AMD Ryzen 9 7950X3D review: the new fastest gaming CPU
Solid gains across the board, plus some bonkers results.
The Ryzen 7 5800X3D was a truly special CPU for AMD, a fitting tribute to the long-lived AM4 platform with gaming performance that dwarfed other Ryzen 5000 processors thanks to its 3D V-Cache design. Now its first two successors have arrived to try and capture the same magic, the Ryzen 9 7950X3D and 7900X3D – with the Ryzen 7 7800X3D set to debut in April.
All three ought to be predigious performers, but can they wrest the ‘best gaming crown’ from Intel’s 13900K? And with a more capable socket, faster DDR5 RAM and a more advanced manufacturing process, is the bigger L3 cache as transformative for Ryzen 7000 as it was for Ryzen 5000? To find out, we’ve been testing the flagship Ryzen 9 7950X3D, which delivers 16 Zen 4 cores and 3D V-Cache for £699/$699 – the same RRP as the original 7950X.
Before we get into the content creation and gaming benchmarks, it’s worth outlining what makes the 7950X3D’s hardware so fascinating. Ryzen CPUs have used a chiplet design since their inception, with the low to mid-range parts using a single chiplet (“CCD” in AMD nomenclature) of up to eight cores and the high-end parts using two chiplets, and that continues with the 7950X3D. The big difference here is that the 7950X3D sports an asymmetricdesign, with one of its chiplets receiving the 3D V-Cache upgrade in exchange for a slight penalty in terms of maximum frequency, while the other chiplet retains the smaller cache size and frequency of the 7950X it’s based on.
This asymmetric design may sound odd, and it does have its drawbacks, but there are some clear advantages here too. For one, a CPU with one 3D V-Cache chiplet is cheaper to produce than one with two, keeping prices down. Another advantage is that programs that benefit from the larger cache, like games, can run primarily on those cores, while tasks that don’t benefit can instead take advantage of the higher frequencies available on the non-V-Cache cores.
To ensure games and apps are assigned to the correct cores, AMD has added significantly to its chipset software. If a two-CCD 7000X3D CPU is detected when you install the new chipset drivers, you get a background service, a background process, a new entry in the device manager and more besides. (Conversely, if you install the same chipset driver version without an X3D CPU installed, then swap one in, all of that extra functionality won’t be activated; you need to reinstall the chipset drivers. Ask me how I know this!)
It’s pretty clever stuff, with AMD using the Windows Game Bar to detect when a game is active, and ‘parking’ the frequency cores, numbers 16-31 in the case of the 7950X3D, to ensure that Windows prefers to use the V-Cache equipped cores for games. That means you can use the Game Bar overlay to tell Windows that any application is a game in order to run it on the high cache cores, and there are also registry entries that disable this behaviour for specific games. Well, I say specific games, but only one game is called out at present – League of Legends. Finally, you can also modify this behaviour in the BIOS by manually selecting auto, cache or frequency cores as being preferred for everything – functionality we tested on page six to investigate how big the 3D V-Cache advantage really is.
You can see how the three Ryzen 7000X3D CPUs are positioned amongst their stablemates in the table below. As a reminder, each of these Zen 4 designs benefits from a range of improvements over their Zen 3 counterparts, with a quoted 13 percent uptick to instructions-per-clock (IPC) and more internal improvements, like an improved execution engine and a better branch predictor. There’s also DDR5 and PCIe 5.0 support, with 5nm CCDs and a 6nm I/O die, alongside the new AM5 socket which unlocks additional power and performance – albeit with the requirement of a new motherboard, new RAM and potentially new cooling.