When it comes to prepare a PC build, the GPU is usually the component which takes the biggest chunk of the budget so obviously, it needs to be carefully selected; usually a PC build is made around a GPU’s performance levels because its that strong of a reference point. The newly announced RTX 3090 is one out of three newly announced graphics cards using NVIDIA’s Ampere architecture; its also the most powerful single GPU ever manufactured.
This new graphics card promises to deliver the highest levels of performance in the consumer sector, including stellar ray tracing & compute performance. Its GA102 graphics processor features 10496 shading units, 328 texture mapping units and 112 ROPs; for less tech savvy users, that is absolutely huge and signifies one of the biggest leaps in performance NVIDIA has made between two consecutive generations.
As officially announced, it’s going to be available to buy on the 24th of September while coming in both Founder’s Edition and third party AIB models. If you are in the market for this GPU, you probably have a planned use for it and it’s necessary to choose a good CPU pairing for it. Gaming use? You will need a very fast processor with the strongest single-core performance and enough cores to not be a bottleneck in multi-thread optimized engines. Workstation use? You will need a powerful CPU that can work hand in hand with it in multi-core applications; multi-threaded performance is much more important here than a single core.
Either way, we’ve compiled a list of CPUs the RTX 3090 is best to be paired with depending on your needs. The CPU market has enough variance in order to suit any niche build out there; this is why we’ve split this article into a few popular CPU & GPU combos in order to paint a better picture of each build category. Here they are:
Because the RTX 3090 is such a powerful GPU, the recommended CPU pairings are also restricted to some of the best performing products on the market. Two out of the five categories use CPUs that provide great gaming value and won’t bottleneck your graphics card. The 10900K is the current best gaming CPU on the market regardless of how much power it uses and deserves to be mentioned. The other gaming CPU on this list is the 8 core / 16 threads 3700X which for $299 offers 90% of 10900K’s gaming performance for a fraction of the price; its also not going to bottleneck any gaming application thanks to its 8 physical cores and 16 threads. If you decide on getting the RTX 3090 and that eats too much of your budget, the Ryzen 7 3700X is a great compromise in order to still get amazing performance out of this GPU. Unlike the 10900K, the 3700X also comes with PCIe 4.0 support which will benefit the RTX 3090.
The other three categories show CPUs that are better suited for a workstation-class RTX 3090 build because they have similar gaming performance to the other two categories but much-improved multi-core capabilities which will greatly benefit all the applications you are planning to run on your system. The strongest of these CPUs is the Ryzen Threadripper 3970X which is a 32 core 64 threads behemoth with more PCIe lanes and more RAM support; its specific sTRX4 platform will benefit users who search for highly focused, high-performance utilization with no compromises. The strongest multi-core CPU in the mainstream/consumer platform (AM4 socket) is the Ryzen 9 3950X and that is why it makes this list. For the $709 retail price, which is a great value for what numbers this CPU can put out, it bests any other consumer processor thanks to its 16 cores and 32 threads. Finally, the Ryzen 9 3900X is the smaller brother in the Ryzen 9 lineup and features 12 cores and 24 threads, similarly decimating anything in its $400 and beyond price bracket.
Lets take a closer look at all these CPUs!
1. Intel Core i9 10900K
Best current choice for top gaming performance
When it comes to gaming, Intel has successfully defended the performance throne once again with the addition of this 10 core CPU, the i9-10900K, to the lineup. Intel refined their 14nm process yet again and managed to achieve boosts of single-core performance up to 5.3 GHz which translate to a small edge in gaming performance over their last generation’s flagship, the Core i9 9900K. Its a truly impressive piece of silicon, especially because Intel has managed to keep adding more and more incremental improvements to their Skylake architecture. Price-wise, the 10900K is positioned right around where everyone was expecting it, around the $500 mark, competing with the likes of the 12 core Ryzen 9 3900X.
The closest competition in this price segment for this CPU is the Ryzen 9 3900X which even at 1080p and tested with a high end RTX 2080Ti, is only 8% slower; which is not a lot. But if you will be using your PC for gaming, then there is no reason not to get the Core i9 10900K, especially if you’re really keen to hit the highest FPS possible. You can expect to save around $120 with a Ryzen platform and a 3900X but if you’re going to look for a system with the RTX 3090, which is a $1499 graphics card, that saving doesn’t make much sense.
The gaming performance crown may be taken very soon by AMD’s upcoming Zen 3 processors which are going to be announced in less than a month but the difference shouldn’t be massive and we clearly don’t see the Core i9 10900K becoming obsolete any time soon.
Hardware wise, the Core i9 10900K offers 10 cores, 20 threads, higher clock speeds and new various boosting algorithms designed to optimize performance wherever possible in order to make the most out of this chip. Thanks to this increase in core count, the 10900K can also be used as a workstation class CPU even though is not quite as fast as its rival in the price segment, the Ryzen 9 3900X. Its overall single core performance (calculated by multiplying the IPC x clock speed) is slightly better than AMD’s even if the latter rules in IPC and this is why certain applications which are poorly threaded, might be marginally faster on the 10900K than on the 3900X.
2. AMD Ryzen 7 3700X
Best value CPU for great gaming performance and no bottlenecking with the RTX 3090
Looking at gaming performance and gaming performance alone, we can see that AMD has caught up big time with Intel with the introduction of Zen 2 processors. At higher resolutions like 1440p and 4K, the gap in gaming performance is almost non existent; if you’re not running the best GPU on the market, parity with Intel’s gaming performance has been already reached last year. If there wasn’t for this new generation of Ampere graphics cards, you probably wouldn’t need such a high core count CPU like the 10900K or the 3700X and could probably get away with running an Intel Core i5 CPU like the 10600K or a Ryzen 5 3600X which are both unlocked 6 core CPUs with 12 threads. That is not the case with the RTX 3090 as we can already predict 100% utilization in numerous titles, especially at high refresh rates, with 6 core CPUs.
With the Ryzen 7 3700X, you are getting multicore performance on par with Intel’s 8 core CPUs, the Intel Core i9 9900K and the new Intel Core i7 10700K and gaming performance lags by around 5 to 8% in 1080p (where you wouldn’t even use the RTX 3090). The 8 core 16 threads 3700X has enough hardware resources to handle such a powerful GPU without missing out on any performance on 1440p or 4K, the resolutions meant for the card. This is why the Ryzen 7 3700X is such a great ‘budget’ pairing for the new enthusiast RTX card; you are getting much better power consumption, a much better platform that is very flexible with upgrading and PCIe 4.0 speeds and features – something that can’t be said about Intel’s platform yet.
There are many reasons to get into the Ryzen platform and if you are willing to do that, the Ryzen 7 3700X is a great pairing for even the most powerful graphics cards out there. If you want an RTX 3090 in your system and you are somewhat budget constrained after that big purchase, go with the 3700X instead of the 10900K from the previous category. There’s an estimated $350 to $400 difference between a platform with the Intel Core i9 10900K and a platform with the Ryzen 7 3700X (when counting motherboard & cooler); this means more money put towards faster memory, faster storage or just a happier wallet.
3. AMD Ryzen 9 3950X
Best mainstream CPU for a workstation / content creation RTX 3090 build
The Ryzen 9 3950X is the first CPU which brings 16 cores and 32 threads to a consumer focused platform. Long gone are the days when people had to decide between building a workstation PC or a gaming PC; this CPU has the raw hardware horsepower to do both at the same time without breaking a sweat. We’ve been already amazed by the introduction of 12 cores to the mainstream with the mid 2019 launch of the Ryzen 9 3900X but this processor one ups that and does it with carefully binned and selected silicon in order to clock well and have a manageable power consumption. In fact, in some max load tests, we’ve seen the 3950X consume less power than the 3900X even though there’s a sizeable 4 core / 8 threads difference between the two.
Now it doesn’t matter what you want to do with your PC because the 3950X will handle everything you throw at it better and more efficient than ever before. High compute work? Most applications will take full advantage of the 32 threads. Rendering? Same story; most rendering applications are optimized for multi core performance and will behave extremely well regardless of the workload. If you wand to build or upgrade your own professional environment, there’s nothing better on the consumer market right now. 3D rendering, rasterization, ray tracing and handling of meshes, textures, collisions, physics; the list can go on. There’s no area this CPU can disappoint in a workstation focused PC.
There’s also added incentive in the business world thanks to the ability to gain a return of investment in the time used to compute certain tasks. Take for example a video editor who would very much love to spend 30-40% more on a CPU that is able to halve his render times, thus paying off in long term. The Ryzen 9 3950X is an exceptional CPU and for $709 (retail price), it doesn’t break the bank either when considering what kind of performance you’re getting. Pairing it with a RTX 3090 will allow you to enjoy the single most powerful system the mainstream market has to offer.
4. AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3970X
Best overall CPU for workstation / creative use
If you’ll be getting an RTX 3090 because you need it for your CUDA/ML/training workloads and if you have the budget to spend over the price of the most powerful CPU in the mainstream market, there are definitely options for you. AMD’s HEDT lineup, called Threadripper, is an answer to all enthusiasts or businesses who are dependent on CPU performance. When AMD brought Threadripper’s brand to the market, they promoted it as a CPU that could tackle any high parallel throughput tasks. Its name, Thread & Ripper, is a clever pun signifying its ability to ‘rip’ through any workload thrown at it. The 3970X belongs to the third generation Threadripper lineup and it proves to be quite the refined product right now; we get AVX2, a big leap in IPC and a more unified and matured memory solution. That’s on top of the abundant amount of sTRX4’s PCIe lanes – 64 in total, faster DRAM speeds and PCIe 4.0 default support on the platform.
The 32 core / 64 threads Ryzen Threadripper 3970X was launched alongside the 3960X and 3990X which consist of 24 cores / 48 threads and 64 cores / 128 threads respectively. The reason why we’re not using the 3990X as a recommendation for the RTX 3090 is simply that it’s double the price of the 3970X and while many applications can leverage 32 cores, some will struggle to go above that, rendering the scaling to 64 cores rather not satisfactory. Don’t get us wrong, if you know the applications you’re going to work with are going to scale very well on 64 cores and 128 threads, then the 3990X may be an even better fit for you. For example, encoding & rendering are some of the tasks that will benefit almost linearly from 64 cores. For now though, we’re going to recommend the Threadripper 3970X which at 32 cores is still unheard fast in all parallel workloads. The reason why we’re not considering Intel CPUs in this HEDT segment is that such CPUs don’t exist or are pretty scarce. AMD took this segment by storm and Intel can’t really afford manufacturing such high core count processors while competing in price & performance.
You need to know that with a Ryzen Threadripper 3970 you will be getting high above the mainstream market and into a more expensive platform which is focused on workstation use. Better chipset, quad-channel memory, AVX2 and 64+ PCIe 4.0 lanes are some of the features that warrant a higher price for such a powerful and focused build.
5. AMD Ryzen 9 3900X
Best value mainstream CPU for an RTX 3090 workstation build
High performance CPUs don’t necessarily need to be very expensive; great value does exist in this market as well. One of the best examples is the first 12 core processor introduced to the mainstream market, the Ryzen 9 3900X. If we were to look at desktop workloads with compression software, content creation, transcoding or other, AMD is pretty much killing every mainstream CPU that Intel currently has in their lineup, including the Core i9 10900K which is more than an year newer than the 3900X. You will also realized that PCIe Gen4 is the game changer for you, especially with the RTX 3090 that is predicted to perform slightly better on a PCIe 4.0 platform with double the throughput.
Even though the 3900X is no 3950X, the 4 cores and 8 threads difference between them is not that huge, especially when talking about value. With a 3950X you’re roughly getting 25% more performance over the 3900X (due to multi core scaling) but you’re paying over 60% more for that performance. This is why the 12 core CPU is such a great sweet spot; it stands high above the 8 core CPUs, its more in line with their value, can still handle very heavy workloads without breaking a sweat and is a great pairing with today’s most powerful graphics card, the RTX 3090. We say great pairing because there is no doubt if the 3900X will handle this GPU. At the end of the day though, it all comes down to your budget and performance needs. The more performance you want and higher up you go, up the CPU stack, you’ll be getting less value and diminishing returns.
Its important to know your workload and computing needs but if you’re not sure about what CPU to buy for a workstation, the 3900X is one of the most seriously powerful processors for a high end content creation rig that can be had without breaking the bank. Its platform is feature packed and support around it is excellent; it might just be your next CPU.
We are probably as excited as you are about the launch of NVIDIA’s high-end lineup. It’s already clear that the company went all out with these GPUs and are seeking to bring a big performance leap between generations. This fall proves to be a great period to plan a new build and we’ve selected five amazing CPUs for your RTX 3090 (or RTX 3080, don’t feel limited to just the top one), depending on your general PC use. The gaming processors that we’ve recommended are the Intel Core i9 10900K, which is the current top performance gaming CPU and the Ryzen 7 3700X which is still capable of handling the RTX 3090 without many compromises, at least on the gaming side of things. Get the 10900K if you want the best gaming performance and get the 3700X if you can’t be bothered to lose 5-10% gaming performance in favor of a not so shabby sum of $400 that can stay in your wallet or be used someplace else – like system memory or fast storage.
On the high performance, parallel work type systems, we have three categories and the same number of CPUs. At the ultra top end, enthusiasts will find an incredible performer on the Threadripper platform, in the form of the 32 core / 64 threads TR 3970X. Priced at $1999, it doesn’t quite have the value of the mainstream processors but it sure delivers on its performance claims, making any workload you throw at it a breeze; big smiles on your face will definitely not be that rare. If you know you can utilize the power of a 3970X, the investment is worth it thanks to the reduction in time and improved quality of work it induces.
At the top of the mainstream high-performance market sits the Ryzen 9 3950X, a 16 core / 32 threads processor destined to bring stellar single and multi-threaded performance to a mainstream, affordable platform. The $710 price may still dissuade some buyers but no one will be able to argue with the performance. Its closest next partner in the Ryzen lineup is the 12 core Ryzen 9 variant, the 3900X, with which it shares a similar story: high performance parallel computing for any encoding/rendering/ML/training/content creation workload. The Ryzen 9 3900X may have 4 less cores but for those interested, it’s an easier buy than the 3950X thanks to the higher value and sweet spot in the market.
If we were to handle such an article more than three years ago, things could have been much easier because the line between consumer desktop CPUs and HEDT processors was still very pronounced. We don’t want to side with anyone on this but AMD has truly shaken up the performance charts and has pushed Intel into also releasing some incredible pieces of silicon in order to remain relevant. Its true, four years ago it was easier to choose a CPU for a high-end graphics card but today we are blessed with so many options to choose from, which is remarkable in such a short time span.
We sure hope this article has given you enough insight on which CPU to choose for the upcoming high-end RTX 3090 graphics card and note that we are preparing many builds at different performance levels and price points with the full upcoming RTX 3000 series lineup. Stay tuned!