AMD Threadripper 3990X Assessment: Absolute Insanity!

Today we're looking at the most expensive desktop CPU ever, and what's shocking is that it's not from Intel. The special occasion made us think of an Intel processor we once loved, the Broadwell-E Core i7-6950X, which happened to be the first 10-core desktop CPU when it was released in 2016.

Full disclosure: Although we really enjoyed the 6950X, we didn't pay for it. Avoiding the hideous price of $ 1,700 made the product much more enjoyable. For that staggering price, Intel basically tackled two additional cores from the previous two-year 5960X and increased the price by 75%.

When they released their next 10-core part, all bets were closed since AMD had finally gotten together and started to achieve goals with the Zen architecture. Due to strong competition from the first generation Threadripper series, the 10-core i7-7900X core was released for $ 1,000, then updated as the 9900X for $ 1,000, and again updated as the $ 600 part for the 10900X . Many would argue that the $ 10 10-core part is overpriced, and we generally agree.

The point we're aiming for is that just four years ago, the best that a high-end desktop platform had to offer was a $ 1,700 10-core processor with all the cores on it 3.4 GHz were delivered. Today, AMD releases a CPU with more than six times more cores, but it costs almost 2.5 times as much.

In the meantime, Intel is said to have tried to release a 22-core HEDT part, but we seriously doubt that they will take care of it at this point. You can't even buy the current 18-core model. In theory, Intel now offers 18 cores for $ 1,000, but not really because the 10980XE is not available in retail stores. So if you need an 18-core Intel CPU, you'll have to pay around $ 2,000 for a 7980XE or 9980XE, depending on which model you find. Good luck with a 22 core part.

Without Intel's competition in this area, AMD can get away with charging the premium. To be fair, a 64-core, 128-thread processor that delivers the performance we'll show you for $ 4,000 isn't as absurd as it may sound.

Let's talk a little bit about the Threadripper 3990X before jumping into the blue bar graphs …

This is a 64 core / 128 thread Zen 2 based processor. It consists of eight 8-core chips or "core complex dies", which were manufactured using the 7-nm process from TSMC. There's also an input / output chip that uses GlobalFoundries' 12nm process and combines the number of transistors in all of these chips, resulting in an astonishing and frankly incomprehensible 39.5 billion transistors.

The breathtaking numbers keep coming back when we look at the specifications: it packs 256 MB L3 cache with 32 MB L2 cache. Depending on the workload, the cores clock between 2.9 and 4.3 GHz, so that the CPU can maintain a TDP of 280 watts.

It's all very impressive, but obviously this processor isn't for everyone, not only because it brings you an impressive $ 4,000, but also because it's extremely over the top for most tasks. AMD fully recognizes that the 3990X is a specialty processor designed for a relatively small customer base with unique requirements.

They say that for Threadripper 3990X, their customers are mostly professional visual effects artists and companies that work with 8K content using various raw or lossless codecs. AMDs also checked the 64-core scaling for compiling projects like Android OS or Unreal Engine, so there is no doubt that there is a certain demand for these tasks as well.

AMD believes the key to the 3990X's success is doing something that no other processor does: combining both high-frequency and high-core numbers in a single product. This is extremely valuable for a number of industries as it ensures maximum efficiency at all levels.

For example, 3D rendering tools such as Isotropix Clarisse are mostly run with one thread during the setup process before rendering begins. Therefore, it is very beneficial to have a processor that clocks above 4 GHz on workloads with one or a small thread. Of course, a high clock speed, at least compared to other heavy core processors, is also an advantage when the rendering process starts.

There's a lot more to talk about, but we think you really want to see the benchmark results at this point. So let's go ahead and we'll talk more about the 3990X and who it was designed for later in the test.

The Gigabyte X570 Aorus Xtreme was used to test the Ryzen 9 3950X, 3900X and Ryzen 7 3800X CPUs. Then we have the MSI X399 Creator for the 2nd generation Threadripper 2990WX, 2950X and 2920X. The Gigabyte TRX40 Aorus Xtreme was used for the new 3rd generation 3970X and 3960X thread rippers. All Ryzen configurations were cooled using a custom Corsair HydroX loop with a 360mm wheel.

All processors were tested with 32 GB Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB DDR4-3200 CL14 memory. We are aware that performance may be higher in some workloads with DDR4-3600 CL16 memory. For a comparison of apples to apples, however, all platforms have the same specification memory.

On the Intel side, the Intel Cascade Lake-X Core i9-10980XE and the Skylake-X Core i9-9920X were tested on the Gigabyte X299 Aorus Gaming 9, also using a Corsair HydroX loop with a 360 mm wheel.

The 8th and 9th generation Intel Core mainstream processors on the Gigabyte Z390 Aorus Ultra were then compared with the same DDR4-3200 CL14 memory, but cooled with the 280 mm AIO liquid cooler Corsair Hydro H115i RGB Platinum. Note that the Intel CPUs are not limited to TDP, as this is not immediately ready for use. Therefore, we show the absolutely best scenario for a ready-to-use performance. Also note that this cooler doesn't limit performance in any way, so we see the maximum performance of Intel CPUs. The graphics card of choice was the MSI Trio GeForce RTX 2080 Ti.

Benchmarks

First, we have the Cinebench R20 results and, as expected, it's insane. We see a score of over 24000 points, making the 3990X a whopping 45% faster than the 3970X and 80% faster than the 3960X.

If you want to compare it to the best of Intel, Threadripper is 181% faster, 4x more expensive for almost 3x the performance in this application.

When it comes to single-core performance, the 3990X is still very lively for a 64-core processor and scores 494 points compared to the Core i9-10980XE, Ryzen 7 3800X and even the Core i9-9900K is comparable.

The results of 7-zip compression are important because the 2990WX fell apart here. The 2nd generation 32-core processor was 40% slower than the 16-core version because the architectural design made it a poor choice for memory-sensitive applications.

The I / O chip included in the 3rd generation design solves this problem. We saw this for the first time on the 3970X and AMD once again proves how scalable this design is on the 3990X. Here it was 33% faster than the 3970X and almost 100% faster than the Intel Core i9-10980XE.

Usually it's the decompression performance that makes Ryzen shine, and while the 3990X is fast here, it's a bit slower than the 3970X. This is because it is not fully used and this was less of a problem for the compression test, which does not use SMT support. At most 7-Zip used 73% of the 3990X, which gives the higher clocked 3970X a slight performance advantage.

Adobe Premiere is another application where the 2990WX was a complete train crash.

The TR 3990X hangs there and despite the very poor CPU usage with this program, it managed to reach the 3960X in 424 seconds. It is the second fastest desktop CPU that we tested in Premiere.

In Puget Systems' export test, where the 3970X was 16% faster, it is slightly worse. So the 3990X is obviously not a good choice for Premiere users. However, if you mainly use it with applications that get a big performance boost from the 64 cores, it's good to know that the chip, unlike the older 2990WX, can still handle with ease.

The playback performance was solid. Again, it's a little less than the 24- and 32-core models, but nothing is alarming here.

The 3990X simply dominates in V-Ray, even more than in Cinebench. This time he beat the 32-core 3970X by 63%, which meant that it was 165% faster than the 10980XE. What more can you say, for these rendering applications, the 3990X is exactly what AMD promised.

The Corona benchmark, which takes almost 2 minutes with something like the Ryzen 7 3800X, only took 18 seconds with the Threadripper 3990X. The 64-core processor took 47% less time to complete the test than the powerful 3970X.

The Threadripper 3990X completed the Blender Open Data benchmark in just under 3 minutes, which is crazy.

This test has traditionally taken some time, even with previous HEDT parts. For example, the 2990WX did really well here, but the completion took a little over 6 minutes, while the Intel Core i9-10980XE took about 9 minutes. This means the 3990X is a little over three times faster.

POVRay was a last minute addition to this review. We added it because it is a good example of a program that supports up to 64 threads, at least the current public version. AMD has released updated code that allows POVRay to scale beyond 64 threads and take full advantage of the 3990X.

Here we see that the 3990X with the current 64 thread limit can only match the 3970X. With the update, which should soon be publicly available, the 64-core processor will get a performance increase of almost 70%.

power consumption

We know that all 3rd generation Threadripper parts have a TDP of 280W, so the power consumption should be similar, and so it is. Due to a binning process and a reduction in clock speeds / voltages, the 3990X does not consume much more power than the 32-core version, which only increases the total system load by 3%, which is remarkable as we have often seen performance increases well over 50% at full capacity.

Gaming benchmarks

Playing on the 3990X is kind of stupid … at least dedicated gaming is total. And yet, many of you will at least want to know how the CPU behaves when playing games. We run our usual games on behalf of science and will only go through these results now. We're not going to spend a lot of time analyzing because it's a bit silly, but who knows that the people who create the visual effects for Terminator might want to play the Terminator game on their high-end workstations if they don't rendered, we are sure, at some point it was one thing.

Anyway, the performance in Battlefield V was great …

Shadow of the Tomb Raider also played exceptionally well. You will see a similar experience to the 10980XE.

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 … that worked, performance was as expected.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint was as follows: This is more CPU than I need. Enjoy the GPU bottleneck.

The F1 2019 appreciated the advanced technology and the silver arrows seemed to work even better than usual. Hmm, I wonder what's going on there.

Borderlands 3 worked … and it worked well.

We really hope this is the first and last Fortnite benchmark with 128 threads. Good times.

Overclocking

We assume that professional overclockers will have a lot of fun with the 3990X. We only applied 1.2 V for this 3.7 GHz all-core overclocking, and that was enough to see that the total system performance reached 765 watts at a CPU temperature of 77 degrees.

Oddly enough, while playing around, we managed to boot Windows with all cores clocked at 4 GHz, which resulted in a score of just over 30,000 points on Cinebench R20. The CPU reached a maximum of 92 ° C and the total system load just exceeded 850 watts. It is annoying that we did this early in the morning. We don't remember the exact settings and had very little time to replicate them in the few days we had to test. Time was running out.

At just 1.2 V, 3.7 GHz was the best we could achieve if all the data was collected properly. This resulted in a 14% increase in performance, meaning that the overclocked 3990X at 4.2 GHz was still 54% faster than the overclocked 3970X.

To measure the heat output, we carried out a one-hour blender stress test in a 21 C room with a number of cooling devices. Basically, we achieved the same results as the 3970X, which is not surprising given the similar power consumption. Basically, every CCD consumes less electricity and therefore generates less heat. However, there are twice as many of them, so you can get a similar result. The good news that the 3990X is ready to go is not difficult to cool.

What we have learned

The Threadripper 3990X is a beast, completely unchallenged and redefines the HEDT space. Nothing offers nearly the same level of performance at the moment, and we were relieved that the 3990X had no real weakness.

If the load is insufficient, the performance is still strong and comparable to that of parts with fewer cores. Like the 2990WX before, the TR 3990X is a superstar for rendering tasks, but unlike the 2990WX, it still works well when it's underutilized or faced with memory- or latency-sensitive workloads. This was a big problem with the 2990WX as you didn't really know if it would be a beast or a bot for your workload. It was important that your exact workload was tested before buying. This is not always an option. With the 3990X, however, buying is much safer. If your application can use the cores, the 3990X will deliver the goods.

At this point, you may be wondering where our usual price-performance charts are, but we chose not to worry about them. The 3990X is not about value for money, but about offering the absolute best performance for core-heavy workloads. It's a bit like we only recommend the Core i9-9900K for players with extreme setups, such as an RTX 2080 Ti. And it's a bit like we only recommend the RTX 2080 Ti for extreme 4K games with expensive high-end monitors.

The Threadripper 3990X brings a significant leap, more than the 9900K or the 2080 Ti, as it is not only a little bit faster than the next best, but also a lot faster.

Now we've talked a little about who AMD appeals to with this massive 64-core processor: professional artists for visual effects, for example, but it's not just VFX people that the 3990X was designed for. They are VFX people who have projects that take 1 or 2 days to render with a more traditional HEDT part. For example, if the 2990WX takes 24 hours to render, the 3990X can reduce the completion time of the same job to just 15 hours.

If you save this time per project, it is worth paying the price of the 3990X. On the other hand, AMD recommends testing the TR 3960X or 3970X for projects with projects that only take a few hours to render, as these are more suitable for such workloads.

In my personal case, I would buy either the 3960X or the 3970X for the content creation work I did. I'm currently using the 3960X and I have to say it's amazing. Before that, I used the Threadripper 2950X and then tried the Core i9-9900K in Premiere for a short period of 2 months before moving on to the 3rd generation Threadripper. The upgrade from 9900K to 3960X was significant, and while Threadripper is much more expensive, I can do a lot more.

For example, with the Core i9, I could apply the warp stabilizer effect to about 6-8 B-roll clips at the same time. More and the system slowed down and often crashed. With the 3960X, I can warp the entire B-roll in a 10-15 minute video, about 20-30 clips at a time, and still create a thumbnail in Photoshop without noticing a slowdown. It is phenomenal and has massively accelerated my workflow.

We see the Threadripper 3990X works similarly for artists with visual effects, software developers who compile projects, and anyone else who can use a 64-core processor.

All in all, an incredible product from AMD, which is not only exciting for professionals today, but will also pave the way for cheaper core-heavy desktop parts in the near future.

Purchasing links:
  • AMD Threadripper 3990X at Amazon
  • AMD Threadripper 3970X at Amazon
  • AMD Threadripper 3960X at Amazon
  • AMD Ryzen 9 3950X at Amazon
  • AMD Ryzen 7 3700X on Amazon
  • AMD Ryzen 5 3600 on Amazon
  • Intel Core i9-9900K at Amazon
  • GeForce RTX 2080 Ti on Amazon
  • AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT on Amazon

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