AMD Ryzen 9 3900X vs Intel Core i9-9900K: Has AMD finally beaten Intel?

BySigismondo Eisenhower 2019-08-20 2617

While he reigned almost alone as a master in the field of gaming and his computational performance was at its best, Intel's Core i9-9900K saw in July the arrival of a first real challenger: the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X. More cores, more threads, an advantageous price... the AMD processor seems to have undeniable advantages when it is launched. But is it really succeeding in worrying Intel's sure value

The Ryzen 9 3900X 

Launched on July 7, the third-generation AMD Ryzen processors raised high expectations as soon as they were announced. After two first lines of Ryzen chips that had allowed Lisa Su's firm to return to the spotlight, this third generation of "reinvented" processors was to signal the beginning of an even more marked renewal in the reds. The contribution of 7 nm engraving, the complete change of architecture (from ZEN to ZEN 2) and the regained confidence of Sunnyvale's group should allow the delivery of chips equivalent to, or superior to, Intel's in terms of performance. A little over a month after their launch, the promise is being kept, but only partially.

Through the prism of AMD and Intel's two high-end consumer processors: the Ryzen 9 3900X (12 cores / 24 threads) and Core i9-9900K (8 cores / 16 threads), we have tried to see more clearly. What can we expect from the last flagship of the Ryzen 3 range (pending the effective launch of the Ryzen 9 3950X, expected in September)? Is Intel really worried? Is AMD's flagship up to the task in the latest games? Here are some questions that we will try to clarify in the next few lines.

The Ryzen 9 3900X: a gaming chip?

With the arrival in 2017 of its first Ryzen processors, AMD had managed to close a part of the colossal gap that had accumulated over the years against Intel. At best, of course, but it did not allow AMD to regain the upper hand or - failing that - to do as well as the solid Core i5 and i7 products that Intel introduced two years ago.

This year, the deal is changing, the contribution of 7 nm engraving allows a significant increase in performance and better energy efficiency (105 Watts for the Ryzen 9 3900 X and its 12 cores, against the 95 Watts displayed by the i9-9900K for "only" 8 cores), while the change of architecture gives the new Ryzen chips the opportunity to catch up a little more with the Intel Core... without ever matching Intel's mastery on the gaming field.

Ryzen 9 3900X 

In fact, the Core i9-9900K arrives between 10 and 40 FPS ahead of the Ryzen 9 3900 X in 1080p on many games. This is the case under The Division 2 (151 FPS on average for Core i9 versus 141 for Ryzen 9), but also with Hitman 2 (132 FPS versus 100) or Far Cry 5 (153 versus 115 FPS), according to Tom's Hardware US measurements. Armed with its 8 cores and 16 threads, the CPU of the blues holds up despite an engraving that is now the same age as its arteries. It must be said that few games still really take advantage of more cores, which tends to explain the Core i9's lead over its rival.

the Core i9-9900K 

Better overclocking potential at Intel

Another important element to play with, but also and above all to give a life-saving boost to your CPU after a few years of good and loyal service: the overclocking potential. And on this side, the Core i9-9900K is also to be preferred. While both chips support manual frequency increase, the Intel processor keeps its hand and easily supports overclocking to reach 4.8 to 5 GHz on all cores and threads (1.2 / 1.4 GHz more than its base frequency, set at 3.6 GHz).

The Ryzen 9 3900X is much more expensive, limiting itself to an increase of 500 MHz to 4.3 GHz over all its cores and threads. Why such a difference? It seems that AMD already pushes the frequencies of its chips very far, and from their factory configuration, through, in particular, its Precision Boost mode.

AMD Ryzen 9 3900X has honourable performance in calculation

As it stands, the balance sheet could seem rather dull for AMD and its Ryzen 9 3900X, but that's without counting on the red's favourite field: the calculation. In terms of productivity (editing, encoding, application...), it is the AMD processor that comes first... and most of the time *very far* ahead of Intel's Core i9-9900K. The number of cores embedded on the Ryzen 9 is clearly there to help with applications that can take advantage of them properly.

Core i9-9900K​ 

Under Bender Benchmark 1.02, the Ryzen 9 3900X manages to complete the requested task in 653 seconds compared to 857 seconds for a Core i9-9900K yet overlocked at 5.0 GHz. The same logic for CineBench R15 in multi-core, with 3134 points for Ryzen 9 against only 2172 for Core i9 at 5 GHz (just 2044 points when not overclocked); or CineBench R20 in multi-core (7146 points for the AMD chip and 5266 for the Intel chip when overclocked). Note that the Core i9-9900K keeps in some cases a slight advantage in single core use on some of these Benchmarks (notably CineBench R15), thanks to its higher frequencies.

These global results in the application field allow AMD's flagship to be at the forefront in most contexts where its many cores and threads are used. It will therefore be the processor to recommend to users who need high performance for video editing, encoding or 3D rendering for example. For this type of user, it can even be said that a Ryzen 9 will be more versatile than a Core i9, by offering very decent performance in game and a firepower practically unequalled in computing on the consumer processor market (the new Threadrippers, expected soon, will probably do better, but on the HEDT market - "high-end desktop", designed above all for professionals).

Be careful, however, with the prices charged for both processors. Due to a supply problem, the Ryzen 9 3900X is currently trading at nearly 620 euros compared to only 500 to 550 euros requested online for a Core i9-9900K. However, users who would not need the PCIe Gen 4 standard can turn to the old AMD platforms (X470). A good way to save some money thanks to the durability of the AMD AM4 socket. The question of energy efficiency is also another argument of Ryzen 9, against a Core i9 that tends to consume a lot (too much?) once overclocked.

Intel lags behind with its 14 nm++ engraving?

Should we throw the stone to Intel and its Skylake architecture, which has been in decline until now since its launch in 2015? Yes and no. While it is true that Intel has stagnated technologically (due to a lack of desire to perfect its 10 nm engraving too much, recently confessed the group's new boss, Bob Swan), the company is nevertheless very comfortably established on the market.

Even with a 14 nm+++ engraving (second refinement of this engraving process to compensate for the numerous 10 nm node deferrals) now a little crumbling, Intel still manages to keep the dragée high at AMD, at its ZEN 2 architecture, and its brand new 7 nm engraving. Proof that the difference in fineness in engraving processes is not always synonymous with a radical difference in performance... and this regardless of what the marketing pundits say.

In fact, and although AMD has definitely returned to the performance race, Lisa Su's firm still needs to perfect its ZEN microarchitecture to succeed in overtaking Intel. With a dated design and an equally dated engraving, Intel still manages to get away with it all despite a grotesque price placement in many cases and an energy efficiency that tends to become less and less advantageous (the multiplication of cores and the increase in the default frequencies has its limits).

However, a major trend can be identified. If your heart is swinging between Ryzen 9 3900X and Core i9-9900K ask yourself how you would like to use your future processor. For pure gaming, the Intel CPU remains a reference. For a more varied use, mixing gaming and applications, the AMD alternative should be studied with great care, especially for video editing and heavy computing enthusiasts. As mentioned above, energy efficiency is also one of the points that tend to tip the balance in favour of AMD and its new darling. Now it remains to be seen what the reds have in store for us with their next flagship, the Ryzen 9 3950X.

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