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

Checking To See If Intel Speed Shift Is Enabled

Back in 2015, as part of the Skylake architecture, Intel released a new processor feature called Intel Speed Shift. This is an improved version of Intel SpeedStep, which you may have heard of since it has been around much longer. Essentially, Speed Shift allows the processor and the operating system to cooperate better, and more quickly “throttle up” the clock speed of the processor cores in response to an increased workload.

With the older SpeedStep technology, it would typically take 100-150ms for a processor core to fully ramp up its clock speed in response to a lower P-state. With Speed Shift, this delay goes down to 30-35ms to fully ramp up.


Figure 1: Intel Speed Shift

This technology has been in Intel desktop and mobile processors since Q3 2015 (although you couldn’t use it until Microsoft patched Windows 10 in November 2015). It showed up in Intel server processors in the Skylake-SP family and in the current Cascade Lake-SP family. Figure 2 shows a current Intel Xeon Gold 6244 processor which has Intel Speed Shift support (although you can’t actually tell from CPU-Z).


Figure 2: Intel Xeon Gold 6244 in CPU-Z

Remember, you need a new enough processor (Skylake or newer) and operating system support in order to enable Intel Speed Shift. This means a new enough build of Windows 10, Windows Server 2016 or Windows Server 2019.

One way to confirm whether Intel Speed Shift is enabled is to use the free HWiNFO64 utility. On the main HWiNFO screen, in the CPU section, there is a Features section that shows various AMD and Intel processor features. They will be green if that feature is enabled on your system, and greyed out if it is not.

The one for Intel Speed Shift is SST, at the bottom right of the section. You can see this feature enabled in Figure 3.


Figure 3: HWiNFO64 Showing Intel Speed Shift Enabled

SST is something you want to have enabled on your database server if at all possible. If you have the two main prerequisites, you may still have to poke around in your BIOS settings to make sure this ends up being enabled. If you don’t see it enabled in HWiNFO64, you might want to bug your server vendor to find out what combination of BIOS settings are required your your model server.

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.