AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Processor Released


On November 14, 2019, the review embargo for the AMD Ryzen 9 3950X mainstream desktop processor expired. As a result, there were a flood of written and video reviews of AMD’s new flagship processor for the mainstream market segment. This 7nm processor has 16C/32T with a base clock speed of 3.5GHz, a max boost clock of up to 4.7GHz, a 64MB L3 cache, a 105W TDP, and PCIe 4.0 support. The SRP is $749.99.

It is essentially the same Zen 2 processor as the 12C/24T AMD Ryzen 9 3900X (with two CCX) with four more cores and slightly different base and max boost clock speeds that has a SRP of $499.99. One important difference is that the 3900X comes with an included Wraith Prism CPU cooler, while the 3950X does not include a CPU cooler. AMD actually recommends an all-in-one liquid cooler with a 280mm radiator (or greater) for the 3950X.

This is actually a strange recommendation, since according to several reviews, the 3950X runs cooler than the 3900X (in an otherwise identical system). I suspect that you would also be fine with a high quality, large air cooler from Noctua. This apparent paradox is due to better binning of the chiplets used in the 3950X, which lets them run at lower voltage at the same clock speeds compared to the 3900X. This reduces energy usage and reduces the heat output.


Figure 1: AMD Ryzen 9 3950X

My Analysis

After reading and watching multiple reviews of the Ryzen 9 3950X, I am very impressed, more so than I thought I would be. It’s single-threaded performance is comparable to the 8C/16T Intel Core i9-9900K and 9900KS on most benchmarks, while its multi-threaded performance is far superior to those two flagship Intel desktop processors on nearly every benchmark. To make matters worse for Intel, the 3950X has significantly better single-threaded performance than Intel’s much more expensive current  Skylake-X HEDT processors and comparable or better multi-threaded performance on most benchmarks.

The Ryzen 9 3950X also dominates the existing 12nm 16C/32T AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X HEDT processor in both single and multi-threaded performance. It does have less memory capacity (two memory channels and four DIMM slots vs. four memory channels and eight DIMM slots), but it supports faster memory. It has fewer PCIe lanes, but PCIe 4.0 lanes have twice the bandwidth of PCIe 3.0 lanes.

Intel really doesn’t have a viable competitive response in the mainstream or HEDT segments available now, or on the short-term horizon (meaning the next six to twelve months). About all Intel can do to try to minimize the damage is to reduce their prices pretty significantly. They have the financial resources to do that if they want to, and I predict they will. If you simply must have an Intel processor, I suggest you wait a month or two to take advantage of this.

Who Is This Processor For?

Despite AMD’s marketing, you don’t really need an AMD Ryzen 3950X for gaming. If all you do is game, you can use a less expensive AMD or Intel processor, and spend the savings on a better video card. If you are a hard-core content creator, where rendering and encoding time is a really big deal, where time is literally money, then you would be better off waiting for the upcoming 3rd Generation AMD Ryzen Threadripper processors that will have more cores, more memory channels and capacity, and more PCIe 4.0 capacity.

The target audience for this processor is someone who does some content creation, some development, perhaps likes to run multiple VMs or containers, and also likes to do some gaming. It is a versatile, relatively affordable mainstream consumer processor (compared to an HEDT system) that has the performance and capacity to handle most common workloads very well.

To be clear, most people don’t really need to go this high up in the desktop stack to get great general purpose desktop performance. You can use something like an 8C/16T AMD Ryzen 7 3700X or even a 6C/12T AMD Ryzen 5 3600 for a lot less money. If you are running an older Intel 4C/8T desktop processor including as new as a Core i7-7700K, moving to even a lower-end AMD Zen 2 processor system is going to be a substantial upgrade.

Selected Reviews

Here are some reviews to watch and read.

Intel Could Take YEARS to Catch Up… – Ryzen 9 3950X Review

Ryzen 9 3950X Review, The New Performance King!

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Review & Benchmarks – The Intel Destroyer

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Review: Premiere, Blender, Overclocking, & Gaming CPU Benchmarks

Ryzen 3950X Review & Benchmarks: 16-Core Dominance!

RYZEN 3950X vs. TR 2950X, i9-9900KS – Gaming, Rendering, OC

Ryzen 9 3950X review: AMD’s 16-core CPUs is an epic end-zone dance over Intel

The AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Review: 16 Cores on 7nm with PCIe 4.0

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Review: 16 Cores Muscles Into the Mainstream

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Review: A 16-Core Zen 2 Powerhouse

Glenn’s Technical Insights For November 4, 2019

(Glenn’s Technical Insights… used to be part of our bi-weekly newsletter but we decided to make it a regular blog post instead so it can get more visibility. It covers interesting new hardware and software developments that are generally relevant for SQL Server). It also can just be technically-oriented items that I find interesting.

AMD and Intel Financial Results for Q3 2019

Normally the financial results of tech companies is not that interesting (unless you work there or own stock in the company). In this case, looking at how AMD and Intel are doing, and comparing their relative size is relevant from an technical perspective since it may help you understand what they are doing with their products and pricing.

AMD has had their best financial quarter since 2005, with 1.8 billion dollars in revenue, and while this sounds impressive, they are still dwarfed by Intel with 19.2 billion dollars in revenue for the quarter. From a net earnings perspective, the picture is even more in Intel’s favor, with Intel posting 6.0 billion in GAAP net income, while AMD posted 120 million in net income for the quarter.

There are a couple of reasons why this matters. First, a resurgent AMD will have more money available for R & D and new product development than they did in the past, which will allow them to maintain their competitive pressure on Intel. On the other hand, Intel has the financial resources and very high margins that will let them lower prices in order to maintain their market share. In the recent past, they haven’t had to do this due to lack of competition from AMD in most market segments.

Since the release of the Zen 2 architecture (with the Ryzen 3000 series desktop processors and EPYC 7002 series server processors), AMD has been reclaiming some market share in those two segments. They have also done well with the Ryzen Threadripper 2000 series HEDT processors, and should do even better with upcoming Zen 2 based Ryzen Threadripper 3000 series HEDT processors. Intel is still doing very well in the mobile segment, which is very important to them.

We have already seen a pretty massive price decrease (over 50%) with the new Intel Cascade Lake-X HEDT processors, as I discussed here. There are pretty strong rumors that Intel is going to announce some price cuts on their mainstream desktop processors pretty soon. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Intel announce some official price cuts on their Xeon processors in the next few months.

The point here is that AMD has developed into a serious competitor in the mainstream desktop, HEDT, and server market, while Intel is maintaining their dominance in the mobile market. This relative weakness in some segments has already caused Intel to reduce prices on some products, and their financial resources will allow them to do more of that if they want to. Intel has actually touted their financial strength as a key competitive advantage vs. AMD, which makes it even more likely they will announce price cuts on more products. This is good for consumers, but perhaps not so much for Intel stockholders.


AMD AGESA Begins Rolling Out for Ryzen 3000 Series Processors

AGESA stands for AMD Generic Encapsulated Software Architecture. This is a procedure library that AMD developed and maintains, that is supplied to their partner motherboard vendors for use as part of the BIOS of the motherboard. AMD periodically releases new AGESA versions that contain bug fixes and performance enhancements. The motherboard vendors then take this AGESA code and incorporate it into a new BIOS version that you have to download and install on your system.

Even though this may sound trivial, it is actually pretty important if you want to get the best performance and reliability out of your system. Keeping your BIOS up to date is important, whether is is for your laptop, gaming machine, or database server. AGESA improves system boot times by 20-30%, improves turbo clock speed performance and improves NVMe device compatibility, on top of having many other small bug fixes. If you have an AMD desktop system, you should check with your motherboard vendor over the next couple of weeks to get an updated BIOS.

This reminds me of how Tesla pushes out free OTA software updates. They recently pushed out version 2019.36.1, which included a 5% peak power increase for the Model 3, among other new features and improvements. This is the second 5% power increase they have enabled with a software update. Getting extra performance for free is a great thing, whether it is for your car or for your computer.


Intel Delays Release of Cascade Lake-X HEDT Processors

According to WCCFTech (which has a somewhat mixed record regarding rumors and leaks), Intel has decided to slightly delay the planned release of Cascade Lake- X from November 5 to November 25. The supposed reason for this is so Intel can see the pricing for the upcoming AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3000 series HEDT processors, and then decide whether they want to make any pricing adjustments to Cascade Lake-X.

Speaking of that, AMD has scheduled a “Meet The Experts” webinar on November 6, 2019, where they will cover “AMD plans for high-end desktop systems” and “The future of the high-end desktop market”, meaning it is pretty likely they will release more information about the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3000 series during the webinar.




Glenn’s Technical Insights For October 23, 2019

(Glenn’s Technical Insights… used to be part of our bi-weekly newsletter but we decided to make it a regular blog post instead so it can get more visibility. It covers interesting new hardware and software developments that are generally relevant for SQL Server). It also can just be technically-oriented items that I find interesting.

AMD Threadripper 3000 Series

More information has been leaking regarding the upcoming release of the 3rd generation, Zen 2 AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3000 processors. These 7nm HEDT processors are supposed to be officially announced on November 5, 2019, and two of the SKUs are rumored to be available for sale on November 19, 2019. The series will start with a 24C/48T Ryzen Threadripper 3960X and a 32T/64C Ryzen Threadripper 3970X. These will be accompanied by new TRX40 chipset motherboards that will be available at the same time.

The initial announcement and release will be followed by one or two higher-end SKUs that will be released in January 2020. These would be the 48C/96T Ryzen Threadripper 3980X and the flagship 64C/128T Threadripper 3990X.  So far, we don’t know other specifications like clock speeds, cache sizes, or how much IPC gain these processors will have compared to the previous 2nd generation Threadripper processors. They are supposed to have PCIe 4.0 support, and will likely have more PCIe lanes and higher memory capacity than their predecessors.

Needless to say, I am pretty excited about 3rd Generation Threadripper. I think it is going to extend AMD’s dominance in the HEDT market. The “entry-level” 7nm 24C/48T AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X HEDT processor should compare very favorably with the recently released “high-end” 14nm 18C/36T Intel Core i9-10980XE Extreme Edition HEDT processor. The AMD processor will definitely have better multi-threaded performance, as you would expect from having 24 vs. 18 cores.

It is also likely to have better single-threaded performance than Intel. It will also have more PCIe bandwidth (from a combination of Gen 4 support and having more total lanes). The AMD processor will probably cost about the same as the Intel processor, and it will be using a more modern, feature-rich TRX40 chipset compared to Intel’s refreshed X299 chipset. This is pretty amazing, with the entry-level AMD HEDT SKU beating the high-end Intel HEDT SKU in nearly every measure.

Building one of these very powerful desktop machines is still going to be fairly expensive, typically in the $3000-$5000 range depending on exactly what components you choose. That is a lot of money, but for people who actually make money using the full horsepower of a HEDT machine, it will be worth it. If you don’t need that much horsepower, you will also have another, less expensive choice from AMD

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Processor

Intel’s woes will continue when the 16C/32T AMD Ryzen 9 3950X mainstream desktop processor is released in November. This is the flagship Zen 2 desktop processor that has a base clock speed of 3.5GHz, a max boost clock speed of 4.7GHz and 64MB of L3 cache. AMD is said to be binning better quality Zen 2 processor cores for the $749.00 flagship 3950X compared to the lower-end SKUs in that product family. This means that they will reliably run at higher max boost speeds more often.


Figure 1: AMD Ryzen 9 3950X

Another advantage is that Zen 2 has been out since July 7, 2019, so there has been time for AMD to improve the AMD Generic Encapsulated Software Architecture (AGESA) firmware and their chipset drivers compared to the initial release versions, which has improved performance. Remember, you want to make sure you have the latest BIOS version, latest AMD chipset drivers, and Windows 10 Version 1903 (or later) to get the best performance from a Zen 2 processor.

There have been some leaked benchmarks showing the mainstream Ryzen 9 3950X beating the HEDT Intel Core i9-10980XE processor. These leaked benchmarks are not on exactly comparable systems (with different video cards and different memory speeds), so keep that in mind.

The bottom line for me is that for most desktop workloads, you can get much better overall performance for much less money with an AMD Zen 2 system compared to an Intel system. One exception is 1080P gaming, where your video card is not a bottleneck. In this scenario, the fastest, most expensive Intel desktop processors, such as the Intel Core i9-9900K and upcoming Intel Core i9-9900KS will have higher frame rates on some, but not all games. If you are gaming at 2K or 4K, you will be better off with a more affordable AMD Ryzen 7 3700K, and then spending the money you saved on the processor on a better video card.

For general desktop usage and content creation scenarios, having more cores (such as the 12C/24T AMD Ryzen 9 3900X or the 16C/32T AMD Ryzen 9 3950X) is going to be much more useful most of the time. If you are on a budget, the 6C/12T AMD Ryzen 5 3600 or the 8C/16T AMD Ryzen 7 3700X are excellent choices.