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AMD Ryzen 9 7950X review: Zen 4 strikes back

amd ryzen 9 7950x review 6

AMD Ryzen 9 7950X
MSRP $700.00

Score Details

DT Editors’ Choice

“Being the fastest is one thing. The Ryzen 9 7950X proves being the fastest by a huge margin is another.”

Pros

  • Off the charts CPU performance
  • Solid gaming improvements
  • Integrated graphics work for light games
  • Works with most AM4 coolers

Cons

  • DDR5 could bloat cost

AMD hasn’t released a new generation of processors in nearly two years, so to say the expectation for the Ryzen 9 7950X was high would be an understatement. After taking a backseat to Intel on the list of the best processors late last year, AMD is back. And it’s back with a vengeance.

Contents

  • Specs
  • Test configurations
  • Performance
  • Gaming
  • Integrated graphics
  • Power and thermals
  • Overclocking
  • Should you buy the Ryzen 9 7950X?Show 3 more items

I won’t mince words: The Ryzen 9 7950X is the fastest desktop CPU you can buy right now. That may well change as Intel prepares to launch its next generation of processors, but the lead AMD has now shown it’s not content to just claim the performance crown for a few months. It wants to hold it throughout the next generation.

Specs

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The Zen 4 generation doesn’t change a lot on the surface compared to Zen 3 processors. You’re looking at 16 cores in the Ryzen 9 7950X, which is the same number AMD as stuck with in the last two iterations of this CPU class. The big boost comes to clock speed, with the Ryzen 9 7950X boosting up to 5.7GHz out of the box.

Ryzen 9 7950X
Ryzen 9 7900X
Ryzen 7 7700X
Ryzen 5 7600X
Cores/Threads
16/32
12/24
8/16
6/12
Boost clock speed
5.7GHz
5.6GHz
5.4GHz
5.3GHz
Base clock speed
4.5GHz
4.7GHz
4.5GHz
4.7GHz
Cache (L2 + L3)
80MB
76MB
40MB
38MB
TDP
170W
170W
105W
105W
Price
$700
$550
$400
$300

Despite a new architecture and a massive boost to clock speed (the Ryzen 9 5950X topped out at 4.9GHz), AMD’s new flagship actually comes in $100 cheaper than the previous version. That’s a welcome price cut, but Intel’s competing Core i9-12900K often sells closer to the $600 mark. AMD also increased power quite a bit, jumping from 105 watts on the Ryzen 9 5950X to 170W on the Ryzen 9 7950X. I’ll dig more into what that means for thermals and fan noise a bit later in this review.

The bigger change is the Zen 4 architecture, which uses chipmaker TSMC’s 5nm node. Its higher efficiency compared to the 7nm node in Ryzen 5000 promises a 30% reduction in power consumption at the same frequency. The performance situation, as you might suspect, is a lot more complicated than just the manufacturing process, however.

Test configurations

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

This is an interesting generation for AMD, as it sees the introduction of DDR5 memory to AMD’s processors. Intel has supported DDR5 for almost a year, but now that AMD has made the jump, DDR4 is all but dead. Still, I kept my test benches as close as possible, just swapping out 32GB of DDR4-3200 for 32GB of DDR5-6000 (the sweet spot for Ryzen 7000, according to AMD).

 
AMD Zen 4
Intel 12th-gen
AMD Zen 3
Intel 10th-gen
CPU
AMD Ryzen 9 7950X
Intel Core i9-12900K
AMD Ryzen 9 5950X
Intel Core i9-10900K
GPU
Nvidia RTX 3090 Founders Edition
Nvidia RTX 3090 Founders Edition
Nvidia RTX 3090 Founders Edition
Nvidia RTX 3090 Founders Edition
RAM
32GB Corsair Vengeance DDR5-6000
32GB Corsair Vengeance DDR5-6000
32GB Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-3200
32GB Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-3200
Motherboard
Gigabyte X670E Aorus Master
MSI Pro Z690-A DDR4
Gigabyte Aorus B550 Elite
Asus Tuf Gaming Z490-Plus
CPU cooler
Corsair H150i Elite Capellix
 Corsair H150i Elite Capellix
 Corsair H150i Elite Capellix
Corsair H115i Elite Capellix
Power supply
Gigabyte Aorus P1200W
Gigabyte Aorus P1200W
Gigabyte Aorus P1200W
EVGA G6 1000W 80 Plus Gold
Storage
Corsair MP400 1TB SSD
Corsair MP400 1TB SSD
Corsair MP400 1TB SSD
Crucial MX500 2TB SSD

In addition to the processors above, I also tested AMD’s Ryzen 7 5800X3D in gaming. In fairness, that chip really isn’t competing with the Ryzen 9 7950X, but it’s an important processor to include for gaming benchmarks. I just swapped the CPU on my Zen 3 test bench for that processor.

Unlike all previous Ryzen processors, the Ryzen 7000 CPUs use the new AM5 socket, so you’ll need a motherboard upgrade. Currently, we just have X670 and X670E motherboards, but AMD will release B650 options in October. Make sure to reference our writeup on AM5 and X670 if you want to know which chipset is right for you.

Performance

If you had any doubts about the power of the Ryzen 9 7950X, you can put them to rest. Across the board, it posted the highest results out of any CPU I’ve tested, and sometimes by a significant margin. That’s best evidenced by Geekbench 5 and Cinebench R23, where the Ryzen 9 7950X beat out the multi-core performance of the Core i9-12900K by 30% and 36%, respectively.

Single-core improvements aren’t as large, with a 1% boost in Cinebench and a 6% jump in Geekbench. However, the generational improvements are massive here. AMD managed a 31% increase over the Ryzen 9 5950X in Cinebench R23 and a 25% increase in Geekbench 5. When AMD said it would offer a 29% increase in single-core performance over Ryzen 5000, it was telling the truth.

Real applications don’t always see such a large increase, but some even push beyond what Geekbench and Cinebench suggest. In 7-zip, for example, you’re looking at almost a 60% increase in performance over the Ryzen 9 5950X and a massive 76% jump over the Core i9-12900K, flexing AMD’s muscle with 16 full, fat cores.

Creative apps also saw a boost, with the Ryzen 9 7950X shaving off 34% of encoding time in Handbrake compared to the previous generation and 19% compared to the Core i9-12900K. Even the overclocked Core i9-12900KS is behind the Ryzen 9 7950X — a chip that Intel released in April for $800.

Ryzen 9 7950X
AMD Ryzen 9 5950X
Intel Core i9-12900K
Intel Core i9-10900K
Cinebench R23 (single/multi)
2,018 / 37,182
1,541 / 27,328
1,989 / 27,344
1,291 / 13,614
Geekbench 5 (single/multi)
2,149 / 23,764
1,726 / 14,239
2,036 / 18,259
1,362 / 10,715
Handbrake (seconds, lower is better)
38 seconds
58 seconds
47 seconds
72 seconds
7-Zip
222,209 MIPS
139,074 MIPS
126,215 MIPS
86,172 MIPS
PugetBench for Premiere Pro
1,172
992
1,066
855
PugetBench for Photoshop
1,498
1,009
1,315
1,023

The CPU market is always a balance of AMD and Intel leapfrogging each other, but AMD is showing with the Ryzen 9 7950X that it’s leading that performance charge. It’s not without competition, though. Intel is set to release its 13th-gen Raptor Lake processors in short order, which will likely bring the performance scales closer to balanced.

Gaming

Going into this review, I was skeptical that the Ryzen 9 7950X could beat out AMD’s last-gen Ryzen 7 5800X3D. It was the fastest gaming CPU by a decent margin, and without 3D V-Cache at the helm, I assumed the Ryzen 9 7950X would be a disappointment in games. That’s not the case, but AMD’s 3D-stacked part still holds up remarkably well.

Before digging into the results, I ran all of my tests at 1080p with the highest graphics preset available. All of my results are from the test bench configurations you can find above, short of Halo Infinite, which was run with an RTX 3070 but the same configurations otherwise.

Gen-on-gen, I measured a 13.4% increase with the Ryzen 9 7950X over the Ryzen 9 5950X. We have an increase in clock speed on the Zen 4 part, but the same 16 cores and only 8MB extra of CPU cache. That’s an increase purely from process and architecture, which is quite the feat. However, it’s not quite as high as the generational improvement Ryzen 5000 provided, which landed somewhere between 15% and 20%. Interestingly, the 13% increase is the same number AMD cited for its instructions per clock (IPC) gains, illustrating how important this metric is for gaming.

Ryzen 9 7950X
AMD Ryzen 7 5800X3D
Intel Core i9-12900K
AMD Ryzen 9 5950X
3D Mark Time Spy 
19,113
17,078
19,396
17,922
3D Mark Fire Strike
43,386
37,380
39,870
38,911
Red Dead Redemption 2
140 fps
119 fps
137 fps
133 fps
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
115 fps
111 fps
107 fps
110 fps
Forza Horizon 4
257 fps
214 fps
234 fps
201 fps
Halo Infinite
134 fps
127 fps
113 fps
119 fps
Cyberpunk 2077
128 fps
128 fps
122 fps
127 fps
Far Cry 6
153 fps
147 fps
141 fps
115 fps
Civilization VI (turn time, lower is better)
6.1 seconds
6.6 seconds
7.3 seconds
7.5 seconds

You’re looking at about 13% overall, but some games see a much higher uplift. In Forza Horizon 4, I measured nearly a 28% increase, for example, and Far Cry 6 resulted in a 33% increase. On the other end, GPU-limited games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Red Dead Redemption 2 showed minimal differences, which will completely disappear as you increase your resolution.

Compared to the Ryzen 7 5800X3D, the differences are smaller — just under 9% across the games I tested. That said, the 3D-stacked chip is being brought up by games that benefit from its additional cache. In Red Dead Redemption 2, for example, the Ryzen 9 7950X was nearly 18% faster than the Ryzen 7 5800X3D.

AMD is providing a sizeable boost in performance over current-gen flagships.

Intel’s flagship Core i9-12900K is a bit tighter, with the Ryzen 9 7950X outpacing it by 8% overall. However, the Core i9-12900K is much closer than the Ryzen 7 5800X3D in multiple titles, mainly being brought down by Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 4 — both games that traditionally see higher performance with AMD parts.

Although the generational improvement isn’t as stark, it’s still close. And AMD is still providing a sizable boost in performance over current-gen flagships. My only hesitation recommending the Ryzen 9 7950X to gamers is that we know 3D V-Cache versions are on the way. Depending on when those launch, we very well could be in a situation where something like a Ryzen 7 7700X3D could beat the Ryzen 9 7950X in gaming for less money.

Integrated graphics

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

AMD lied, and thank goodness for that. Each Ryzen 7000 CPU comes with two RDNA 2 graphics cores, which AMD said were for troubleshooting, not gaming. And although the integrated GPU isn’t great for gaming, it still works. It’s more than capable of running esports titles above 60 fps, even at 1080p with respectable graphics settings.

Ryzen 9 7950X
Forza Horizon 4 (1080p, Medium)
33 fps
Rocket League (1080p, Performance)
99 fps
Rainbow Six Siege (1080p, Medium)
47 fps

You could very reasonably play games like Rocket League just on the integrated graphics and have a great experience. Forza Horizon 4 stood out a lot, too. I was locked above 30 fps in the game, putting the integrated GPU somewhere above a base Xbox One. You wouldn’t want to game on the iGPU full time, but it works damn well as a stop-gap for a discrete GPU or to run lightweight games at lower resolutions.

The gaming prowess is impressive, but the integrated graphics made a massive difference outside of gaming during my review. This is the first generation of Ryzen CPUs where AMD has included graphics on the chip, which is very helpful for diagnosing a PC. I had to use them initially to get my test bench set up, actually. Conflicting GPU drivers meant I didn’t see anything in Windows, but I was able to use the iGPU to uninstall the drivers and get everything set up properly. This would take a clean install of Windows on previous Ryzen CPUs.

They come with video encode and decode capabilities, as well, though GPU acceleration in these tasks is the ideal way to go.

Power and thermals

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The Ryzen 9 7950X may have 16 cores like the Ryzen 9 5950X, but it draws a lot more power. 170W is the technical limit, but it can boost up to 230W for brief periods under load. That’s on the level of the Core i9-12900K, which is the most power-hungry processor currently on the market. In a multi-core run on Cinebench R23, the processor immediately went up to 95 degrees Celsius (its thermal limit) and hovered around 5GHz to 5.1GHz.

It’s a bit concerning, but AMD says this totally expected. The Ryzen 9 7950X will hit a thermal wall before it hits a power wall, and the processor is designed to hit that thermal limit in intense multi-core workloads like Cinebench. AMD says you could run the processor 24/7 at this temperature without any risks of damaging or decreasing performance.

My results came from using the Ryzen 9 7950X with a 360mm all-in-one liquid cooler. That’s one of the pros of the Ryzen 9 7950X — it works with the vast majority of AM4 coolers, including the AIO I used. Although the operating temperature is safe and expected, the processor still gets hot under load and causes your CPU fans to ramp up. But true to AMD’s claims, I topped out at 201W for the total platform, and about 160W for the CPU alone, even with the 95-degree ceiling. Even when bumping against that wall, I was able to push a moderate overclock, as well.

Overclocking

Overclocking with Precision Boost Overdrive (PBO) lends some validity to AMD’s claims about the thermal wall. I still hit 95 degrees, but PBO with a 10X scaler pulled off a 200MHz bump, allowing me to just barely miss 6GHz on a single core. The processor went up to 185W, too, showing that although there’s a thermal limit, there’s still plenty of headroom for power.

Ryzen 9 7950X
Ryzen 9 7950X PBO +200MHz
Cinebench R23 (single/multi)
2,018 / 37,182
2,036 / 37,596
Geekbench 5 (single/multi)
2,149 / 23,764
2,214 / 24,039
Handbrake (seconds, lower is better)
38 seconds
35 seconds
7-Zip
222,209 MIPS
225,647
Far Cry 6
153 fps
158 fps
Forza Horizon 4
257 fps
260 fps

Across all cores, I topped out at 5.2GHz in my Cinebench R23 run, resulting in a very modest 1% uptick in my multi-core score. Real applications saw a larger benefit, with a 3% bump in Far Cry 6 and nearly an 8% drop in encoding time in Handbrake. Even with a modest overclock, you can squeeze some extra performance out of the Ryzen 9 7950X.

If you go to the extreme end, the gains will likely be much higher. AMD has already shared some LN2 overclocking demos, showcasing the Ryzen 9 7950X reaching over 6.8GHz on a single core. There’s some headroom here for overclocking, given you have enough power and cooling.

However, the vast majority of people won’t be using LN2 to overclock, and in that case, PBO is the best option. Although you may be able to squeeze out a bit of extra performance with tuning, PBO is still providing a decent uplift.

Should you buy the Ryzen 9 7950X?

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

If you’re looking for the best performance you can get out of a CPU today, the Ryzen 9 7950X is for you. It’s not only the fastest, it’s the fastest by a solid margin. The gen-on-gen improvements are even more impressive, especially considering that AMD is offering the Ryzen 9 7950X at $100 less than the Ryzen 9 5950X at launch.

The Core i9-12900K is $100 cheaper, but it’s a decent bit behind in overall CPU performance. It’s important to note that Intel’s 13th-gen flagship is on the way, which will shift the price/performance balance. But today, the Ryzen 9 7950X is the fastest CPU you can buy.

Gamers have a tough decision, though. The Ryzen 9 7950X is overkill, so a cheaper option in the lineup is the way to go. If you’re patient, waiting for 3D V-Cache chips is the best option. The Ryzen 7 5800X3D is still very close in gaming, despite using a last-gen architecture and costing half as much, so 3D-stacked Ryzen 7000 parts should provide the best gaming performance once they’re here.

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