UPDATE: Details added from Dr. Lisa Su's presentation at E3 on June 10, 2019 have been added regarding the previously-unannounced Ryzen 9 3950X and Radeon RX 5700 XT!
Kicking off Computex 2019, Dr. Lisa Su, CEO of AMD, announced the long-awaited "Zen 2" lineup of microprocessors, which have the potential to overtake Intel on all fronts: instructions per clock cycle (IPC), gaming performance, and of course value, which AMD has had a stranglehold on ever since Zen first hit the market in March 2017.
Zen 2, which will be marketed as the AMD Ryzen 3000 series when it arrives on July 7, 2019, is a big deal for AMD. The original Zen architecture allowed AMD to claim the value crown, but it could never quite grasp the overall performance crown versus Intel's still-stagnating "X-Lake" processors, the architecture of which first debuted in 2015's Skylake. So, in a sense, AMD was behind from the moment Zen hit the market, but luckly, Intel has essentially been standing still ever since then, simply adding additional cores to Kaby Lake and then Coffee Lake in order to retain its performance lead. The big question was whether Zen 2 would just be an iteration of Zen, or if it would truly leapfrog ahead. Based on what was announced at Computex, it looks like it may be the latter.
AMD's Zen 2, by the numbers
First, we'll give you the whole lineup, then we'll share some of AMD's claims, and finally, we'll provide our thoughts.
During her keynote, Dr. Su provided several live demonstrations to highlight specific achievements of Zen 2:
- Ryzen 7 3700X, a $330, 65W TDP 8-core CPU beat the $400 i7-9700K in real-time rendering, offering 1% more single-threaded (indicative of IPC), and 30% more in multi-threaded performance.
- Ryzen 7 3800X, a $400, 105W 8-core CPU matched the $500 i9-9900K in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
- Ryzen 9 3900X, a $500, 105W 12-core CPU, beat the $1200 i9-9920X in Blender Render by more than 16%.
It's hard to generalize broadly from this data, but it's notable that the 3700X had higher single-threaded performance than the 9700K, which likely comes at a lower clockspeed. The 3700X is a 3.6GHz (4.4GHz Turbo) chip, while the 9700K is a 3.6GHz (4.9GHz Turbo) chip. The 9700K runs at 4.6GHz fully loaded unless thermally-constrained or power-limited, so it almost certainly had the clockspeed advantage, and yet still lost. Also of note is the PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds result. While this game has definitely past its peak in terms of popularity, it's well known that Intel typically beat AMD by at least 10% in this game, and the 9900K is Intel's fastest gaming processor. If the 3800X can match it, that's saying something. Clearly, AMD could have made a claim about the 3900X beating the 9900K as well, but it saved the 3900X for a comparison with a much higher-priced processor, the 9920X, which is what the Threadripper 2950X previously went up against (but didn't always beat).
Read between the lines here and you can see that the 8-core and 12-core Threadrippers are likely on the way out, but AMD notably reserved 16 cores for that lineup. Rumors had spread over the past few weeks that the 3900X would be a 16-core part. We view the fact that it's a 12-core CPU not as a disappointment, but a good reality check. AMD didn't need to offer 16 cores for $500 (edit: see update below). AMD is clearly hoping to claim technology leadership (with PCIe 4.0 being a great example of that), not just the value crown, and AMD has in fact not dropped prices at all versus the 2000-series processors. As an example, the 3700X is debuting at the same price as the 2700X did over a year ago, while the 3600X likewise comes in at the same price as the 2600X did back then. If it's true that Zen 2 at least matches Intel's Coffee Lake in IPC, then the prices are more than justified. In fact, the only thing we're disappointed in is the cache counts for the Ryzen 7 processors. Assuming that's not a typo, AMD didn't keep these CPU in line with the rest of the Zen 2 family, offering far less cache per core than the 6- and 12-core processors.
Update, June 10th: At the E3 convention, Dr. Lisa Su unveiled the ultimate Ryzen 3000 chip, which had been held back at Computex, presumably to give AMD something to highlight at E3. The flagship of the new 3rd Gen Ryzen desktop processor family will in fact be the Ryzen 9 3950X processor. With 16 cores and 32 threads running at a base clock of 3.5GHz and a Boost of up to 4.7GHz. AMD claimed that the Ryzen 9 3950X processor took the crown in two important categories: highest performance for any 16-core processor and highest performance in a mainstream CPU socket. Of course, with a launch price of $750, it's debatable whether the 3950X actually counts as mainstream. With a price nearly as high as the Threadripper 2950X, AMD is clearly trying to push its prices up a notch from the last generation. Interestingly, there may have been a reason AMD held back details on the 3950X at Computex - it won't be available until September 2019, two months after the rest of the Ryzen 3000 fleet, which tells us that its final specs were likely still in flux in May. Our take is that the 3950X is replacing the Threadripper 2950X (which is actually pretty evident from the model numbers), while the 3900X will be the best choice for gamers. It has a higher base clock, more cache per core, a much more competitive price.
AMD Radeon RX 5700 Series
Also at E3, Dr. Su introduced AMD's next-gen graphics chip, the RX 5700 XT. Harnessing the 7nm process technology first debuted at CES in the Radeon VII graphics chip, the new RX 5700 XT is an interesting product in a number of ways. It's the first chip to use AMD's new RDNA gaming architecture, which AMD claims can deliver up to 1.25X higher performance-per-clock and up to 1.5X higher performance-per-watt compared to the previous-generation GCN. With that said, given the specs, the RX 5700 XT is not actually a high-end chip, and will clearly slot in under the Radeon VII. It has 40 compute units, 2,560 stream processors, 8GB of GDDR6 RAM running at 14 Gbps, and a maximum boost clock of 1905MHz. Notably, AMD is also publishing a "game frequency" of 1755MHz, which suggests this is what users should expect under a constant load. Based on these specifications, we anticipate that the RX 5700 XT will match the previous-gen Radeon Vega 56, originally a $400 card but now a $300 card. This in turn means that the RX 5700 XT should come very close to the performance of the $360 GeForce RTX 2060 released in January. While AMD did not announce a price, our opinion is that it simply cannot come in anywhere above $300, and honestly should be closer to $250 if AMD hopes to gain any market share.
UPDATE: AMD has now released additional details, stating that the RX 5700 XT will come in at $450, release alongside Zen 2 on July 7th, and match the RTX 2070. Simply put, that's not good enough. First of all, it sounds a little optimistic in terms of performance, and second of all, the RTX 2070 has been selling for $480 for months. We don't see AMD capturing any market share by offering a $30 discount when it has no existing mindshare in the high-end market.
We had expected that Zen 2 would be big, and based on the core counts, clockspeeds, and handful of benchmarks AMD provided at Computex, we'd say it could be very big. A broader set of benchmarks will of course be required to draw any real conclusions, but consider that AMD already beat Intel in terms of performance per dollar at every pricepoint, so if it actually provides 15% more IPC plus higher clockspeeds at the same prices, we're talking a huge lead for AMD that it will likely hold well into the year 2020. In terms of graphics, AMD is rolling out its technologies in a very piecemeal fashion, first with 7nm in February and now its new RDNA architecture sometime in late-summer or early-fall. Our guess it that AMD will be offer a high-end GPU based on RDNA by January of 2020, and if the performance scales up from the Radeon VII proportionally, that would translate to performance on par with the RTX 2080 Ti. This kind of competition would be great, but it's all conjecture for now!