Deciding between building a mainstream PC and a high-end desktop has historically been very clear cut: if budget is a concern, and you're interested in gaming, then typically a user looks to the mainstream. Otherwise, if a user is looking to do more professional high-compute work, then they look at the high-end desktop. Over the course of AMD’s recent run of high-core count Ryzen processors that line has blurred. This year, that line has disappeared. Even in 2016, mainstream CPUs used to top out at four cores: today they now top out at sixteen.

Does anyone need sixteen cores? Yes.

Does everyone need sixteen cores? No.

There are two fundamental drivers for most PC builders: cost and performance. Users who want a gaming machine are going to put their dollars in what gives them the best gaming performance. Users that want to edit video are going to look at content creation focused hardware. For those in the business world, the added incentive of extra performance is being able to offset or amortize those costs with an improved work rate. For the video editor needing a week per video, if they can spend +40% to reduce the render time by half then it can pay off over a short period of time.

As we move through 2019, users are doing more with their systems. Even at the low end, users might have double monitors where they game and watch their favourite streamer at the same time. High end users might reserve certain cores for different tasks, ensuring that there’s always some horsepower for the high-throughput tasks or virtual machines. Even though processors became ‘multi-core’ over a decade ago, we all as users are only recently adjusting how we do things to be more parallel, and the hardware is coming up to match our demands.

To that end, AMD’s Ryzen processors have been timely. The first generation mainstream Ryzen hardware in 2017 was a breath of fresh air in a market that had become sufficiently stale to be unexciting. With the color drained, AMD’s Ryzen enabled up to eight cores on a single CPU, and at the time aimed to throw its weight against Intel’s hardware in the class above. The new architecture didn’t push ahead on day one clock for clock, but it enabled a different paradigm at an obscenely reasonable price point.

Enter round 2, and Zen 2. Earlier this year AMD pushed again, this time putting 12 cores in the market for the same price as 8, or what had been the 4-core price point only three years prior. In three years we had triple the cores for the same price, and these cores also have more raw performance. The frequency wasn’t as high as the competition, but this was offset by that raw clock-for-clock throughput and ultimately where the competition now offered eight cores, AMD offered 12 at a much lower power consumption to boot.

Today is round 2 part 2: taking that same 12-core processor, and adding four more cores (for a 50% increase in price), and not only going after the best consumer processor Intel has to offer, but even the best high-end desktop processor. This is AMD squeezing Intel’s product portfolio like never before. What exactly is mainstream, anyway?

AMD’s new Ryzen 9 3950X has a suggested retail price of $749. For that AMD is advertising sixteen of its latest Zen 2 cores built on TSMC’s 7nm process, running at a 3.5 GHz base frequency and a 4.7 GHz single-core turbo frequency. The TDP of the chip is rated at 105 watts and it has 24 PCIe 4.0 lanes as well as dual memory channels that support up to 128 GB of DDR4-3200.

AMD 'Matisse' Ryzen 3000 Series CPUs
AnandTech Cores
TDP Price
Ryzen 9 3950X 16C 32T 3.5 4.7 8 MB 64 MB 16+4+4 1+2 105W $749
Ryzen 9 3900X 12C 24T 3.8 4.6 6 MB 64 MB 16+4+4 1+2 105W $499
Ryzen 9 3900 12C 24T 3.1 4.3 6 MB 64 MB 16+4+4 1+2 65W OEM
Ryzen 7 3800X 8C 16T 3.9 4.5 4 MB 32 MB 16+4+4 1+1 105W $399
Ryzen 7 3700X 8C 16T 3.6 4.4 4 MB 32 MB 16+4+4 1+1 65W $329
Ryzen 5 3600X 6C 12T 3.8 4.4 3 MB 32 MB 16+4+4 1+1 95W $249
Ryzen 5 3600 6C 12T 3.6 4.2 3 MB 32 MB 16+4+4 1+1 65W $199
Ryzen 5 3500X 6C 6T 3.6 4.1 3 MB 32 MB 16+4+4 1+1 65W OEM

It wasn’t too long ago that this price range used to be the realm of AMD’s high-end desktop Threadripper processors, which started at 8 cores and we up to 32 cores. AMD is now shifting that paradigm as well, with this 16-core chip being at $749, and AMD’s next generation Threadripper 3000 processors starting at 24-cores at $1399. When AMD CEO Dr. Lisa Su was asked earlier this year what would happen given the drive to more cores for the mainstream processors, her response was ‘as Ryzen goes up, Threadripper goes up-up’. This is the realization of that.

It is worth noting that the price is likely to be higher at retail initially, as demand is expected to be high and stock levels haven’t been defined – given the popularity of the 12-core chip, it would seem that users wanting the mainstream platform always want the best.

Going AM4: The Battle with Motherboards

When the AM4 platform was first launched, technically with pre-Zen hardware, it supported four cores. The same platform now goes all the way up to sixteen cores, which is no small task. The flip side of this comes down to motherboard support: some AM4 motherboards were not designed with high-power sixteen core processors in mind. Some motherboards built on the AM4 socket were for the budget market, and will struggle when it comes to this 16-core part.

AMD has attempted to at least segment its AM4 market a little. Only the latest AM4 chipset, the X570 chipset, has official support for the Ryzen 3000-series PCIe 4.0 connections. In order to enable the PCIe 4.0 lanes on the processor as qualified by AMD, users will have to purchase an X570 motherboard, otherwise these lanes will run at half speed (PCIe 3.0) in non-X570 motherboards.

The quality of the motherboard is likely to affect turbo frequencies as well. AMD’s turbo algorithms are influenced in part by the ability of the power delivery to push current through from the power supply. We are seeing X570 motherboards range from $170 all the way up to $999. This isn’t saying that doubling the cost of the motherboard will double the ability to turbo, but as seen with the previous Ryzen 3000 series chips, the motherboard choice (as well as the cooling it uses) will matter.

All the X570 motherboards we’ve tested recently are up to the task of taming the Ryzen 9 3950X. Here’s a list of what we’ve tested:

Users looking at motherboards have to find the right mix of capacity, cost, and features. We did a visual inspection of all 35+ launch models.

Toe-to-Toe: Intel Core i9-9900KS / Core i9-9980XE / Core i9-10980XE

With the mainstream and high-end desktop market now seemingly merging, there are many angles to consider different competitive parts between Intel and AMD. If we compete purely on PCIe lanes, then we might put the Core i9-9900KS (8-cores) up against the 3950X (16-cores), although there is a big price difference ($513 vs. $749). If we compare on pricing, the nearest processor to the 3950X would be either the 9900KS (mainstream) or the Core i9-10940X ($729), however while 3950X has more cores than either, but doesn’t have as many PCIe lanes/memory lanes as the 10940X. If we go for core count, then Intel’s sixteen Core i9-9960X would be the obvious candidate, although this CPU is a lot more expensive (until Intel reduces the price) and is technically an X299 processor, so has more PCIe lanes and memory channels.

Unlocked CPU Pricing
and Select Others
(MSRP Pricing)
Cores AnandTech Cores Intel*
(OEM Pricing)
    $900-$999 18/36 Core i9-10980XE ($979)
Ryzen 9 3950X ($749) 16/32 $700-$799 14/28 Core i9-10940X ($784)
    $600-$699 12/24 Core i9-10920X ($689)
    $500-$599 10/20
Core i9-10900X ($590)
Core i9-9900KS ($513)
Ryzen 9 3900X ($499) 12/24 $400-$499 8/16 Core i9-9900K/F ($488)
Ryzen 7 3800X ($399) 8/16 $350-$399 8/8 Core i7-9700K/F ($374)
Ryzen 7 3700X ($329) 8/16 $300-$349    
    $250-$299 6/6 Core i5-9600K ($262)
Ryzen 5 3600X ($249) 6/12 $200-$249    
Ryzen 5 3600 ($199) 6/12 Below $200 4/4 Core i3-9350K ($173)
*Intel quotes OEM/tray pricing. Retail pricing will sometimes be $20-$50 higher.

There is no easy comparison between any of the processors. AMD is pushing the boundaries of the mainstream dual channel memory processor regime, and Intel doesn't have an equivalent in that space. Intel can match it in the high-end desktop space, but therein lays other issues with PCIe lane counts and memory channel support disparity between the two, as well as Intel’s current retail options being high-priced variants. Intel’s published next generation hardware is set to be launched sometime in November, and with it a number of price cuts, however given the known differences between Intel’s current and Intel’s next generation processor line, the performance gain is not expected to be particularly big.

Going For Power: Is 105W TDP Accurate?
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  • Spunjji - Thursday, November 14, 2019 - link

    In theory it might be. In practice, they're still only able to make mobile CPUs with 4 cores or less on it.
  • Orange_Swan - Thursday, November 14, 2019 - link

    Nah, they've got at least one 6core/12thread, 15/25w mobile CPU, the Core i7-10710U
  • Retycint - Thursday, November 14, 2019 - link

    That's 14nm. All Intel's 10nm processors so far have been limited to 4 core Ice Lake U processors
  • Smartcom5 - Friday, November 15, 2019 - link

    If, and that's the whole issue here since a while now, IF Intel's 10nm would be working after all.Sure enough, that's a requirement which still needs to be fulfilled yet. The best process – no matter how oh so advanced it is going to be (on paper) – is worth exactly no·thing if it ain't working. Then, even a (on paper inferior) node is superior, since it at least meets a crucial condition; It's working (already).

    Thus, it isn't anymore. They relaxed it quite a bit in 2017 to make it work, that's it.

    Intel's actual 10nm which spawned Ice Lake isn't the same as it was before, that's why it's coined 10nm+. It's actually less dense than Intel's initial and original-10nm which brought Cannonlake – density was toned down, it's more like ~12nm now.

    Interestingly TSMC on its current 7nm N7-process already archives virtually the very same density Intel failed to archive on their initial 10nm-process back then – while their current 10nm+, which has a toned-down density from initially 2.7× down to only some 2.0—2.2× (depending on what sources you're willing to trust), is rumoured to rather equal some 12nm-ish alike process instead of being closer to any initial Intel'ian 10nm.

    So while Intel somehow failed, others archived the same density-goals Intel was trying to do for years, to no greater avail – and those others where even on track as scheduled most of the time. Thus, TSMC already fabs on a process which would equal Intel's very initial 10nm-process, which never really saw any greater light of day, bar that known i3-8121U (well, and that m3-8114Y of course, ... you don't know a thing about it, okay?).
  • GraveNoX - Thursday, November 14, 2019 - link

    Yes, they will launch 10nm and 7nm on the same day so you have the freedom to choose which version of the chip you want.
  • Oliseo - Thursday, November 14, 2019 - link

    "Based on my imagination Intel will destroy AMD"
  • Santoval - Thursday, November 14, 2019 - link

    It is meaningless to compare Intel's 7nm parts, which will be released in 2021 assuming NO delays (thus more realistically in 2022+) with AMD's current 7nm parts. If you were going for a "node for node" comparison that is even more meaningless, because Intel's 7nm node will be equivalent to TSMC's 4nm or 5nm node in transistor density (I have read numbers predicting ~185 million transistors per mm^2 for TSMC's 5nm node and ~200nm MTr/mm^2 for Intel's 7nm node). TSMC's 5nm node will almost certainly be released before Intel's 7nm node by the way.

    Regarding Intel's 10nm node parts, while Sunny Cove appears to have a higher IPC than Zen 2 Intel's 10nm parts suffer from much lower clocks which have eaten away all or almost all the IPC gains. This is why Intel have not announced an Ice Lake-S/H release and intend to replace it with Comet Lake-S/H. S/H parts require high clocks, which cannot be provided by Intel's 10nm+ node due to very low yields at high clocks. Only low power Ice Lake-U/Y parts and Ice Lake Xeons will be released. Why? Because these parts have lower clocks.

    More or less the same thing might be repeated with Tiger Lake, in 2H 2020, which would mean that Intel are not very confident of fixing their 10nm node issues even with their 10nm++ node variant. It is rumored that there will be no Tiger Lake-S/H parts and Rocket Lake-S/H will take their place. What's Rocket Lake? A 14nm+++++++ part but with a new μarch (Sunny or Willow Cove cores and a Gen11 or Gen12 iGPU).
  • Santoval - Thursday, November 14, 2019 - link

    edit : "and ~200 MTr/mm^2 for Intel's 7nm node".
  • Targon - Thursday, November 14, 2019 - link

    Didn't TSMC start 5nm risk production a month or so ago?
  • John_M - Monday, November 25, 2019 - link

    Yes, they did.

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