AMD's Ryzen Threadripper CPUs are not for your average home or office PC. The first Threadrippers were developed as the result of a side project that some AMD engineers took up just to see how far the original Zen architecture could be pushed. Now three generations in a lot has changed, but AMD is fully committed to keeping the line going. With up to 32 cores (and up to 64 soon), these processors are designed to brute-force their way through heavy workloads. They aren't just successful in the professional high-end desktop market, they've also got huge fan followings around the world just because of how audacious and over-the-top they are.
Three years ago, the first eight-core desktop Ryzens were just starting to disrupt Intel's long-held status quo of four cores for mainstream desktops and a maximum of ten if you were willing to pay through your nose for an Extreme Edition model. Not stopping there, AMD happily threw down a 16-core Threadripper for far less money, and we've since seen both companies up their games considerably. With the mainstream Ryzen lineup now including a 16-core model, the Ryzen 9 3950X, the Threadripper series has had to evolve as well.
The lowest-end model announced so far, the Ryzen Threadripper 3960X has 24 cores, while its sibling the Ryzen Threadripper 3970X has a whopping 32 cores. AMD has also just teased the truly outrageous Ryzen Threadripper 3990X with 64 cores. That leaves room for a hypothetical 48-core Ryzen Threadripper 3980X. AMD is boasting that it can bring an incredible amount of power to previously unthinkable price points.
With Intel's 10th Gen ‘Cascade Lake' X-series lineup already announced and scheduled to ship very soon, competition between the two rivals is intense. Intel might not win the core count race, but it promises to be competitive in terms of overall performance and power efficiency. Let's see what exactly AMD has done differently with this new Threadripper lineup, and who exactly can benefit from such an outrageous CPU.
Just like its mainstream desktop Ryzen counterparts, the third-gen Ryzen Threadrippers are based on AMD's Zen 2 architecture. The company has created a modular design that allows for multiple small building blocks, called Core Chiplet Dies (CCDs) to be arranged within each processor. You can read our complete guide to the Zen 2 architecture and the generational performance improvements AMD has achieved with it, and also check out our review of the 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X and 8-core Ryzen 7 3700X based on the same fundamental design.
Each CCD consists of eight CPU cores plus caches, and there are four CCDs in the Ryzen Threadripper 3970X which gives it its 32 cores. The Ryzen Threadripper 3960X also has four but with one core per die disabled, for a total of 24. The architectural improvements plus sheer number of cores are what give these CPUs their power.
The chiplets are manufactured using a 7nm process. The modularity allows for significant cost savings and manufacturing flexibility compared to a monolithic die, according to AMD. The CCDs all interface directly with a common IO die within each processor. This controls PCIe connectivity to the rest of the computer, the DDR4 memory, data storage, USB, and overall management of the chip itself. This die uses 12nm lithography which is better suited and more economical for this kind of logic. The modules communicate with each other using AMD's Infinity Fabric interconnect.
The previous-gen Threadripper 2990WX used a non-unified memory architecture (NUMA), which meant that not all cores were connected to system RAM the same way, leading to a latency imbalance between different cores trying to access memory. This was a necessary tradeoff for being able to implement 32 cores in a pre-existing package and socket, and led to a bit of complexity in terms of software having to account for it and potential performance tradeoffs in certain use cases. The third-gen Threadripper family dispenses with this, and all CCDs are connected to the IO die symmetrically.
The Ryzen Threadripper 3970X features 32 cores with multi-threading for a total of 64 logical threads. It has a base speed of 3.7GHz and boost speed of 4.5GHz. There's a total of 144MB of L2 and L3 cache. As for the Ryzen Threadripper 3960X, you trade core count for some thermal headroom, so the base speed is 3.8GHz while the boost speed remains 4.5GHz. This model has 140MB of cache in total.
Both models feature 280W TDP ratings. There is no update to the massive Wraithripper air cooler that AMD developed with Cooler Master for the previous generation, so liquid cooling seems to be the way to go. RAM support officially goes up to an astounding 256GB of DDR4-3200 across four channels. You get 64 PCIe 4.0 lanes arising from each CPU for a huge bandwidth increase over the previous generation.
Unfortunately, there's no backward compatibility with existing motherboards. The new Zen 2 architecture and scalable design have necessitated a new routing design and CPU socket, which AMD is calling sTRX4. Some enthusiasts might be disappointed that the mainstream Ryzen philosophy of maintaining compatibility isn't carried over, but you'd probably want a new motherboard anyway to take advantage of PCIe 4.0. We'll talk more about this later in the review.
AMD has priced the 32-core Ryzen Threadripper 3970X at Rs. 1,40,990 plus taxes in India ($1,999 in the US) while the 24-core Ryzen Threadripper 3960X will sell for Rs. 99,990 plus taxes ($1,399). These prices are slightly higher than what the previous-gen equivalents cost. AMD says the second-gen Threadripper family will continue to be available and we're hoping to see price reductions which will open them up to new markets.
Intel has recently announced massive price reductions with its upcoming Cascade Lake-X generation, going on sale very soon with up to 18 cores, which should make things even more interesting. Most of AMD's promotional claims are based on comparisons with the current Skylake-X refresh generation, but the company maintains that it will still be competitive with Cascade Lake-X.
On a somewhat less technical note, AMD has greatly simplified the retail packaging for third-gen Threadripper CPUs. You still get a display-worthy box that will look great on store shelves, but it's a lot smaller. The chip itself still ships inside a bright orange caddy that slides into a track on the sTRX4 socket for safety. Inside, there's a Torx screwdriver designed to exert just the right amount of torque on the retention mechanism, plus a ring adapter for coolers to be mounted to, and finally a giant sticker to show the world what you're running.
There's a new chipset and a raft of new motherboards from Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, and ASRock to go along with this new generation of CPUs. Thankfully, AMD has ditched its Intel clone-like naming scheme which caused massive amounts of confusion in the market. The TRX40 chipset gets its name from the sTRX4 socket, which makes sense. AMD says it's pretty much the same as the X570 chipset used by mainstream third-gen Ryzen CPUs, which isn't much of a surprise considering that the new Threadrippers are just scaled up versions of those chips.
Just like with X570 motherboards, you'll find thin fans on all TRX40 models. This isn't ideal because it's another point of potential noise, dust accumulation, and physical failure in a PC over the long term. The big difference is that you get twice the bandwidth between the CPU and chipset (4X compared to second-gen Ryzens and Ryzen Threadrippers), in the form of eight PCIe 4.0 lanes. That should have a positive impact on PCIe SSDs, network controllers, and anything else connected downstream of the chipset.
Sixteen PCIe 4.0 lanes emerge from the TRX40. Motherboard manufacturers will have quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to allocating lanes between PCIe and M.2 slots, and adding all sorts of onboard IO including Wi-Fi. Four USB 3.2 Gen2 ports (10Gbps) are fed directly off the CPU and four more can be routed through the TRX40. In addition you can have up to four USB 2.0 ports and up to 20 total SATA 3.0 ports.
The sTRX4 socket uses a land grid array with pins in the socket and pads on the CPU, unlike desktop Ryzen models. It has the same 4,094 pin count as the previous generation, but the two are physically and electronically incompatible. Installation requires a lot of care.
Of course you can expect motherboards based on the TRX40 chipset to be rather expensive, given that they will be jam packed with high-end components and will require serious power management circuitry. Most of these boards will also be targeted at the workstation audience where stability and reliability are paramount. It's a pity that there's no backwards compatibility, given AMD's track record so far, but that's the cost of progress. Also, if you're thinking that you might be able to pop in a 64-core Threadripper CPU down the line, you might want to hold on – there are rumours of a separate, beefier TRX80 chipset derived from the Epyc server ecosystem, coming later for the to-be-launched chips.
We received an MSI Creator TRX40 motherboard for our review, and it will one of several models available in India at launch time. It comes in a stark white box; a far cry from the bold graphics of most high-end gaming and enthusiast motherboards. Don't be fooled though, it's still loaded with features including onboard 10-Gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi 6; three PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 slots plus four more using an included riser card; a USB 3.2x2 (20Gbps) Type-C port plus six USB 3.2 (10Gbps) ports; and an elaborate cooling system for the chipset and power regulators.
This is an E-ATX size board but all that space is completely occupied. There are eight DDR4 DIMM slots flanking the huge CPU socket, and four full-sized PCIe x16 slots (two of which are only wired for PCIe x8). The M.2 slots aren't covered by other components and all have heatsinks as well as thermal pads on the bottom. MSI supports ECC memory and speeds of up to 4666MHz depending on the configuration of modules you use.
You also get the high-end Realtek ALC1220 codec for onboard audio, a second Gigabit Ethernet port, Bluetooth 5, onboard power and reset buttons, and of course support for loads of fans as well as liquid cooler pumps.
Although this is a motherboard aimed at workstations, there are some RGB LEDs on the shroud around the VRMs and rear port cluster. If you're looking for gamer-level bling, you won't find it here. The PCIe and DIMM slots are all reinforced with dark grey metal. Overall, this board looks pretty stealthy and serious, which we like.
Setting up was fairly easy and the only trouble we faced was mounting our CPU waterblock so that there was enough space for the coolant tubes and power cables that need to be connected. This took a bit of trial and error but that's more due to the cooler's mounting mechanism than anything else. The motherboard's Pump Fan header is a bit too far from the CPU socket, though. A big air cooler like the Wraithripper might be even more awkward to work with.
MSI's UEFI BIOS is easy to get around, and has simple as well as advanced modes. We liked the USB thumb drive included in the box which has all the drivers you'll need to get started, and the actively cooled four-way M.2 riser card. We also liked that the chipset fan spins down completely when not required. When it is spinning, it's virtually inaudible.
As per usual, AMD sent us the brand new third-gen Ryzen Threadripper 3970X along with a full kit of hardware to test it with, including the MSI Creator TRX40 motherboard, a 64GB quad-channel Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB DDR4-3600 RAM kit, a 1TB Corsair Force MP600 PCIe 4.0 SSD, and an NZXT Kraken X62 280mm all-in-one liquid cooler. All these components were validated by AMD before being sent to us. We added our own Corsair RM650 power supply, Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX590 graphics card, and Asus PB287Q 4K monitor for testing.
All benchmarks were run using a fresh installation of Windows 10 v1909 (the November 2019 Update). Windows 10 v1903 (the May 2019 Update) is the earliest version that can recognise the new Threadripper CPU's topology and schedule processes optimally. All available Windows patches and driver updates were applied.
We have some numbers from our earlier tests of the Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX, Ryzen 9 3900X, and Intel Core i9-9900K for comparison, although they should be used just for rough guidance since not all test conditions are identical. It would have been interesting to see how Intel's new Cascade Lake-X CPUs perform relative to the third-gen Threadripper, since these are in direct competition, but we don't have those numbers yet.
|AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3970X||AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X||AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX||AMD Ryzen 9 |
|Intel Core i9-9900K|
|Cinebench R20 CPU single-threaded||515||504||NA||495||NA|
|Cinebench R20 CPU multi-threaded||17,069||13,265||NA||6,785||NA|
|POVRay*||18 seconds||23 seconds||23 seconds||41 seconds||57 seconds|
|VRAY CPU*||20 seconds||25 seconds||27 seconds||48 seconds||1 minute, 2 seconds|
|Corona Renderer Benchmark*||29 seconds||38 seconds||53 seconds||1 minute, 19 seconds||1 minute, 42 seconds|
|Blender Benchmark*||4 minutes, 24 seconds||5 minutes, 54 seconds||6 minutes, 13 seconds||10 minutes, 59 seconds||15 minutes, 21 seconds|
|Basemark Web 3.0||459.98||453.29||759.36||549.99||394.61|
|PCMark 10 Extended||7,681||7,743||NA||6,807||3,435|
|3DMark Fire Strike Ultra (Physics)||22,010||25437||18,320||27,471||21,550|
|SiSoft SANDRA CPU arithmetic||940.69GOPS||697GOPS||740.81GOPS||366GOPS||282.45GOPS|
|SiSoft SANDRA CPU multimedia||3.31GPix/s||2.4GPix/s||1.64GPix/s||1.26GPix/s||918.22MPix/s|
|SiSoft SANDRA CPU encryption||41.42GBps||41.3GBps||35.22GBps||18.09GBps||12.12GBps|
|SiSoft SANDRA cache bandwidth||1.73TBps||1.43TBps||832.48GBps||589.9GBps||307.32GBps|
|SiSoft SANDRA memory bandwidth||62GBps||63.52GBps||59.47GBps||26.62GBps||21.85GBps|
|7Zip file compression*||56 seconds||56 seconds||2 minutes, 25 seconds||1 minute, 33 seconds||2 minutes, 12 seconds|
|Handbrake video encoding*||30 seconds||31 seconds||52 seconds||35 seconds||39 seconds|
|*lower is better|
Immediately, some findings jump out at us. We see enormous gains in real-world content creation tasks such as video encoding, file compression, and ray tracing. Using the 32-core Ryzen Threadripper 3970X, 7zip managed to compress a 3.24GB folder of assorted files in an incredible 56 seconds, and Handbrake flashed through a H.265 MKV video transcode in just 30 seconds. POVRay only needed 18 seconds to run its internal benchmark, and even the Blender benchmark took only 4 minutes, 24 seconds.
These are easily the best times we've ever seen on our real-world task tests. It's crystal clear that if you're using ordinary desktop-class hardware, a workstation PC built around a CPU like this could change your workflow and life drastically. The initial expense would come to well over Rs. 3,00,000 for just the core components, but being able to render 3D work or compile software this quickly could make that well worth it for many people.
It was a sheer joy watching applications such as Cinebench R20 put all 64 threads to use simultaneously. Our liquid-cooled test bench was largely silent during these tests, only occasionally ramping up to a light thrum.
The 24-core model wasn't too far behind and in fact didn't necessarily post proportionately lower scores in all tests. In some cases, an argument could be made that the Ryzen Threadripper 3960X is better value for money. In many cases, this CPU matched or exceeded the performance of last year's 32-core Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX, which means lower prices for end users.
AMD isn't promoting its Threadripper line for gaming, and with good reason. There are very few games, even current ones, that can get much use out of going over four cores. We're unlikely to see that go beyond eight cores in the foreseeable future, given the need to support older hardware and consoles. Still, the company points out that running games at high refresh rates and resolutions is CPU-intensive, and Threadrippers aren't bad for gaming by any means.
Similarly, AMD says there is some overclocking headroom but we don't think that casual overclockers should try pushing these CPUs, at least not without a seriously beefy cooling system. The Ryzen Master utility will let you make fine-grained adjustments and show which cores can be boosted the most.
Beyond sheer benchmark numbers, AMD claims price-performance as well as energy efficiency advantages against Intel's Skylake-X Refresh offerings, particularly the 18-core Core i9-9980XE which launched at nearly the same price as the 32-core Ryzen Threadripper 3970X. Intel does sell a 28-core Xeon W-series CPU for enthusiasts, though it is hard to find in India and priced astronomically, and AMD claims an advantage over that as well. The company is also contextualising its relatively higher TDP ratings as “TDP per core” which of course looks a lot better. We'll see how these comparisons hold up once we can test a Cascade Lake-X CPU.
AMD positions the Ryzen Threadripper series as a solution for professionals who need to cut down on time when working with 3D rendering or CAD applications, large-scale number-crunching, scientific data visualisation, software and game development, video and effects production, and similar fields. It's hard not to see the value proposition, but the company needs to do a lot more to develop awareness of what's possible by going beyond standard desktop PCs, especially in India. The upfront cost of a Ryzen Threadripper CPU and all the components needed to make it work will also put a lot of potential buyers off and relegate this product line to niche status, even if it is highly desirable.
One use case scenario missing from AMD's launch and promo materials but strewn all over Intel's current messaging is AI – that's the hot new topic that has everyone buzzing, and accelerating big data and machine learning training as well as inference are sure to play a big part in Intel's strategy going forward. We can also expect the blue team to emphasise overall performance rather than core counts, which will make for an interesting fight.
Then there's the matter of the just-announced 64-core Ryzen Threadripper 3990X and the seemingly inevitable 48-core model in between. This announcement somewhat steals the 32-core model's thunder, right on the day it officially goes on sale, but it will definitely cast a shadow over Intel's Cascade Lake-X rollout. Pricing for the 64-core model isn't known yet, so some people who see the value in either Intel or AMD's current offerings might delay a purchase just to see how much better things could get. We'll have to wait at least a month or two before we see how that chapter of the story unfolds.
As a final note, we liked using the MSI Creator TRX40 and had no problems with it. It will cost approximately Rs. 65,000 at retail but offers solid build quality and great ease of use, as well as the future-ready USB 3.2 Gen2x2 port and loads of other connectivity.
AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3970X: Rs. 1,40,990 + taxes
AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X: Rs. 99,990 + taxes
Ratings (out of 5)
MSI Creator TRX40
Price (MOP): Rs. 65,000
Ratings (Out of 5)