2019 was a great year for AMD, with new CPU and graphics card launches that caught the attention of industry and hardware fans alike. But that does not mean that there is no tough competition in either camp. The new Ryzen 3000 CPUs face Intel's best price, but how do they compare to performance?
With the new hardware in hand, there are great comparisons for the entire new line of Ryzen chips. At the high end, we have the Core i9-9900K versus the Ryzen 9 3900X for around $ 500. Which will be the best chip of all?
By the numbers
Dan Baker / Digital Trends
The Ryzen 9 3900X is only dwarfed by its 16-core successor and is an extremely powerful mainstream CPU with fantastic technical specifications. Thehowever, isn't a gap, and by numbers they're pretty much comparable.
|Intel Core i9 9900K||AMD Ryzen 9 3900X|
|L2 / L3 cache||2 MB / 16 MB||6 MB / 64 MB|
|Base clock rate||3.6 GHz||3.8 GHz|
|Increase the clock speed||4.7 GHz (all cores)
5 GHz (one core)
|4.1 GHz + (all cores)
4.6 GHz (one core)
|graphic||Intel UHD Graphics 630||No|
The 3900X has more cores and threads, while the Intel chip has the higher clock speed, especially for single-threaded workloads. Most games now use a handful of cores. So unless you overclock, you will typically not see 5 GHz frequencies when playing on a 9900K.
The 3900X can be stepped up to 4.6 GHz on a single core, but is closer to 4.1 GHz when all cores and threads are used simultaneously. AMD's automatic overclocking process can take up to 4.3 GHz in some cases, but it is highly dependent on your motherboard, BIOS revision and cooling.
The 3900X has seen a significant increase in instructions per cycle over its second generation predecessors, so it is more powerful than the 9900K cycle for the clock. The huge L2 and L3 cache effectively removes memory latency concerns even with the 2nd generation chips.
Intel Core i9-9900K
Intel has had a gaming performance advantage for more than a decade, and even with AMD's awesome first and second generation Ryzen CPUs, this has come true. But not anymore.
In our gaming tests with Fortnite, Civilization VI, and Assassin's Creed Odyssey, the 3900X beat the 9900K – a CPU previously dubbed the best gaming chip ever made – in almost all settings and showed a slight lead. These may not be the numbers AMD fans have been hoping for, but this is the first time in more than 10 years that a high-end AMD CPU has beaten Intel's gaming competition.
The 3900X showed a decent lead in 3DMark, while in Assassin's Creed Odyssey it matched the 9900K at high settings and outperformed it at low settings. In Fortnite, the 9900K shot at high settings before the 3900X, but with over 250 FPS in all of our tests, that difference hardly matters.
We saw the most drastic difference in Civilization VI. At high and low settings, the 3900X beat the 9900K. Most major strategy games put more stress on the CPU than the GPU because the processor handles A.I.controlled opponents and multiple interconnected systems. As with Fortnite, both processors delivered over 150 FPS in our trials. AMD's advantage in both tests – not a single test, as was the case with Fortnite – shows its ability as a gaming CPU.
However, price is an important factor. Although the 9900K was more expensive than the 3900X at launch, it's now a bit cheaper (a new position for Intel). You can usually find a 9900K for around $ 400. The 3900X is more expensive, but not by much, and typically costs around $ 430.
It is important to consider the persistent issues Intel is facing in CPU performance which are also being affected by the Specter degradation. These can persist if new bugs arise in the future, for which AMD's chips are usually more robust against these types of exploits.
Heavily multithreaded productivity tasks like video transcoding and editing have been the wheelhouse of AMD for the past several years as the Ryzen and Threadripper chips directly compete with each other, even outperforming Intel's more expensive options. With the 3000 series, and specifically the 12-core, 24-thread 3900X, AMD has not only beaten Intel's mainstream chips (including the 9900K), but will also put some of its older Threadripper cousins on the pasture.
At E3 2019, AMD provided stats on its 3900X that were compared to more than twice the price: the 12-core, 24-thread Intel Core i9-9920X and $ 1,200. And it still cleaned up.
When we got the 3900X for testing, we pitted it against its true rival: the 9900K. Unsurprisingly, the new AMD CPU once again proved to be dominant.
In Geekbench and Cinebench, the 3900X decimated the 9900K in terms of multithreaded performance, although it lagged just behind the Intel competition due to its reduced clock speed in single-thread tasks. In the real-world Handbrake 4K transcoding test, the 3900X was found to be almost 25% faster than the 9900K – a considerable advantage achieved by the additional cores / threads on the AMD chip.
Efficiency isn't as important with desktop chips as it is with laptops because there is no battery life to consider. However, warmth is an important factor. The more power a CPU needs, the more heat it gives off. This is where the somewhat marketing-driven TDP number comes from.
The 9900K from Intel is the more efficient chip with a nominal power of 95 watts, while the 3900X has a TDP of 105 watts. But that's not the whole story. Intel's TDP ratings relate to the base clock rate rather than the sustained increase. AMDs are much closer to the performance they pull at the highest clock speeds.
Research into the power requirements of the Intel 9900K when it was first launched has found that it used far more power than its TDP rating. Tom's Hardware reported that while staying below its TDP while gaming, it could use more than 200 watts for extended periods of heavy multi-threaded workloads. This number could increase to 250 watts when superimposed.
We did not test the 3900X's power consumption, but other testers did, and Anandtech found that it never used more than 142 watts when fully loaded. This also makes it a more efficient chip than the 9900K. And that's the big selling point of AMD with its Zen architecture: More power per watt.
The 3900X is the new king of CPUs
Dan Baker / Digital Trends
We were excited to see the 3900X before it launched due to pre-release numbers and speculation. Now we can report that we are even happier after testing.
The 3900X offers performance comparable to the 9900K in gaming and limited threading, which in some cases is dwarfed and wiped out in multi-threaded workloads. The 3900X also has a low TDP, which means less heat and less need for a powerful cooler.
The best mainstream CPU AMD has ever made, the 3900X welcomes a return to peak performance that AMD has not achieved since the days of the Athlon 64. Intel has now been in the reverse position for more than a decade. In retaliation, prices have been cut to stay competitive and there is a new generation of even faster CPUs to battle the best of AMD.
Unfortunately, this price hack doesn't save its 9900K with eight cores for the time being in this scenario. While the 3900X is $ 20 to $ 40 more expensive, in most cases it offers more cores, more threads, and better performance. The only drawback here is that the AMD chip does not contain any integrated graphics. However, at this price point, it's unlikely to be a problem for most PC manufacturers.