AMD Ryzen 5900X vs Intel i9-10900K

We compare the new AMD Ryzen R9 5900X against Intel’s i9-10900K to see who wins the title of best gaming CPU

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For years now Intel has been the king when it comes to higher-end gaming CPUs. Where AMD has been the leader for workstation builds which require greater multi-core and memory cache performance, Intel’s greater single-thread performance has meant it outperformed historically when it came to gaming. With the new release of their Ryzen 9 5000 CPUs however, AMD have aimed to combine their workstation edge with gaming performance that can take Intel’s crown. The 5900X is AMD’s direct challenge to Intel’s enthusiast-level i9-10900K, the industry leader of gaming processors. Let’s take a closer look to see if AMD’s ambitions have been successful, and which of the competing CPUs is worth your money.

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5900X vs 10900K – The Specifications

Although the engineering processes of both CPU manufacturers are different enough that direct comparisons are of limited utility, we can still glean some information from them. The AMD CPU has higher cache and core count, typically needed for the better workstation performance in which AMD dominates, but Intel has greater Boost Clock speeds for both single-core and all-core, normally the areas one looks for in a gaming-focused CPU. The process size of each CPU differs also, Intel’s offering still based on the older 14nm format, whereas AMD’s processors are on 7nm. Broadly speaking the lower the process size the more transistors can be fit onto the CPU, and the more powerful the performance that can be engineered out of the same size chip, given differing manufacturing techniques however, this is not necessarily always the case. 

The final thing to note of course is the price difference. In a departure from previous years, AMD are charging a $50 higher price than Intel for their rival processor, a premium price that speaks as to the confidence they have in their product outperforming.

Workstation Performance

As mentioned, workstation performance is an area in which AMD have dominated over the last few years, their superior multi-core and cache performance being the deciding factor over Intel, whose processors historically have had the edge when it comes to single-clock speed and overclocking. As you would expect, the 5900X outperforms the Intel i9-10900K in the area of workstation use substantially.

Workstation Performance

AMD Ryzen 5900X vs Intel i9 10900K POV Roy

As mentioned, workstation performance is an area in which AMD have dominated over the last few years, their superior multi-core and cache performance being the deciding factor over Intel, whose processors historically have had the edge when it comes to single-clock speed and overclocking. As you would expect, the 5900X outperforms the Intel i9-10900K in the area of workstation use substantially.

AMD Ryzen 5900X vs Intel i9 10900K Cinebench R20
AMD Ryzen 5900X vs Intel i9 10900K Compile Mozilla Firefox
AMD Ryzen 5900X vs Intel i9 10900K Compile Mozilla Firefox

Unlike the $250 more expensive 5950X, which is targeted towards creatives and professionals that want a desktop PC that can perform workstation tasks as well as game; the 5900X, and its 3900X predecessor, are aimed primarily at enthusiast-level gamers only. This is not to say that you won’t be able to get some multi-core productivity out of the CPU in these tasks, however. As the benchmarking above shows, the rendering speed and multicore performance for the new 5900X still competes very favorably. Surprisingly the 5900X even outperforms the older 3950X, previously the industry favorite for small to medium-sized creative professionals and hobbyists, in certain areas of workstation use; overall though the 3950X still has the edge as you would expect from its greater number of cores and threads. 

If you are looking to build a proper workstation rig, then we would recommend looking at the 16-core 5950X or alternatively, if you are constrained by a tight budget, consider a second hand 3950X. Exceptions to this would be if you are only interested in performance on software like Adobe Photoshop, which is mostly reliant on single-core speed than multi-core usage. For the vast majority of other editing and visual effects software, as well as streaming usage, the 5950X is your best bet. Nevertheless, when comparing the 5900X vs Intel’s i9-10900K for workstation use, the 5900X definitely comes out on top.

Gaming Performance

Single clock speed is still the predominant factor when it comes to gaming (and also for a handful of workstation tasks such as using Adobe Photoshop) and this has been the area in which Intel has dominated historically. Whilst newer games are beginning to utilize multi-processor power, for the next couple of years at least, single-core performance is still the main focus.

As mentioned, the 5900X has lower clock speeds than the i9-10900K. Although the Base clock of both is 3.7Ghz, in practice Base Clock only represents a theoretical idling frequency, most CPUs rarely drop to this level, certainly not in gaming. In terms of single-core Boost clock the Intel processor comes in 0.5Ghz higher than the 5900X, however, the clock speed is only part of the story with performance. The improvements in architecture for AMD’s Zen 3 CPUs have brought substantial Instructions Per Clock (IPC) uplift, so the overall number of instructions the 5900X is capable of over any given time is actually slightly higher than the i9-10900K, even with the lower clock speeds. 

Actual FPS performance of course differs from game-to-game, so let’s look at some benchmarks below to see how the two processors stack up.

Gaming Performance

AMD Ryzen 5900X vs Intel i9 10900K Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Single clock speed is still the predominant factor when it comes to gaming (and also for a handful of workstation tasks such as using Adobe Photoshop) and this has been the area in which Intel has dominated historically. Whilst newer games are beginning to utilize multi-processor power, for the next couple of years at least, single-core performance is still the main focus.

As mentioned, the 5900X has lower clock speeds than the i9-10900K. Although the Base clock of both is 3.7Ghz, in practice Base Clock only represents a theoretical idling frequency, most CPUs rarely drop to this level, certainly not in gaming. In terms of single-core Boost clock the Intel processor comes in 0.5Ghz higher than the 5900X, however, the clock speed is only part of the story with performance. The improvements in architecture for AMD’s Zen 3 CPUs have brought substantial Instructions Per Clock (IPC) uplift, so the overall number of instructions the 5900X is capable of over any given time is actually slightly higher than the i9-10900K, even with the lower clock speeds. 

Actual FPS performance of course differs from game-to-game, so let’s look at some benchmarks below to see how the two processors stack up.

AMD Ryzen 5900X vs Intel i9 10900K Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020
AMD Ryzen 5900X vs Intel i9 10900K Counter Strike Global Offensive
AMD Ryzen 5900X vs Intel i9 10900K Counter Strike Global Offensive

Although the Microsoft Flight Sim results are only slightly better than the i9-10900K, on Shadow Of The Tomb Raider we have seen an average FPS uplift of 10%, with a 26% improvement for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Other benchmarks will possibly show variation in FPS results, but based on these figures it seems to us like the 5900X represents great value. This is especially true if you are considering purchasing a new Radeon 6000 series graphics card, as we will go over below.

AMD Ryzen 5000 CPUs With Radeon 6000 GPUs – Smart Access Memory

The final thing to think about when weighing up whether to pick the 5900X or i9-10900K (if the above was not already sufficient) is whether or not you are intending to buy one of the new Radeon 6000 series graphics cards from AMD. As we explain in greater depth here, the Smart Access Memory (SAM) feature allows 5000 series Ryzen CPUs to gain additional performance through more efficient usage of GPU memory, ranging from between 2% – 13% additional FPS performance on the games AMD showed us. After the new Radeon 6000 series graphics cards are released then we will have a better idea of how realistic this is, but so far AMD’s figures have been accurate once independently tested.

Whilst you could argue that the Intel i9-10900K was the only CPU that could get the most out of the highest end Nvidia cards (e.g. the RTX 3090) until recently, there hasn’t really been much benefit in pairing particular manufacturers CPUs with GPUs in the past. AMD’s push towards synergizing their CPUs and GPUs now gives potential customers an incentive to buy both components from the red team.

In Summary

The benchmarks speak for themselves when it comes to comparing the AMD Ryzen 9 5900X with the Intel i9-10900K. AMD really have accomplished something very impressive with the performance they’ve managed to squeeze out of the same 7nm process and it seems Intel, still on 14nm for now at least, is lagging behind them. Overall the 5900X outcompetes the i9-10900K in both gaming and workstation use, although on some games this difference seems to be slight, on others, it is very substantial. Although the Intel i9-10900K is $50 cheaper it is difficult to find a reason to recommend buying one over the 5900X unless its price drops significantly on the second-hand market. 

This is particularly the case when you consider that the FPS gains between the 5900X and the Intel i9-10900K shown in the above benchmark charts do not even factor in Smart Access Memory, which has yet to be tested. If you are planning on buying a 6000 series Radeon graphics card anyway, SAM is essentially additional free performance, and you really would be missing out if you paired a Radeon GPU with a new Intel processor.

If you already own an i9-10900K then the difference in FPS uplift, impressive as it is on certain games, might not be worth buying the 5900X unless you can get a good resale price for your existing i9-10900K on the second-hand market. If you can get a good price however and are looking to pick up a Radeon 6000 card, then going red team for the CPU as well would make a powerful machine indeed.

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