AMD Ryzen 9 3900X Review

👤by Matthew Hodgson Comments 📅07-07-19
Zen 2 Explained (Continued)
The Ryzen 3000-series Lineup

AMD are launching the Ryzen 3000-series with seven processors, two of which are APUs based on the Zen+ architecture. Of the five Zen 2 'Matisse' processors, just one incorporates more than one CCD and hence more than eight cores.

Nonetheless, the Ryzen 3000-series launch range pushes through the 8-core limit for mainstream desktop CPUs which has been in place since the debut of Ryzen in 2017. From today they shall venture into a domain previously exclusive to workstation CPUs: offering up to 12 cores across two partially active CCDs, the sort of specification which until recently would require a HEDT system with CPU starting from $649.

However the Ryzen 9 3900X sitting at the top of the launch range isn't the flagship. That honour is reserved for the Ryzen 9 3950X, a CPU that has two fully enabled CCDs to support 16 cores/ 32 threads, which will be available later this summer.

The Ryzen 3000-series Zen+ APUs now serve as quad-core entry-level parts, and 6 core/12 thread configurations becomes the new base level for Zen 2 chips. AMD's updated range is therefore much more streamlined than the competition, but we should bear in mind that for the time being 2000-series CPUs remain on the market to serve the role of more affordable desktop models for performance-oriented users.

An aggressive system for binning dies also means that CPU operating frequencies get higher as you go up the range, despite also increasing the core count. The cream of the crop are held back for the Ryzen 9 3950X which is clocked at up to 4.7GHz (under Precision Boost 2 dynamic overclock modes) while base frequencies favour lower core count processors to ensure the >8-core models don't breach their 105W TDP specification.

This should also mean that there's scope for conventional core overclocking on the mid-range Ryzen 5 and 7 parts, particularly the 65W Ryzen 7 3700X which is described as the 'sweet spot' SKU due to its restrained out-the-box operating frequencies.

AMD have stated that, although not listed in press releases and other marketing material prior to the launch, non-X variants of each of the high performance CPUs will likely be available to OEMs and System Integrators via standard channels. Only the Ryzen 5 3600 will be sold through standard retail channels directly to consumers.

A Chip To Shake Up The Component Market

Although AMD are the clearest winners of a major uptake in their new platform, two associated sectors are also poised to benefit from advances in the capabilities of desktop CPUs.

The most obvious is storage, specifically NVMe SSD storage. Next-generation Ryzen doubles the available bandwidth for NVMe devices to approach 8GB/s thanks to the adoption of the latest PCI-Express 4.0 standard, and that comes at a time when PCIe 3.0 x4 has started to bite as a bottleneck to SSD bandwidth. Manufacturers such as Corsair and GIGABYTE, taking advantage of new NAND controller technologies, are already following through with plans to release drives that exhibit performance metrics surpassing PCI-Express 3.0 limitations.

That being said, official PCI-Express 4.0 support only extends to Ryzen 3000-series CPUs combined with X570 motherboards. Older 400-series motherboards, even those with updated BIOSes, won't officially support the new standard and AMD have explicitly stated that those sold at retail will not support the new standard even with a 3000-series CPU installed. They cite the tighter signalling tolerances of PCIe 4.0 and inability to validate the standard across the legacy Socket AM4 motherboard ecosystem, but some manufacturers may offer beta BIOSes (as-is, with no hard guarantees) on certain 400-series SKUs. Uptake of PCIe 4.0 might be slower than some might hope.

A less expected beneficiary perhaps is the humble DDR4 DRAM market. Marginal real-world performance gains on the Intel desktop platforms over the years meant that faster speed memory was a difficult sell in a consumer market already squeeze by DRAM pricing. While AMD Ryzen performance did scale well, stability above DDR4-3000/3200 wasn't always as good as it needed to be (particularly in first generation Ryzen).

Without wanting to pre-empt review conclusions, the Ryzen 3000-series could offer a DRAM upgrade avenue up to DDR-3600 CL16 and beyond that's been sorely needed by performance and gaming-oriented brands. And this in turn could serve to make slower DRAM for mainstream consumer more price-competitive.

At the very least, Ryzen 3000-series CPUs are likely to spike demand for DDR4-3200 to DDR4-3600 memory, which is no bad thing.

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CPU Socket Continuity With AM4

At a time when Intel seemingly released a new platform every year without backwards compatibility, AMD's pledge to support and maintain Socket AM4 from 2016 through to at least 2020 has been a key pillar in their strategy and underdog popularity. Zen 2/Ryzen 3000-series CPUs don't deviate from this pledge, but the limitations of older designs have certainly begun to stretch it.

At a base level the entirely of the Ryzen 3000-series is supported on the Socket AM4 B350/X370/B450/X470 motherboard ecosystem after a BIOS update. It's therefore possible to perform an in-place CPU upgrade without immediate need to also replace the motherboard for a premium-priced X570 design. Indeed, X470/B450 will continue to be sold - with updated BIOSes preinstalled - alongside the new platform for the time being.

It's not all rainbows and sunshine however. PCI-Express 4.0 support won't be filtered back to pre-500-series 'boards; as a rule A320 motherboards will not support 3000-series CPUs; and the update process won't necessarily be a smooth proposition. Fundamentally, this may mean that while backwards compatibly does stretch back a long way, users will need to replace both CPU and motherboard with the latest models to really take advantage of the platform’s swathe of features.
 
Feature Continuity

Advanced features available throughout the Ryzen 2000-series return in the 3000-series, some of which are expanded upon in the latest generation of chips.

Manual Overclocking

Each Ryzen 3000-series CPU continues to be fully unlocked from the outset. All Ryzen 3000-series compatible motherboards will be capable of the full gamut of overclocking, but power limitations of more budget-oriented models (especially if using a >8 core model) should be respected.

Ryzen Master overclocking software is expanded in scope, incorporating support for DRAM timing control and tweaking Precision Boost Overdrive. Purists may still prefer UEFI BIOS menus but more casual overclockers and those more interested in what's going on under the hood will appreciate the addition.

Some motherboard manufacturers are also experimenting with allowing users to set their Infinity Fabric clock directly. We're not sure how well supported this feature will be as the platform matures, or even if it's of any real value, but we mention it for completeness.

Precision Boost

Dynamic Overclocking in the form of Precision Boost 2 and Precision Boost Overdrive are present in Ryzen 3000, pushing core clock speeds higher for longer thanks to high quality sensor data. Precision Boost advancements were a key update to Zen+ CPUs as they brought better multi-core performance when under load without the need for additional end-user action.

Better cooling means spending longer at Fmax under Precision Boost (the maximum frequency defined by your PB settings). PBO meanwhile will increase Fmax (which can now also be tweaked in software) while preserving the PB curve (i.e. the lower Fmax offests for when 2, 3, 4 etc. cores are active). Improvements in Windows 10's May 2019 update and the AMDS Chipset drivers also mean that frequency adjustments can occur at a higher rate than before, making dynamic overclocking more... dynamic.

Cooling

Ryzen 3000-series and X570 motherboards utilise Socket AM4 with similar clearance specifications as prior generations. As a result you should be able to utilise any cooler compatible with previous 400-series or 300-series Socket AM4 motherboard, although it should be noted that the high core count models do have a higher TDP.

Retail editions of Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 9 CPUs are bundled with AMD’s Wraith Prism cooler, a model rated for the up to 105W TDP requirement of the Ryzen 9 3900X that’s particularly good quality for an included cooler. Its’ lighting also supports RGB lighting systems from other peripheral and component manufacturers. You are free however to use your own cooler if preferred.

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