AMD Ryzen 9 3950X vs. Intel Core i9-9900KS

Can AMD's Ryzen 3950X catch up to Intel's 9900KS gaming monster?

2019 has been full of CPU surprises, and pleasant ones too. AMD’s Ryzen 3000 series proved exceptional, and Intel’s 9900KS broke the 5GHz all-core barrier for an out-of-the-box CPU for the first time in history. But how do the two best chips from each company stack up? How does AMD compare to Intel when we pit the Core i9-9900KS versus the Ryzen 9 3950X?

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Pricing and availability

AMD Ryzen 9 3900x
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

The Intel Core i9-9900KS was released in October 2019, almost exactly a year on from the release of the original 9900K. The 9900KS debuted with a price tag of $513, although high demand quickly saw its price rise to around $600 at some retailers. As of November 2019, it’s hard to find it in stock anywhere.

AMD’s Ryzen 9 3950X was originally slated to launch in September 2019, two months after the rest of the Ryzen 3000 range. However, it didn’t actually launch until November, following delays that were allegedly to do with AMD not being able to get the kind of clock speeds it wanted out of early samples. It launched at a price of $750, although high demand is expected to drive that price up as we head into the holiday season.

Performance

The 9900KS and 3950X are both high-end processors, but they have very different hardware makeups. Intel’s is a classic gaming chip with plenty of cores, but an even more plentiful clock speed. It is effectively, a factory overclocked version of Intel’s 9900K. In comparison, the 3950X doesn’t hit the same kinds of clock speeds, but it has double the cores and threads of the 9900KS and on paper at least, looks more like an HEDT chip.

CPU Cores Threads L3 Cache Base clock Boost clock (single core) Boost clock (all core) TDP
Intel Core i9-9900KS 8 16 16MB 4.0GHz 5.0GHz 5.0GHz 127w
AMD Ryzen 9 3950X 16 32 64MB 3.5GHz 4.7GHz TBD 105w

These chips are quit distinct from one another. The 3950X has double the cores and threads of the 9900KS, making it far more capable when it comes to multi-threaded tasks. In benchmarks from the likes of PCWorld, to Optimum Tech, the 3950X is shown to completely embarrass the 9900KS in multi-core workloads. It delivers between a 50 and 75 percent improvement in output in tests like V-Ray, and 7Zip, highlighting that if you are running software that can take advantage of so many threads, the 3950X is the clear choice. The 9900KS isn’t even in the same league.

That’s why AMD used Intel’s HEDT chips (like its 16-core 9960X) in its first-party benchmark releases as a more accurate comparison. But even that didn’t hold up well against the new AMD flagship.

Gaming is a different story altogether. The 3950X is a more capable gaming CPU than the 3900X, which itself gave Intel’s 9900K a run for its money in our testing. But the 9900KS is a noticeable improvement over the 9900K, with its 5GHz all core boost clock giving it a notable advantage over the 3950X also.

There’s not a huge difference in it, with most newer games running DirectX12 or Vulkan APIs showing just a few percent points between the two, but there is no denying that the 9900KS is the better gaming processor. In older and DirectX11 games, the 9900KS’ far higher all core boost clock can make a big difference, delivering up to 20 FPS more at lower resolutions.

The difference isn’t huge, but the divide between the two chips in multi-threaded tasks is rather stark.

Buy what you can use

intel 9900ks release date specs price core i9 1

The elephant in the room with this comparison is cost. Where the 3950X does deliver a huge uplift in multi-threaded performance over the 9900KS, it is between $150 and $235 more expensive, depending on where you shop. That’s a big jump in price if you can’t make full use of all of those extra cores. But not so much if you can.

The 3950X is the best mainstream, non-HEDT chip we’ve ever seen when it comes to multi-threaded work and the 9900KS is the best gaming CPU we’ve ever played with. If you’re a pure gamer and want the absolute best performance money can buy, then the 9900KS is the chip for the job — although you might want to consider the 9900K and just overclock it yourself. Most can hit 5.0GHz all core without much difficulty, and you’ll save yourself as much as $100. Even more if you buy the graphics-free 9900KF.

If you only want to buy AMD and you only game, we’d recommend the 3700X or 3800X, as they’re close enough to the 3950X in gaming capabilities and are far cheaper. But if you want a chip for work and play and you can make use of the extra four cores and eight threads of the 3950X over the 3900X, then it’s by far your best choice. The 9900KS isn’t even in the same ballpark as the 3950X in productivity tasks.

The 3950X is an amazing processor at an amazing price, considering the competition. But only buy it if you can really use it.

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