Ryzen 5000 Review: The best consumer CPU we've ever seen

AMD's historically good Ryzen 9 5900X and Ryzen 9 5950X desktop CPUs have trounced Intel's Core i9.

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Ryzen 5000 Gaming Performance

So you already knew that AMD rules the day in multi-core performance, and you now know it gives Intel no quarter in single-core either. The one area that’s made potential customers uneasy is gaming performance. Even though Intel years ago ceded multi-core performance, it’s still been able to say truthfully: “Core i9 is better for gaming.” There’s obviously a lot of nuance to that statement, but we’ve generally agreed that when paired with the fastest GPU and a high-refresh rate panel—Core i9 is indeed the better gaming CPU.

Until today. Although the wins aren’t as disruptive everywhere else, we do think there is a clear case for AMD's claims that the Zen 3-based Ryzen chips are the “best gaming CPUs.”

For our gaming section we tested at 1920x1080 resolution, with both PC’s outfitted with Nvidia Founders Edition GeForce RTX 2080 Ti cards using the same drivers. Unlike the previous tests, where we sorted the results by winner, we kept all of our gaming charts ordered by: Ryzen 9 3900XT, Ryzen 9 5900X, Ryzen 9 5900X, and Core i9-10900K. We exclude previous results, because graphics drivers and game updates make it unfair to compare.

First we’ll kick it off with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided set to High. If you look at the chart and pretend not to see the newest AMD CPUs in red, you’ll see the familiar lead that Intel has long had in gaming. With this game set to High rather than Ultra, the test becomes less GPU-bound, and you see that typical 20-percent performance advantage that Intel CPUs have long enjoyed over AMD CPUs.

Now there’s Ryzen 5000, where we see both Zen 3 chips essentially within the margin of error. While we’re really “only” talking about a 2- to 3-percent performance difference between the Ryzen 9 and Core i9, it’s far better than the usual 10- to 20-percent performance hole Ryzen has fallen into before in non-GPU-limited tasks.

zen 3 deus ex high IDG

The results in Deus Ex aren’t just a fluke. We also saw both Ryzen 9 CPUs edge the Core i9 in Far Cry New Dawn. We’re again talking maybe 4- to 5-percent advantage, but when you look at the 14-percent hole the Ryzen 9 3900XT is in, it’s a clear win for AMD.

zen 3 far cry new dawn normal IDG

Not all games favor Intel, either. Our result in Red Dead Redemption puzzled us so much, we had to rerun it on the Intel machine and the Ryzen 3900XT to make sure we didn’t goof it up. Yes, the mighty Core i9 loses to both the older Zen 2 and the new Zen 3 chips—all of which we suspect to be GPU-limited. This, however, is the outlier. Typically in games where it isn't limited by the by the GPU, Core i9 has been faster, so it's a surprise to see Ryzen 3000 jump ahead here. Ryzen 5000, however, is right where we expected it to be: in front of Core i9.

zen 3 rdr2 ultra IDG

You can again see that in the popular but graphically mellow Counter Strike: Global Operations, where the Core i9 has a 9-percent advantage over the older Ryzen 9 3900XT. The Zen 3 Ryzen 9’s edge out the Core i9 by about 2 to 3 percent.

zen 3 csgo IDG

We've combined most of our game results into a single chart that’s color-coded with green for Zen 2, red for the two Zen 3 CPUs, and blue for the Core i9. It’s not a total win in every category, but generally, the new Ryzen 5000 chips have a slight advantage over the Intel Core i9.

A few notes about the results: In Civ VI Gathering Storm, we used the AI benchmark to determine which CPU is faster making decisions, and a lower score is better. In Gears of War 5, the game refused to run on our Intel Core i9 even after uninstalling the game and reinstalling it. You can still see that the new Ryzen 9s have a very decent performance improvement over the older Ryzen 9.

zen 3 gaming IDG

And yes, there are many tests here that we suspect would run faster on the Ryzen 9 if we only had a faster GPU. That in itself is insane, because our card is the $1,200 GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, but there are definitely faster graphics cards out today—we just didn’t have access to any for our testing.

If it doesn’t seem like a big deal to be basically slightly faster to about the same as the Core i9, you have to remember that AMD hasn’t beaten Intel in gaming ever. It’s a huge accomplishment for the company. Like single-threaded performance victories in productivity applications, Ryzen 9 basically does every thing Core i9 can do—except it can do it better.

CPU Threadscaling

Before we reach our conclusion, we do want to look at how well the new Ryzens scale across their cores, because software doesn’t always run on a single core or all cores. For that we use Cinebench R15 and run it from one thread to the maximum threads available on each CPU. This gives us an idea of how a CPU might perform on a light load to a medium load, as well as a load that uses all of the cores.

To help put Zen 3 in perspective though, here’s one of the first times we did that, with the 8-core Ryzen 7 2700X in 2018 based on AMD’s Zen+ core.

2g ryzen 7 2700x vs core i7 8700k cinebench scaling percent IDG

In its day, the 2700X was just as revolutionary for its price-to-performance ratio—especially as you moved into high core count workloads. Its primary adversary was Intel’s 6-core Core i7-8700K. The Ryzen 7 2700X demolished the Core i7-8700K on the right side of the chart, where you used all of those CPU cores. On the left side of the chart, indicating performance on fewer cores, it was largely underwater against its the Intel chip.

Wind the clock forward to July 2019, and you see below the same showdown between the 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X and its contemporary—Intel’s 8-core Core i9-9900K. You can immediately see that AMD made huge strides with the Zen 2 core. The Ryzen 9 3900X is basically dead-even to slightly faster than the Core i9-9900K, and it dominates as you move into the heavier all-core loads.

ryzen 9 3900x vs 9900k pbo off mce on thread scaling percentage IDG

That brings us to today, with where we take the 12-core Ryzen 9 5900Xand perform the same test with its contemporary—the 10-core Core i9-10900K. It’s that left side of the chart that we really want to point out. The Zen 3-based Ryzen 9 5900X posts an 18-percent advantage in single-threaded performance. From there it only goes up, showing generally 20 to 30 percent more performance from the Ryzen 9 5900X compared to the Core i9. It doesn’t matter if it’s a light load or heavy load--Ryzen simply crushes the Core i9.

threadscaling ryzen 5900x vs 10900k IDG

AMD fans may be a little disappointed the Ryzen 9 5900X “only” has a 41-percent advantage when every core is stressed out, but the Ryzen 9 5900X isn’t the top-end Ryzen 9. We did the same test using the 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X, and you can see an even higher 22-percent advantage on a single-thread, extending out to an obscene 71-percent lead when all threads and cores are used.

threadscaling ryzen 5950x vs 10900k percent IDG

You may say it’s not fair to put an $800 Ryzen 9 5950X against a $488 Core i9-10900K. Normally we’d agree, but for much of the year, the Core i9-10900K was in such short supply that it regularly sold for $650 and higher. In fact, as of October 30, the street price of the Core i9-10900K was well above its expected retail price at most stores.

Pricing has been one complaint since AMD unveiled its Zen 3 chips. Indeed, the stupidly good value that AMD has offered previously has gotten less stupid. To present that visually, we take the expected retail price of current CPUs and calculate how much the company charges per thread.

This is an overly simplistic look at CPU pricing, but it does give you an easy way to visualize how they compare. Overall, the four new Ryzen 5000 chips have increased in price over previous models, likely because AMD knows it can finally charge premium pricing for the chips.

It doesn’t help that Intel’s CPUs generally haven’t been a great value, and they tend to sell well above their list prices on the street. On the chart below, you can see a few spot-checks on current AMD chips and Intel chips. A green highlight indicates they’re selling at or below the list price, while red is selling above its list price.

So yes, there’s been a definite price hike. But with the performance we’re seeing, we think it’s wholly justified, especially when you consider that Intel CPUs continue to be the premium-priced chip despite not offering the premium performance.

bucks per thread oct 30 2020 IDG

Conclusion

It’s hard to be believe, but it’s been only three years since the original Zen-based Ryzen CPUs were introduced. The original Ryzen reset our expectations of how many cores you could get in a consumer CPU, and it put the world on notice that AMD was back.

With the Ryzen 5000 we’re simply floored by its performance. It’s the best CPU for heavy multi-core loads. It’s the best CPU for single-core loads. It’s the best CPU for gaming. Add to it support for PCIe 4.0, compatibility with many existing AM4 motherboards, and actually reasonable prices, and you get what is undoubtedly the best CPU we’ve ever seen.

AMD Zen 3 Ryzen 5000 Ryzen 9 5900X Ryzen 9 5950X Gordon Mah Ung
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