A New Class of Performance
High end desktop processors have long offered the ultimate in performance, as long as you were willing to pay the price. Aside from high MSRPs, the chips also require expensive accommodations, like beefy motherboards and the added cost of fully populating quad-channel memory controllers. Add in the inevitable trade-offs, like reduced performance in lightly-threaded applications and games, and most regular users who could use the threaded horsepower of a HEDT chip just settle for mainstream offerings.
Now AMD's Ryzen 9 3950X brings HEDT-class performance to mainstream motherboards, lowering the bar for entry. The 3950X carries a $749 price tag, but that is downright affordable compared to competing HEDT processors.
Intel's current lineup of Skylake-X Refresh chips are hideously overpriced by comparison, but AMD's pressure has brought about some change: Intel's forthcoming Cascade Lake-X chips cost roughly half the price of the previous-gen models, yet the 18C/36T Core i9-10980XE still slots in at nearly $200 more than the 3950X. You'll also need to spring for an X299 motherboard, while the 3950X drops into X570, X470, and B450 motherboards, though the latter might not be a good choice to feed enough current to this beast.
As a general rule, we don't recommend HEDT processors for enthusiasts that are only interested in gaming, they're best served by mainstream processors that are often faster in games, and the Ryzen 9 3950X also falls into the same category. However, if you're after a platform that can do serious work, but still be nimble enough for some entertainment afterward, the Ryzen 9 3950X fits the bill.
Below we plot the geometric mean of our gaming test suite in both average fps and 99th percentile values, the latter of which is a good indicator of the overall smoothness of your gaming experience.
The Ryzen 9 3950X provides more than acceptable performance for 1080p gaming, as a whole, and it is very competitive with Intel's chips. These deltas will shrink tremendously when paired with high-resolution gaming. Given the target audience, that class of gaming is almost a given.
We see the same performance trend throughout our suite of application tests: Unlike some Threadripper processors, there were no significant performance outliers in lightly-threaded apps that were worthy of alarm. Turn to heavily-threaded applications, like rendering and professional applications, and the Ryzen 9 3950X often outstripped those same Threadripper processors, not to mention Intel's flagship Core i9-9980XE.
AMD says that it fully expects the Ryzen 9 3950X to be competitive with Intel's new -10980XE, but Intel also has its 14C/28T -10940X at $784, which aligns neatly with the 3950X's pricing. We're sure that you'll see reviews of both of those competing products shortly.
But we don't think those chips will change the landscape much, the Ryzen 9 3950X just has too much to offer at a much lower overall cost. A capable X570 motherboard doesn't come cheap, but you gain access to the PCIe 4.0 interface as a nice bonus. Budget in a beefy cooler to assure enthusiast-class performance from your chip, and AMD's Ryzen 9 3950X is truly in a class of its own.