AMD has changed the paradigm in the CPU space. For the first time in years, it finds itself on top, leading the industry. Thanks to improvements in its core architecture, the Ryzen 5000-series has even arrived as the best value choice for gamers and users of single-core heavy applications. When I reviewed the Ryzen 5 5600X and Ryzen 9 5900X, I found each to be impressive for the money, while only marginally behind in gaming frame rates. The results were close enough, in fact, that it seemed to make little sense to turn to Intel given the price to performance potential and the versatility provided by the extra cores. That review left off with one big missing piece, however: the king of the hill, the Ryzen 9 5950X.
That missing piece has arrived and I’ve spent the last three weeks putting it through its paces to see if it lives up to the promise of those two earlier processors. It offers the highest core count and thread count of the bunch, featuring a full 16-cores and 32-threads, which makes it an excellent fit for content creators and prosumers who also value gaming performance. All of that horsepower comes at a steeper cost of $799 and in this review, I’ll be breaking down whether or not it’s worth paying extra for compared to the 5900X or even last generation’s Ryzen 9 3950X.
In order to really understand what sets the Ryzen 9 5950X apart, it’s important to understand exactly what advancements this generation of CPUs brings. The goal, as always, with AMD, is performance leadership. In developing this line of desktop processors, AMD was keenly aware that though they had flipped the price to performance equation on its head with previous generations of Ryzen CPUs and dramatically increased expectations on core and thread count, its single-core performance lagged behind the competition. Taking the single-core crown was therefore a major focus while also investing in a wide array of other improvements this generation.
Ryzen 5000 Series – What’s New?
The Ryzen 5000 series represents a major advancement for AMD, reducing latency and substantially increasing performance over last generation’s Zen 2 processors. Spoiler alert: the IPC improvements quoted in AMD’s marketing aren’t bluster. Instead, they’re a result of major design changes in the architecture of the chip.
One of the biggest changes is with how these new CPUs manage their cache. Unlike the Zen 2 architecture, Zen 3 now shares a large pool of L3 cache that is directly accessible by each core. That means, for the Ryzen 9 5900 X, all 12 cores can draw on the full 64MB of L3 cache, reducing the latency of each operation. This change alone increases the IPC of each processor, particularly for tasks like gaming.
Zen 3 carries with it a number of other advancements, all aimed at decreasing latency and increasing the performance per watt of each respective CPU. On the front end, branch prediction has received significant enhancements that make it faster and better able to recover from mispredictions. The Execution Engine is more capable, with wider floating point and integer capability, and larger execution windows. Load/Store is enhanced with higher bandwidth each and more flexibility within operations.
All of this adds up to much better single-core performance and power efficiency. In fact, the uplift on offer comes with the same TDP or improved TDP as last generation. The Ryzen 9 5950X, 5900X, and 5700X are each quoted at 105 watts each. The Ryzen 5 5600X comes in at only 65 watts, which is more than 30% less than the Ryzen 5 3600X.
In our closed-door presentations, AMD was also keen to point out that memory overclocking is also improved. Thanks to the enhancements made to the core, users should be able to use 4000MHz memory without facing the same performance penalty as with Zen 2. During my testing, I was able to overclock my own Corsair Vengeance RGB Pro memory kit, which came stock at 3600MHz to 4000MHz fairly easily and see a performance improvement first-hand.
For gaming, the Ryzen 5000 series aims to be best in class. The improvements to frequency and latency all carry the weight of improved FPS on their shoulders, lending Zen 3 an advantage that previously resided with Team Blue. At the same time, these enhancements also enhance the multi-threaded workloads that catapulted the Ryzen line to acclaim in the first place. It’s an incredibly compelling offering, only dampened by the slightly increased prices.
That said, those extra savings are mitigated by the continuation of the AM4 socket. If you’re already running an AMD 500 series chipset (X570, B550, A520), you’ll be good to go with just a new CPU.
Ryzen 9 5950X
The Ryzen 9 5950X is AMD’s flagship consumer CPU. As I mentioned previously, it features 16-cores and 32-threads putting it on par with last generation’s R9 3950X. This kind of core count will clearly be overkill if all you’re doing is gaming, but if you’re also working with creative applications like Adobe Premiere Pro or rendering, or even engaging in heavy multi-tasking like streaming and recording, those additional cores really begin to show their value.
Having used the 3950X since February of this year, and now the 5950X, I can also tell you that even then this processor has headroom to spare in those use cases. But then, isn’t that what you would expect from a flagship CPU? Speaking as a consumer and content creator, I would feel frustrated if my new $799 processor didn’t have runway ahead of it. Compared to 16-core HEDT processors, $799 is very reasonable, but it remains a sizeable investment for mainstream consumers, so the performance level feels very fitting.
Clock speeds have received a boost this generation. The Base Clock speed of the 5950X is now 3.4 GHz but the Boost Clock is now an impressive 4.9 GHz. One of the criticisms of Ryzen 3000 is that these “on the box” speeds were rarely achieved, but the new architecture and design behavior allows it to more reliably reach this frequency. This higher clock speed also has benefits for gaming performance.
Like the other entries in the Ryzen 5000 series, the new pool of shared cache allows the processor to offer reduced latency and higher IPC from last generation. As we’ll see in the results, this has a direct impact on performance compared to the 3950X.
The TDP for this processor remains 105 watts; however, as we’ve seen in high-end processors for quite some time, the actual power draw is likely to exceed this. Power draw is not something I have the current equipment to accurately testing; however, our colleagues in the testing space have shown this to be exceeded, particularly under peak stress and multi-threaded workloads, so I would encourage you to read other reviews to see their findings.
Finally, we have PCI-e lanes and the 5950X falls in line with each of the other launch processors featuring 24 PCI-e Gen 4 lanes. This is enough to supply even two high-end GPUs in SLI (which most users won’t do, of course), as well as multiple NVMe SSDs for ultra-fast storage.
AMD Test System: Gigabyte X570 AORUS Master Motherboard, Corsair Vengeance Pro RGB DDR4-3600 (64GB), Corsair H115i RGB Platinum AIO, Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti, Gigabyte AORUS NVMe Gen4 SSD 2TB, Corsair HX-1000i Power Supply
Intel Test System: ASUS Z490 Maximus XII Extreme, Corsair Vengeance Pro RGB DDR4-3600 (64GB), NZXT Kraken X72, Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti, Gigabyte AORUS NVMe Gen4 SSD 2TB, Corsair HX-1050 1050 Power Supply
The test systems used for this performance test were built to be largely symmetrical. I conducted my testing in sequence, bringing components from one machine to the next, formatting the SSD in between the AMD and Intel tests. All systems have been updated with the latest firmware and software updates.
Given the power draw and potentially very large workloads undertaken by this processor, temperatures have the potential to be quite high. However, in my testing with a 240mm all-in-one cooler, I reliably hovered around 75C with Precision Boost Overdrive in effect.
When it comes to manual overclocking, I found the Ryzen 9 5950X to be more difficult that I expected. As is always the case, overclocking often comes down to silicon lottery and in this case, I was only able to achieve a stable all-core overclock of 4.6 GHz at 1.35v. This raised my temperatures into the 80s, however. While technically still safe and within spec, it’s higher than I like to run my processors at for any length of time.
Instead, utilizing Precision Boost Overdrive delivered comparable results at a much more reasonable temperature of the ~75C mentioned previously.
Results Discussion and Conclusion
Given the cost and capability of the processor, the Ryzen 9 5950X is a processor that many will desire but fewer actually need. At the same time, if you’re building a high-end gaming, content creation, or CAD PC, there are definite benefits to be found here. Compared to the 5900X, those additional cores make a difference in multi-threaded workloads. That design should come down to your specific need for 16 versus 12 threads.
A more poignant question is whether the 5950X is worth investing in over the 3950X. In that, it’s clear that the 5950X is an all-around better processor. The reduced latency and higher IPC, as well as improved frequency, each result in improved performance in both creation and gaming workloads. If you’re planning on doing a lot of gaming and pick up a Ryzen 6000-series GPU, gaming performance will be enhanced further through the synergy of Smart Access Memory.
The challenging part of this question boils down to personal finances. As of this writing, the 3950X can be had for as little as $679. That’s a great deal and one I would personally consider. If you’re looking to maximize your performance, especially with a Ryzen 6800 or 6800 XT in tow, then the 5950X is really the only way to go. Ultimately, this will comes down to personal value, but the 5950X is certainly the more capable processor.
Taken as a whole, the Ryzen 9 5950X is simply outstanding. While it may seem expensive at first blush, compared to even a few years ago, $799 is an absolute bargain for this caliber of processor. It will certainly be overkill for many users, but it’s difficult to imagine this processor being a disappointment to the vast majority of potential customers. It offers a meaningful improvement over the 3950X and further demonstrates the edge AMD has over Intel. Single-core performance is now within a hair’s breadth of Team Blue, and multi-core performance absolutely dominates the field. Whether you’re gaming, streaming, producing videos, or doing rendering and CAD work for your day job, the Ryzen 9 5950X is an absolute powerhouse.
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.