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AMD Ryzen 9 5950X and 5900X Review: Zen 3 Breaks the 5 GHz Barrier
[Image: JQL4LSpTJhDWAtbWQdJm8i-1024-80.jpg.webp]

AMD's Magnum Opus

With the Ryzen 5000 series, it's fair to say that AMD has finally, and fully, eclipsed Intel's performance dominance in desktop PCs. AMD’s flagship $799 Ryzen 9 5950X has landed in our labs, boasting 16 cores and 32 threads bristling with the potent new Zen 3 microarchitecture. AMD’s new halo part expands Ryzen 9’s dominating lead in productivity applications and beats Intel’s competing processors in every other metric, including 1080p gaming performance, by surprising margins. Our 5950X sample even breaks the 5 GHz barrier at stock settings (at least sporadically), outstripping its spec and making it an easy choice for our list of Best CPUs

But the Ryzen 9 5950X is just the tip of the Zen 3 spear. We also have the more amenable $549 Ryzen 9 5900X that comes with 12 cores and 24 threads. Aside from its bruising performance in applications, it’s even faster than the 5950X in gaming, even beating out Intel's overclocked flagships at 1080p, too. 

Much of Ryzen’s early success stemmed from industry-leading core counts and plenty of freebies for enthusiasts, like bundled coolers and unrestricted overclockability paired with broad compatibility. Still, AMD was long relegated to the role of a value alternative. 

AMD’s clockwork execution on new Zen architectures has slowly whittled away Intel’s performance superiority with each new launch, though, leaving Intel an ever-shrinking cross-section of advantages. To counter, Intel added more cores and features of its own, but AMD’s relentless innovation left Intel clinging to the life raft of its single-threaded performance advantage.

AMD narrowed the gap when it transitioned to the denser 7nm process and Zen 2 architecture for the Ryzen 3000 chips, which largely reduced Intel’s gaming advantage to the imperceptible level – particularly in the mid-range of the market. With sales surging, AMD has begun to capitalize by repositioning itself as a premium brand. The first signs of that shift began with the company’s recent Ryzen XT lineup, which found the company largely discarding some of the freebies we’ve become accustomed to and tacking on a higher price tag to its almost imperceptibly-faster chips.

AMD Ryzen 5000 Series CPUs Zen 3 Ryzen 5000 Series Processors
RCP (MSRP) Cores/Threads Base/Boost Freq. TDP L3 Cache
Ryzen 9 5950X $799 16 / 32 3.4 / 4.9 GHz 105W 64MB (2x32)
Ryzen 9 5900X $549 12 / 24 3.7 / 4.8 GHz 105W 64MB (2x32)
Ryzen 7 5800X $449 8 / 16 3.8 / 4.7 GHz 105W 32MB (2x16)
Ryzen 5 5600X $299 6 / 12 3.7 / 4.6 GHz 65W 32MB (2x16)

Ryzen 5000 changes the game entirely, though. The chips come with the same refined 7nm process found in the Ryzen XT processors, but AMD paired the node with a ground-up redesign of the Zen core microarchitecture. AMD says the new Zen 3 microarchitecture provides a 19% average increase in instruction per cycle (IPC) throughput, erasing the last vestiges of Intel’s performance advantages while delivering a new level of power efficiency. 

According to our tests, the Ryzen 5000 processors deliver, beating Intel in nearly all metrics that matter, including performance, power consumption, and thermals, and largely remove Intel’s performance lead after overclocking. And yes, that includes in 1080p gaming. AMD is also leveraging its position as the only CPU maker that also makes discrete GPUs by rolling out its new Smart Memory Access feature. This new tech boosts gaming performance by enhancing data transfer performance between the CPU and GPU, but it only works if you have a Radeon RX 6000 graphics card, Ryzen 5000 processor, and an X570 motherboard. We won’t know the full implications of this new tech until the Radeon RX 6000 “Big Navi” launch next month, but it looks promising. 

Now that Ryzen 5000 firmly establishes AMD as the performance leader, the company has hiked up prices by $50 across its entire lineup and left a noticeable gap in its product stack – you'll have to take a steep $150 step up the pricing ladder to get above the entry-level six-core twelve-thread Ryzen 5 5600X. AMD's premium pricing could be an Achilles heel, but it's hard to determine the final pricing story given that AMD's suggested selling prices almost never manifest at retail. 

Meanwhile, Intel is left without a response until the first quarter of 2021 when its Rocket Lake chips blast off, bringing a new back-ported Cypress Cove architecture that grants a “double-digit” IPC increase paired with Intel's never-ending 14nm process. 

Until then, this is how the high-performance chip market stacks up. To put AMD’s gaming performance claims to the test, we’ve switched over to an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 for game testing and also put the company’s new silicon through the paces in a wide range of expanded tests, including several SPEC and Adobe suites.

Ryzen 9 5950X and Ryzen 9 5900X Specifications and Pricing

The Ryzen 5000 series processors come as four models that span from six cores and twelve threads up to 16 cores and 32 threads. AMD increased its Precision Boost clock rates across the board, with a peak of 4.9 GHz for the Ryzen 9 5950X. However, AMD’s unique boosting algorithms can stretch beyond the advertised speeds if you pair the chips with a quality cooler and a motherboard with robust power circuitry. In fact, our Ryzen 9 5950X sample peaked at 5 GHz at stock settings, albeit sporadically, and reached 5.125 GHz when we engaged the auto-overclocking Precision Boost Overdrive feature, which we'll cover below. 

AMD increased the boost clock speeds, but it also reduced base frequencies compared to the previous-gen processors. AMD says that if you top the chip with an adequate cooler, it will rarely (if ever) drop to the base frequency, which we confirmed with our testing further below.
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