Today's review will look at AMD’s third-gen Ryzen processors, a sort of family overview if you will. This feature will serve as a quick and easy reference for those wanting to compare the Ryzen 3, 5, 7 and 9 series processors. It’s rare that we feature all of these in a single article, let alone standing on its own. For example, when we reviewed the latest budget Ryzen 3 processors, none of the Ryzen 9 models were included, as $500+ parts aren’t usually relevant when reviewing a $120 CPU, so we opt to remove some products in an effort to declutter the graphs.

Believe it or not, there’s a total of 20 third-gen Ryzen processors if you include OEM parts and the drool-inducing Threadripper models. However, for general consumers looking at buying a mainstream AM4 processor, there’s primarily 5 models that we recommend -- though parts such as the 3100, 3600X, 3800X and even the new XT variants maybe worth buying if available at the right price -- for simplicity sake, we’ll be focusing on the 5 top models we recommend the most.

For budget shoppers there’s the Ryzen 3 3300X (when it's in stock). The ever popular Ryzen 5 3600 is a great buy at the $200 MSRP, and even better at $170, a price it’s been trending at for months now. The R5 3600 has been our best value, best all-rounder pick for a year now and we’re not alone in that choice.

Another very popular option amongst shoppers is the Ryzen 7 3700X, and today it’s incredible value at just $260 for an 8-core, 16-thread processor of this quality. The more premium 3800X has also dropped from $400 down to $300, but given it offers very little over the 3700X, we still recommend you pocket the $40 and put it towards a more meaningful upgrade.

  Ryzen 3 3300X Ryzen 5 3600 Ryzen 7 3700X Ryzen 9 3900X Ryzen 9 3950X
List Price $120 $200 $330 $500 $750
Release Date April 2020 July 2019 Nov 2019
Cores / Threads 4 / 8 6 / 12 8 / 16 12 / 24 16 / 32
Base Frequency 3.8 GHz 3.6 GHz 3.6 GHz 3.8 GHz 3.5 GHz
Max Turbo 4.3 GHz 4.2 GHz 4.4 GHz 4.6 GHz 4.7 GHz
L3 Cache 16 MB 32 MB 64 MB
Memory Support Dual Channel, DDR4-3200
TDP 65 W 105 W

The next step up, the Ryzen 9 3900X has also been discounted substantially, dropping from $500 at launch to just $420, for the first mainstream desktop CPU to offer 12-cores / 24-threads. Finally, sitting at the top of the 3rd-gen Ryzen family is the mighty 16-core, 32-thread Ryzen 9 3950X, which a year on is still completely unchallenged as the most powerful mainstream desktop processor, right now sitting at $700.

These processors work on all AM4 300, 400 and 500-series motherboards, assuming the appropriate BIOS is installed. They officially support DDR4-3200 memory but will happily operate with up to DDR4-3600 memory, while the better quality silicon will handle DDR4-3800 maintaining a 1:1 ratio with the Infinity Fabric interconnect.

For testing we’ll be using a fully populated Gigabyte X570 Aorus Master motherboard with 8GB G.Skill FlareX CL14 modules for a 32GB capacity. As usual we’re using an RTX 2080 Ti to alleviate GPU bottlenecks, allowing us to take a better look at actual CPU performance...

Benchmarks

Starting with Cinebench R20, we see fairly typical scaling performance as the core count increases. Where we see a 33% increase in core count, the performance uplift is around 30%, and in the example where we’re getting a 50% increase in cores, we see a corresponding 43 to 48% increase in performance.

There’s a 43% performance boost when jumping from the 3300X to the 3600, the 30% from the 3600 to the 3700X, 48% from the 3700X to the 3900X and then a 27% jump from the 3900X to the 3950X. Some of those margins will be influenced by frequency, but overall pretty much what you’d expect to see.

Looking at the maximum single core turbo frequency, while not the same frequencies that would have been seen for the all-core workload. This is exactly what you’d expect to see, the 3300X clocks 100 MHz higher than the 3600 and therefore overtakes it for single-core workloads. Then we see a 100 - 200 MHz increase between the Ryzen 7 and 9 models, so they scale accordingly.

The 7-zip compression results are interesting as this test doesn’t take full advantage of SMT (simultaneous multithreading), at least for the higher core count parts. We’re seeing a 35% performance boost when jumping from the 3300X to the 3600, 28% from the 3600 to the 3700X, 39% from the 3700X to the 3900X and then just a 16% jump from the 3900X to the 3950X. The 16-core, 32-thread 3950X isn’t well leveraged here, so let’s take a look at the decompression results which do make far better use of SMT.

This is scaling more in line with our Cinebench R20 results, where we see a 50% increase in core count, going from the 3300X to the 3600 and from the 3700X to the 3900X we see a ~50% increase in performance or thereabouts.

Blender can also take full advantage of core-heavy processors, right up to the 64-core Threadripper 3990X. As a result, performance scales accordingly. That said, while the 3900X will reduce the render time from the 3700X by 33%, we’re only seeing a 22% reduction when jumping up to the 3950X from the 3900X. If time is money, then the 3950X makes sense, but here we see diminishing returns past the Ryzen 9 3900X.

Moving from rendering to code compilation, evidently a very different kind of workload that yields very similar results. We observe a big 45% boost when moving from the 3300X to the 3600, while the upgrade to the 3700X is a lot less dramatic, yet still sizable at ~23%.

Then from the 3700X to the 3900X we see another massive 47% performance jump, and then we’re back to a 21% increase with the Ryzen 9 3950X. For productivity tasks, the 3900X appears to deliver that perfect balance of price and performance right now.

The DaVinci Resolve Studio 16 benchmark is interesting as this is a mixed workload test, it doesn’t peg these CPUs at 100% utilization from beginning to end, like all video production software, rather utilization is all over the place. The single biggest performance leap can be seen when upgrading from the 3300X to the 3600, but beyond that you get smaller increments from one series to the next.

Scaling in Adobe Premiere Pro goes more in line with the core increase. We’re seeing a ~20% boost for a 50% increase in cores, and a 10% boost for a 33% increase in cores. The 3950X offers the more marginal gains, but at the same time is also the outright fastest.

Adobe Photoshop is the first application in our suite where core-heavy processors are not that well utilized. We see just a 17% boost in performance from the 3300X to the 3950X, even though the Ryzen 9 processor packs four times as many cores.

It’s a similar story with After Effects, though we see double-digit gains when moving from the 3300X to the 3600, so it appears as though the 6-core, 12-thread processor is the sweet spot for this application.

Power Consumption

Before we get to the gaming tests, here’s a quick look at total system consumption. Interestingly, the 3700X pushed power usage just 7 watts higher than the 3600 despite packing twice as many cores as the 3300X.

The 3900X is the most power hungry processor, and while you might expect that honor to go to the 3950X, due to a binning process that sees AMD reserve the best silicon for the 3950X, the 16-core processor is able to operate at lower voltages and therefore consume less power.

Gaming Benchmarks

It’s gaming where picking the right processor gets tricky. Most of you don’t want to waste money overinvesting in a CPU you’ll never fully use. This is often justified in the name of future proofing or for users who mix work and play, in those scenarios Ryzen can pull double duty beautifully.

We see virtually identical performance between the 3300X and 3600, even when using a $1,000+ graphics card at 1080p. So you may decide to buy the 3300X as it clearly offers the best value, but spending $50 more in this instance to get the 3600 might pay off in a reasonably short time frame as games are slowly becoming more CPU demanding and quad core parts like the 3300X are often right on the edge with modern titles.

Of course, if you’re on a tight budget where every last dollar counts, then worry about future gaming performance might be less of a concern, and therefore saving $50 by getting the 3300X might be the preferred solution. What’s clear here is, stepping up to 8 cores with the 3700X has very little impact on Battlefield V performance and going beyond that is a pointless exercise.

Moving on to Far Cry New Dawn we find another situation where the 3600 is a little faster than the 3300X thanks to the two extra cores and the 3700X is a whisker faster again, but beyond that there are no performance gains to be seen with the 12 and 16-core models under these test conditions.

Interestingly, Gears Tactics goes the other way, though we believe the advantages we’re seeing here are related to single core performance as the 3300X matched the 3600 and the higher-end Ryzen 9 parts that clock a little higher offered very small performance gains.

Next up we have Ghost Recon Breakpoint and this is a good example of a game that’s not particularly sensitive on the CPU side, assuming you have at the very least a decent quad-core with SMT support, which is exactly what you get with the 3300X.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a good example of a game that can be extremely CPU demanding and here we’re seeing a significant performance uplift when moving away from the Ryzen 3 3300X to the Ryzen 5 3600, for nearly 20% more performance. Beyond six cores though, there is little to be gained.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is another CPU intensive title which shows solid performance gains right up to the 8-core 3700X. The game plays very well on the 3300X with no noticeable stuttering, so with lower-end graphics cards the margins will quickly evaporate, but if you’re seeing maximum performance in this title under CPU limited conditions, the 3700X is the chip to get.

What We Learned

There are many third-gen Ryzen processors to pick from, but you can narrow the choices down easily and having an intended budget will help you quickly do that. It's also good to understand what kind of performance boost you'll get by going up a tier, or how much you’ll be sacrificing by going down to save some money.

As we saw in the application benchmarks, the Ryzen 9 3900X is the sweet spot for those seeking strong performance, while the Ryzen 5 3600 is a great budget alternative. The Ryzen 7 3700X is, of course, faster than the 6-core model, but the cost increase is higher than the performance you receive in return, which is why we feel the R5 3600 is a better all-rounder.

Looking at the spec table we showed in the introduction but with the current retail prices added, and how that translates to cost per core, we see that the Ryzen 5 3600 is the best value option, coming in at just $28 per core, whereas you’re paying a 16% premium per core with the 3700X.

Naturally though, if time’s money and you need the most performance you can get on the AM4 socket without turning to Threadripper, then the 3950X is by default, the chip to get, despite its rather high $44 per core.

  Ryzen 3 3300X Ryzen 5 3600 Ryzen 7 3700X Ryzen 9 3900X Ryzen 9 3950X
List Price $120 $200 $330 $500 $750
Current Retail Out of stock $170 $260 $420 $700
Cost Per Core $30 $28 $32.5 $35 $44
Release Date April 2020 July 2019 Nov 2019
Cores / Threads 4 / 8 6 / 12 8 / 16 12 / 24 16 / 32
Base Frequency 3.8 GHz 3.6 GHz 3.6 GHz 3.8 GHz 3.5 GHz
Max Turbo 4.3 GHz 4.2 GHz 4.4 GHz 4.6 GHz 4.7 GHz
L3 Cache 16 MB 32 MB 64 MB

Picking the right Ryzen CPU for productivity tasks is fairly straightforward. But when you start talking about gaming performance, things get a tad muddier. Here’s a look at the average performance across the half dozen games tested and how that translates into cost per frame.

The Ryzen 3 3300X is clearly the most cost effective gaming processor, coming in at just $1.14 per frame in our tests. However, as seen in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the 3300X can slip behind in more demanding titles and it might not be long before 4-core / 8-thread processors become inadequate for the latest and greatest titles, though that remains to be seen.

This is where the "futureproof" argument comes into play. We feel that if you can, spending the extra money to secure the Ryzen 5 3600 will prove to be a wise investment, but going one step further and spending 65% more for the 3700X, simply isn’t worth it for budget conscious gamers. Needless to be said, Ryzen 9 parts are an unnecessary luxury for pure gaming builds.

It's worth keeping in mind that we’re expecting 4th-gen Ryzen later this year. It's no coincidence current Ryzen pricing is so attractive. AMD keeps moving fast and if you can afford the wait, it might pay to hold off on a new CPU purchase for a few months. The information in this feature should be relevant for that purchase as we’re expecting Zen 3 processors to be even more efficient, so the 6-core, 12-thread option there should have even more headroom for gaming, which is why it can be a little silly to fixate on core count, rather than raw performance.

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