AMD's Newest Processors Are So Good, But So Confusing

Illustration for article titled AMDs Newest Processors Are So Good, But So Confusing
Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo

If the consumer desktop processor market wasn’t already confusing enough, AMD’s 3000-series Ryzen lineup just grew by another three chips, bringing the total number to 13. Did AMD need refreshed versions of the Ryzen 9 3900X, Ryzen 7 3800X, and Ryzen 5 3600X processors it released last year? Not really, especially considering the only difference between the X versions and XT versions are an added 100-200 Mhz to the boost clock speeds. If you already have one of AMD’s X-version processors, the good news is that there’s no point in spending hundreds of dollars to upgrade to an XT for, at most, a 4% bump in performance. If you haven’t upgraded from a 2nd-gen Ryzen yet and want to stick with AMD, it might be easier on both your brain and bank account to stick with the X-versions.

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I guess when you’re competing with Intel’s 17-chip, 10th-gen desktop lineup, more variety can seem like a good thing. A huge reason why Intel has so many chip varieties in a single generation is because it makes unlocked, locked, and CPUs with integrated graphics, which are all further differentiated by base/boost clock speeds and, of course, pricing. While AMD has some desktop CPUs with integrated graphics, its processors are all unlocked, so there’s less incentive to create the same large pricing/performance scheme. I’ve always liked AMD’s no-fuss approach to its CPU lineup the same way I like In ‘n Out’s simple menu. Burgers, fries, shakes, done. Ryzen 9, 7, 5, done. But with AMD’s addition of the XT versions, it’s like adding the secret menu to the actual menu, when the actual menu is fine the way it is. Here’s how little the X chips differ from the XT chips:

  • Ryzen 9 3900XT ($500 MSRP): 12-cores/24-threads, 3.8 GHz base/4.7 GHz boost
  • Ryzen 9 3900X (~$420 retail): 12-cores/24-threads, 3.8 GHz base/4.6 GHz boost
  • Ryzen 7 3800XT ($400 MSRP ): 8-cores/16-threads, 3.9 GHz base/4.7 GHz boost
  • Ryzen 7 3800X (~$320 retail): 8-cores/16-threads, 3.9 GHz base/4.5 GHz boost
  • Ryzen 7 3700X (~$305 retail): 8-cores/16-threads, 3.6 GHz base/4.4 GHz boost (Note: This CPU is the ‘anomaly’ compared to the rest, but it’s included because Gizmodo previously tested and reviewed it.)
  • Ryzen 5 3600XT ($250 MSRP): 6-cores/12-threads, 3.8 GHz base/4.5 GHz boost
  • Ryzen 5 3600X (~$220 retail): 6-cores/12-threads, 3.8 GHz base/4.4 GHz boost
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If you want that extra 100-200 Mhz to the boost clock, but don’t want to pay an extra $30 or more, stick with the X versions. Most motherboards give you the option to overclock easily, and it’s such a tiny jump in performance that it doesn’t really make sense to spend more for an XT chip unless you really don’t want to tinker with the BIOS. I would even say that performance per dollar matters slightly more with AMD CPUs than Intel’s because all the cores come unlocked. And when you compare the price of AMD’s current-gen processors to Intel’s current-gen processors, you can afford to go with AMD for the sake of saving money. Even though you’ll lose some performance comparatively, these processors are still fast.

Our testbed included: RTX 2080 Ti, Asus ROG Crosshair VIII (WiFi), G.Skill Trident Z Royal 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4 3600, Samsung 970 Evo NVMe M.2 SSD 500GB, Seasonic Focus GX-1000, and a Noctua NH-D15 for cooling. Right out the gate, I want to point out the overall performance of the Ryzen 7 3800XT compared to the Ryzen 9 3900XT; You will see much higher multi-core scores with the 9 3900XT because it has four more cores over the 7 3800XT, but both chips are more or less equal when it comes to single core performance, especially in games.

The 7 3800XT outperforms the 9 3900XT by 130 points in Geekbench 4 because it has that 100 MHz base clock advantage, and it also comes within 22 seconds transcoding a 4K video to 1080p at 30 frames per second in Handbrake. But the 9 3900XT destroys it in Geekbench multi-core and rendering a 3D image in Blender. All this is to say that, for most people, the 7 3800XT is the better choice.

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And strangely, given the near-identical specs between the X and XT versions, it does not make sense why the Ryzen 9 3900X would out-perform the Ryzen 9 3900XT in Handbrake, Blender, but not in Geekbench multi-core. Additionally, the Ryzen 9 3900XT outperforms the 3900X in Civilization VI. The Ryzen 9 3900X was tested by Gizmodo previously, so I am uncertain why that anomaly exists. It could be anything from using a differently specced testbed to a glitch with the chipset driver or BIOS version. The 9 3900X and 7 3700X were both tested with a GTX 1080 Ti, which accounts for the larger gap in the Civilization VI GPU test, but the other test numbers could be the result of using more RAM.

The same weirdness extends to the Ryzen 7 3700X and 7 3800XT, too. The 3700X is faster in both Handbrake and Blender, but not in Civilization VI. Both X and XT versions are still incredibly fast, it’s just weird that the technically faster XTs would get smoked by the Xs.

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If you’re not going to be video editing or making 3D videogames, and your sole purpose for upgrading your CPU is for gaming, Intel’s 10th-gen chips are the better choice for comparable prices.

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At 4K, every processor has near-identical performance (when paired with the same GPU) because the CPU has much less of a performance impact when running games at that high of a resolution. For that reason, it’s much better to compare CPUs for gaming at a 1080p resolution. Intel 10th-gen desktop CPUs outperform AMD latest Ryzens by 15 to 30 frames per second on average in the games tested in the chart above. But looking at just the Ryzen XTs, the difference between the three is just 1 to 4 fps on average—and the difference between just the Intel processors is 3 to 15 fps on average.

There are a few things we can glean from this all this. One, Intel is better at differentiating base/boost clock speeds on the same generation of processors, making spending more for the better-performing chip more reasonable. Two, AMD is better at generational differences in performance, making the move from a 2nd-gen Ryzen to a 3rd-gen Ryzen, whether a X or XT, make more sense than upgrading within the same generation. Three, AMD seems to make its higher-end chips pricier because of the better multi-core performance, even though it always loses out to Intel on single core; The Intel Core i9-10900K (if you can get it) is around $530 retail. The Ryzen 9 3900XT MSRP is $500, but it will likely retail for higher and putting it closer in price to the Core i9-10900K.

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The Core i5-10600K is still the most impressive of the bunch when you take core count, base/boost clocks, and price into account. I’d personally choose that one over any of these AMD CPUs if it wasn’t for the fact that I’d have to buy a new Intel motherboard. (I currently have an AMD CPU in my personal rig.) Any of these Ryzen XT chips will pop right into your current AMD motherboard because AMD is still using same socket. Instead of spending $200 on a new motherboard with your Intel processor, that cash can go toward a higher-end Ryzen instead, but that would only make sense if you are already on Ryzen platform.

The new Ryzen XTs exist just as extra options for consumers. They don’t bring anything spicy to the current AMD lineup, and they make things messier than they need to be when it comes to choosing an upgrade path. As prices for the X versions continue to fall, it will be even harder to justify spending $30 or more for an extra 100-200 MHz. This feels like a bit of a miss for AMD, but at least they are still just as lovely as their X version counterparts. The time to get excited will be when the company’s 4th-gen CPUs arrive.

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README

  • Can’t outperform Intel 10th-gen desktop processors in anything other than multi-core.
  • The addition of XT processors to the existing AMD lineup creates an unclear upgrade path.
  • Why AMD gotta have a bagillion CPUs like Intel?
  • Won’t need to purchase a new motherboard, unless you’re still rocking a 300-series AMD mobo.
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Staff Reporter, Reviews at Gizmodo. Formerly PC Gamer, Maximum PC.

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DISCUSSION

I wonder if they can be overclocked to a more significant difference? A few Mhz might not be huge but if you can push them more then the X versions when overclocked 4-500 Mhz could be a decent boost. I’ll probably build a new system sometime next year and I’m seriously considering a Ryzen build. If Intel can’t make some serious advances soon AMD is gonna catch up with single core performance and start to really take a chunk out of them.