912 / 243.7 / 4.8 105W64MB (2x32)
Core i9-10900K / F$488 - $47210 / 203.7 / 5.3125W20MB
Ryzen 9 3900XT$49912 / 243.9 / 4.7105W64MB (4x16)
Ryzen 7 5800X$4498 / 163.8 / 4.7 105W32MB (2x16)
Core i9-10850K$45310 / 203.6 / 5.295W20MB
Core i7-10700K / F$374 - $3498 / 163.8 / 5.1125W16MB
Ryzen 7 3800XT$3998 / 163.9 / 4.7105W32MB (2x16)
Ryzen 5 5600X$2996 / 123.7 / 4.6 65W32MB (1x32)
Core i5-10600K / F$262 - $2376 / 124.1 / 4.8125W12MB
Ryzen 5 3600XT$2496 / 123.8 / 4.595W32MB (1x32)

The $799 16-core 32-thread Ryzen 9 5950X comes with a 3.4 GHz base frequency, a 300 MHz reduction compared to the 3950X, and a 4.9 GHz Precision Boost frequency. Intel doesn't really have an answer for the 5950X; the Comet Lake series tops out at ten cores for $488. You can find the 18-core 36-thread Core i9-10980XE for $815 at several retailers, though it comes with all of the normal drawbacks of a high end desktop chip, like the need for a pricey motherboard and quad-channel memory kit. Meanwhile, the Ryzen 9 5950X drops into mainstream motherboards with ease.

The 12-core 24-thread $549 Ryzen 9 5900X comes with a $50 markup over the previous-gen 3900XT. The chips' base frequency declines 200 MHz compared to the 3900XT, but boosts reach 4.8 GHz (a 100 MHz increase). Intel's 10-core 20-thread Core i9-10900K slots in for $60 less than the 5900X ($77 less if you choose to go with the graphics-less F-series model).

If all you care about is gaming, Intel's $453 Core i9-10850K also falls into this bracket. The 10850K offers essentially the same performance as the pricier 10900K in gaming, but is $96 less than the 5900X.

The $449 Ryzen 7 5800X comes with eight cores and 16 threads, just like its previous-gen Ryzen 7 3800XT counterpart, but again comes with a $50 markup. The chip sees a 100 MHz lower base clock than the 3800XT but has the same 4.7 GHz boost. Given the price point, the Core i9-10850K also competes here with similar pricing to the 5800X, while the Core i7-10700K is ~$100 less

Finally, the 6-core 12-thread $299 Ryzen 5 5600X's base clocks come in at 100 MHz less than the previous-gen 3600XT, while boosts are 100 MHz higher at 4.6 GHz. AMD's 6C/12T Ryzen 5 3600XT had a 95W TDP, but AMD dialed that back to 65W with the 5600X, showing that Zen 3's improved IPC affords lots of advantages. 

AMD does have a glaring hole in its product stack: You'll have to shell out an extra $150 to step up from the 6C/12T Ryzen 5 5600X to the 8C/16T Ryzen 7 5800X, which is a steep jump. Based upon product naming alone, it appears there is a missing Ryzen 7 5700X in the stack, but it remains to be seen if AMD will actually bring such a product to market. 

As before, AMD only guarantees its boost frequencies on a single core, and all-core boosts will vary based on the cooling solution, power delivery, and motherboard BIOS. You’ll need your own cooler for any Ryzen 5000 chip that exceeds a 65W TDP: The Ryzen 5 5600X is the only Ryzen 5000 chip that comes with a bundled cooler. AMD said it decided to skip bundled coolers in higher-TDP models largely because it believes most enthusiasts looking for high-performance CPUs use custom cooling. AMD recommends a 280mm (or greater) AIO liquid cooler (or equivalent air cooling) for the Ryzen 9 and 7 CPUs if you want to reach the advertised speeds, significantly adding to the overall platform costs.  

The Ryzen chips continue to expose 20 lanes of PCIe 4.0 to the user and stick with DDR4-3200 memory as the base spec. However, if the silicon lottery shines upon you, we found that the chips offer much better memory overclocking due to improved fabric overclocking capabilities, which we'll cover on the following pages. 

These chips drop into existing AM4 motherboards with 500-series chipsets, like X570, B550, and A520 models. You'll need an AGESA 1.0.8.0 (or newer) BIOS to boot a Zen 3 processor. Still, while the early BIOS revisions ensure the processors will work on the most basic level, you'll have to update to an AGESA 1.1.0.0 (or better) BIOS for the best performance. AMD will also add support for 400-series motherboards starting in Q1, 2021, but that comes with a few restrictions.

Let's see how the Ryzen 5000 series stacks up against Intel's finest. 

  • everettfsargent
    https://forums.tomshardware.com/threads/amd-ryzen-9-5950x-and-5900x-review-zen-3-breaks-the-5-ghz-barrier.3659689/
    Reposting a three week old review?
    Reply
  • everettfsargent
    Oh and Core i9-10980XE $815 (retail) "You can find the 18-core 36-thread Core i9-10980XE for $815 at several retailers ... " is still a bald-faced lie three weeks later! :(
    Reply
  • VTXcnME
    Humorous the 'cons' that list price increases of $50. For the last decade, Intels flagship processor has been half again as much as the current Ryzen5000 and so few tech sites batted an eye about it. And it's been a bit since I shopped intel chips, but last I checked, Intel hasn't been bundling coolers with their chips for a while? Someone who follows intel might be able to provide me some guidance there.

    As a home building enthusiast (for the last decade or so) this is a very exciting time having legit competition between team red and team blue. Even AMD and Nvidia is getting interesting! A fantastic time to be a home builder. I can't wait to see how intel counter punches here. Should be an interesting decade ahead.
    Reply
  • veldrane2
    mmmmkay ........

    But can it break the "be actually in stock" barrier ?

    Which benchmark tools give us those results ?

    I mean ... It does look cute somewhere in the fluffy land of benchmarks and future upcoming products even though "technically" its not a future product.
    Reply
  • JordonB
    veldrane2 said:
    mmmmkay ........

    But can it break the "be actually in stock" barrier ?

    Which benchmark tools give us those results ?

    I mean ... It does look cute somewhere in the fluffy land of benchmarks and future upcoming products even though "technically" its not a future product.
    AMD 5950 selling at $695 on Amazon. It was there last night for sale 1 per person. I was happily surprised. I would have purchased it but had purchased a 3900X 4 months ago.
    Reply
  • VTXcnME
    JordonB said:
    AMD 5950 selling at $695 on Amazon. It was there last night for sale 1 per person. I was happily surprised. I would have purchased it but had purchased a 3900X 4 months ago.

    aaannnnd it's gone again. LOL
    Reply
  • Co BIY
    These will sell at the premium prices they are asking for. I don't see why they shouldn't. Past AMD chips sold below msrp because they had to be "value" chips but these are performance leaders.

    They also probably have limited ability to greatly increase production since TSMC is booked up so they aren't going to increase the volume sold by lowering prices.
    Reply