Section by Andrei Frumusanu

CPU ST Performance: SPEC 2006, SPEC 2017

SPEC2017 and SPEC2006 is a series of standardized tests used to probe the overall performance between different systems, different architectures, different microarchitectures, and setups. The code has to be compiled, and then the results can be submitted to an online database for comparison. It covers a range of integer and floating point workloads, and can be very optimized for each CPU, so it is important to check how the benchmarks are being compiled and run.

We run the tests in a harness built through Windows Subsystem for Linux, developed by our own Andrei Frumusanu. WSL has some odd quirks, with one test not running due to a WSL fixed stack size, but for like-for-like testing is good enough. SPEC2006 is deprecated in favor of 2017, but remains an interesting comparison point in our data. Because our scores aren’t official submissions, as per SPEC guidelines we have to declare them as internal estimates from our part.

For compilers, we use LLVM both for C/C++ and Fortan tests, and for Fortran we’re using the Flang compiler. The rationale of using LLVM over GCC is better cross-platform comparisons to platforms that have only have LLVM support and future articles where we’ll investigate this aspect more. We’re not considering closed-sourced compilers such as MSVC or ICC.

clang version 10.0.0
clang version 7.0.1 (ssh://

-Ofast -fomit-frame-pointer
-mfma -mavx -mavx2

Our compiler flags are straightforward, with basic –Ofast and relevant ISA switches to allow for AVX2 instructions.

To note, the requirements for the SPEC licence state that any benchmark results from SPEC have to be labelled ‘estimated’ until they are verified on the SPEC website as a meaningful representation of the expected performance. This is most often done by the big companies and OEMs to showcase performance to customers, however is quite over the top for what we do as reviewers.

We start off with SPEC2006, a legacy benchmark by now, but which still has very well understood microarchitectural behaviour for us to analyse the new Zen3 design:

SPECint2006 Speed Estimated Scores

In SPECint2006, we’re seeing healthy performance upticks across the board for many of the tests. Particularly standing out is the new 462.libquantum behaviour of the Ryzen 9 5950X which is posting more than double the performance of its predecessor, likely thanks to the new much larger cache, but also the overall higher load/store throughput of the new core as well as the memory improvements of the microarchitecture.

We’re also seeing very large performance increases for 429.mcf and 471.omnetpp which are memory latency sensitive: Although the new design doesn’t actually change the structural latency to DRAM all that much, the new core’s much improved and smarter handling of memory through new cache-line replacement algorithms, new prefetchers, seem to have a large impact on these workloads.

400.perlbench is interesting as it’s not really a memory-heavy or L3 heavy workload, but instead has a lot of instruction pressure. I think that Zen3’s large boost here might be due to the new optimised OP-cache handling and optimisations as that would make the most sense out of all the changes in the new design – it’s one of the tests that has a very high L1I cache miss rate.

A simpler test that’s solely integer execution bound and sits almost solely in the L1D is 456.hmmer, and here we’re seeing only a minor uplift in performance only linear with the clock frequency increase of the new design, with only a 1% IPC uplift. Given that Zen3 doesn’t actually change its integer execution width in terms of ALUs or overall machine width, it makes sense to not see much improvements here.

SPECfp2006(C/C++) Speed Estimated Scores

In SPECfp2006, we’re seeing more healthy boosts in performance across the board which is mostly due to the more memory intensive nature of the workloads, and we’re seeing large IPC uplifts in most tests due to the larger L3 as well as the better memory capabilities of the core. 433.milc sees a smaller uplift than the other benchmarks and that’s due to it being more DRAM memory bandwidth bound. 482.spinx is also seeing a smaller 9% IPC uplift due to it not being that memory intensive.

SPEC2006 Speed Estimated Total

In the overall 2006 scores, the new Ryzen 5000 series parts are showcasing very large generational performance uplifts with margins well beyond that of the previous generation, as well as the nearest competition. Against the 3950X, the new 5950X is 36% faster in the integer workloads, and 29% faster in the floating-point workloads, which are both massive uplifts. AMD is also leaving Intel behind in terms of performance here with a 17% and 25% performance advantage against the 10900K.

SPEC2006 Speed Estimated PPC

In the performance per clock uplifts, measured at peak performance, we’re seeing a 20.87% median and 24.99% average improvement for the new Zen3 microarchitecture when compared to last year’s Zen2 design. AMD is still quite behind Apple’s A13 and A14 (review coming soon), but that’s natural given the almost double the microarchitectural width of Apple’s design, running at lower frequencies. It’ll be interesting to get Apple Silicon Mac devices tested and compared against the new AMD parts.

SPECint2017 Rate-1 Estimated Scores

Moving onto the newer SPECint2017, we again see some large improvement of Zen3 depending on the various microarchitectural characteristics of the respective workloads. 500.perlbench_r again shows a massive 37% IPC uplift for the new architecture – again very likely to the new design and optimisations on the part of the OP-cache of the Zen3 design.

520.omnetpp again also shows a 42% IPC uplift thanks to the memory technologies employed in the new design. Execution throughput limited workloads such as 525.x264 are seeing smaller increases of 9.5% IPC due to again overall less changes on this aspect of the microarchitecture.

SPECfp2017 Rate-1 Estimated Scores

In SPECfp2017, we see a similar situation as previous workloads. Execution-bound workloads such as 508.namd or 538.imagick are seeing smaller IPC increases in the 9-6% range. Similarly, DRAM bandwidth starved workloads such as 549.fotonik3d and 554.roms are showcasing also smaller IPC boosts of 2.7 – 8.6%.

The more hybrid workloads which make good use of the caches are seeing larger performance improvements across the board. Up to a 35.6% IPC peak for 519.lbm.

SPEC2017 Rate-1 Estimated Total

In the SPEC2017 suite total performance figures, the new Ryzen 5000 also shine thanks to their frequency and IPC uplifts. Generationally, across the int2017 and fp2017 suites, we’re seeing a 32% and 25% performance boost over the 3950X, which are very impressive figures.

IPC wise, looking at a histogram of all SPEC workloads, we’re seeing a median of 18.86%, which is very near AMD’s proclaimed 19% figure, and an average of 21.38% - although if we discount libquantum that average does go down to 19.12%. AMD’s marketing numbers are thus pretty much validated as they’ve exactly hit their proclaimed figure with the new Zen3 microarchitecture.

SPEC2017 Rate-1 Estimated PPC

On the competitive landscape, this now makes Zen3 the undisputed leader in the x86 space, leaving Intel’s old Skylake designs far behind and also showing more design complexity than the newer Sunny Cove and Willow Cove cores.

Overall, the new Ryzen 5000 series and the Zen3 microarchitecture seem like absolute winners, and there’s no dispute about them taking the performance crown. AMD has achieved this through both an uplift in frequency, as well as a notable 19% uplift thanks to a smarter design.

What I hope to see from AMD in future designs is a more aggressive push towards a wider core design with even larger IPC jumps. In workloads that are more execution bound, Zen3 isn’t all that big of an uplift. The move from a 16MB to a 32MB L3 cache isn’t something that’ll repeated any time soon in terms of improvement magnitude, and it’s also very doubtful we’ll see significant frequency uplifts with coming generations. As Moore’s Law is slowing, going wider and smarter seems to be the only way forward for advancing performance.

TDP and Per-Core Power Draw SPEC2017 Multi-Threaded Results


View All Comments

  • jakky567 - Tuesday, November 24, 2020 - link

    Total system, I think the 5950x should be more popular. That being said, the 5900x is still great. Reply
  • mdriftmeyer - Monday, November 9, 2020 - link

    I spend $100 or more per week on extra necessities from Costco. Your price hike concerns are laughable. Reply
  • bananaforscale - Monday, November 9, 2020 - link

    5900X has good binning and the cheapest price per core. For productivity 3900X has *nothing* on 5900X for the 10% price difference and 5950X is disproportionately more expensive. Zen and Zen+ are not an option if you want high IPC, 3300X basically doesn't exist... I'll give you that 3600 makes more sense to most people than 5600X, it's not that much faster. Reply
  • Kangal - Wednesday, November 11, 2020 - link

    "Price per Core".... yeah, that's a pointless metric.
    What you need to focus on is "Price per Performance", and this should be divided into two segments: Gaming Performance, Productivity Performance. You shouldn't be running productivity tools whilst gaming for plenty of reasons (game crashes, tool errors, attention span, etc etc). The best use case for a "mixed/hybrid" would be Twitch Gaming, that's still a niche case.... but that's where the 5800X and 5900X makes sense.

    Now, I don't know what productivity programs you would use, nor would I know which games you would play, or if you plan on becoming a twitcher. So for your personal needs, you would have to figure that out yourself. Things like memory configurations and storage can have big impacts on productivity. Whereas for Gaming the biggest factor is which GPU you use.

    What I'm grasping at is the differences should/will decrease for most real-world scenarios, as there is something known as GPU scaling and being limited or having bottlenecks. For instance, RTX 2070-Super owners would target 1440p, and not 1080p. Or RTX 3090 owners would target 4K, and not for 1440p. And GTX 1650 owners would target 1080p, they wouldn't strive for 4K or 1440p.

    For instance, if you combine a 5600X with a Ultra-1440p-card, and compare the performance to a 3600X, the differences will diminish significantly. And at Ultra/4K both would be entirely GPU limited, so no difference. So if you compare a 5800X to a 3900X, the 3900X would come cheaper/same price but offer notably better productivity performance. And when it comes to gaming they would be equal/very similar when you're (most likely) GPU limited. That scenario applies to most consumers. However, there are outliers or niche people, who want to use a RTX 3090 to run CS GO at 1080p-Low Settings so they can get the maximum frames possible. This article alludes to what I have mentioned. But for more details, I would recommend people watch HardwareUnboxed video from YouTube, and see Steve's tests and hear his conclusions.

    Whereas here is my recommendation for the smart buyer, do not buy the 5600X or 5800X or 5900X. Wait a couple months and buy then. For Pure Gaming, get the r5-5600 which should have similar gaming performance but come in at around USD $220. For Productivity, get the r7-5700 which should have similar performance to the 5800X but come in at around USD $360. For the absolute best performance, buy the r9-5950x now don't wait. And what about Twitch Streamers? Well, if you're serious then build one Gaming PC, and a second Streaming PC, as this would allow your game to run fast, and your stream to flow fluidly.... IF YOU HAVE A GOOD INTERNET CONNECTION (Latency, Upload, Download).
  • lwatcdr - Monday, November 9, 2020 - link

    "You can get the 3700 for much cheaper than the 5800X. Or for the same price you can get the 3900X instead."
    And if you want both gaming and productivity? They get the 5800X or 5900X. So AMD has something for every segment which is great.
  • TheinsanegamerN - Thursday, November 12, 2020 - link

    The 5900x is margin of error from the 5950x in games, still shows a small uptick in gaming compared to 5800/5600x, offers far better performance then 5600/5800x in productivity tasks, and is noticeably cheaper then the 5950x.

    How on earth is that a non buy?

    The rest may be better value for money, but by that metric a $2 pentium D 945 is still far better value for money depending on the task. The 5000 series consistently outperforms the 3000 series, offring 20% better performance for 10% better cash.
  • Kishoreshack - Saturday, November 14, 2020 - link

    AMD has the best products to offer
    Soo you expect them to sell it at a cheaper rate than intel ?
  • Threska - Monday, November 16, 2020 - link

    AMD has a good product RANGE, which means something for everyone AND all monies go to AMD regardless of consumer choice. Reply
  • Ninjawithagun - Friday, November 20, 2020 - link

    The price hike is mainly to cover ongoing R&D for the next-gen Ryzen Zen 4 CPUs due out in 2022. The race between Intel and AMD must go on! Reply
  • jakky567 - Monday, November 23, 2020 - link

    I disagree about the 5900x being a no buy.

    I feel like it goes 5950x for absolute performance. 5900x for high tier performance on a budget. And then the 3000 series for people on a budget, except the 3950x.

    The 5900x has all the l3 cache.

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