AMD Threadripper 2990WX review

AMD seems determined to continue its assault on the HEDT market, marching ahead of Intel with its 2nd generation Threadripper processors. With up to 32 cores - and 64 threads - even Intel’s Core i9 series can't compete in some benchmarks.

These chips are undoubtedly some of the fastest and most powerful to ever be offered to consumers and, although unobtainable for some people, they're actually not that expensive considering the performance on offer. However, 'consumer' is used in the loosest possible way here: Threadripper 2 CPUs provide far more performance than 99% of home users will ever need.

This release is yet another skirmish in the never-ending battle between Intel and AMD, and it will be very interesting to see what comes out of Intel's camp next.

Note: Benchmark results were sourced from our colleagues at PCWorld after our own Threadripper 2 was damaged in the post.

Threadripper 2: Release Date, Price and Specs

The second-generation Threadripper series comes in four seperate models  that can be seen below.

  2990WX 2970WX 2950X 2920X
Release Date 13 August October 31 August October
Socket TR4 TR4 TR4 TR4
CPU Architecture Zen+ Zen+ Zen+ Zen+
Cores/Threads 32/64 24/48 16/32 12/24
Base Frequency 3.0 GHz 3.0 GHz 3.5 GHz 3.5 GHz
Turbo Frequency 4.2 GHz 4.2 GHz 4.4 GHz 4.3 GHz
L3 Cache 64 MB 48 MB 32 MB 32 MB
TDP 250W 250W 180W 180W
PCI-E 3.0 Lanes 60 + 4 60 + 4 60 + 4 60 + 4
Chipset Support X399 X399 X399 X399
Memory Channels 4 4 4 4

This generation is split into two different product lines that are aimed at two separate demographics.

The ‘WX’ series are the two most powerful in this generation and are aimed squarely at people and organisations that require enormous amounts of processing power. Scientific research, feature film special effects, mass content creation and anything else that require your CPU to crunch and process a large amount of data.

The flagship 2990WX excels in this area, with an astounding 32 cores and 64 threads providing power that has only really been seen by server level CPUs until this point.

AMD Threadripper 2

This is contrasted by the two ‘X’ models which are aimed at ‘Gamers and Enthusiasts’. The 2920X has 12 cores and 24 threads and the 2950X has 16/32 respectively, so these processors are going to be overkill for most gaming rigs. Even if you plan to stream your content online while playing, which famously puts a heavy toll on your CPU, these chips will barely notice.

Threadripper vs Threadripper 2

Much like with its more consumer focused Ryzen chips, AMD has made several improvements to the ‘Zen’ architecture to make it into ‘Zen+’. It has done a lot of work tinkering, refining and coaxing additional performance improvements out of the structure to increase the speed and efficiency of the chip, while still allowing the new chips to be backwards compatible onto older motherboards.

These improvements include:

  • A reduction in L3 cache latency of approximately 15%
  • A reduction in L2 cache latency of approximately 9%
  • A reduction in L1 cache latency of approximately 8%
  • A reduction in DRAM latency of approximately 2%
  • Official support for JEDEC DDR4-2933 (up from 2667)

That’s right, just as first-generation Ryzen motherboards could house second-generation processors, a first-generation TR4 board can support a second-generation Threadripper chip. You’ll just need to update the UEFI/BIOS which you can do using the ‘BIOS Back’ features, allowing you to update the board’s BIOS using a USB.

However, this does come with a few caveats. The older boards might struggle a little more with the overclocking side of things particularly when concerning the 24 and 32 core versions of the chip due to the substantial 250W power draw.

Threadripper 2990WX: Performance and benchmarks

To benchmark the 2990WX we installed it in an MSI MEG X399 Creation motherboard. We installed 32GB of DDR4 2933 RAM, with a Founders Edition Nvidia GTX 1080 handling the graphics. Windows 10 Fall Creators Update ran from a Kingston HyperX Savage SSD and the CPU was cooled with an Enermax Liqtech 240 TR4 cooler with a cold plate that even managed to cover the massive Threadripper chip. The fan on the cooler was set to maximum speed.

Below are the results for the Threadripper 2990WX. Our colleagues over at PCWorld were kind enough to send us their results for this analysis, with Gordon Mah Ung responsible for the extensive testing.

Threadripper 2990WX: Benchmark results analysis

From the numbers above we can draw some definite and generally unsurprising conclusions that are represented very well by the Cinebench CPU Multithread score.

The 2990WX, as you would expect from its specs in comparison to the other CPUs on the chart, completely blows everything else out of the water when it comes to pure grunt and computing power. It leaves everything else in the dust when a program directly asks the CPU ‘How much power can you give me?’

While this isn’t surprising it’s still quite something to see the size of the gap between the 2990WX and the rest of the CPUs on display.

Moving into the Cinebench Single Thread run, the results are also fairly predictable. Intel still has the edge when it comes down to single core performance due to the boost clock on their 8700k spooling all the way up to 4.7Ghz, meaning that for anything requiring just a couple of cores Intel is still going to win out.

As you move through the benchmarks, the results for the Blender, Corona Renderer, V-Ray Render and POV-Ray tests all follow the same pattern. The pure power of the Threadripper completely eats the tasks set before it, leaving the i9-7980x far behind in its tracks.

This does come to a stop however when you see the benchmarks for Premiere Pro 2018. While some programs will happily make use of all the cores on your CPU, those that are limited to fewer cores or perhaps just not designed to take advantage of all the available power on offer will start to favour the Intel processors. We found similar results when running Handbrake, with the new Threadripper sitting roughly even with Intel’s 10 core offering.

However, who said you can only run a single multi-threaded application at once? Take my hand and follow me into the world of running multiple multi-threaded applications at the same time, the sort of thing that makes your i5 and i7 processor want to hide behind the sofa in terror.

The very last benchmark shows the result of running the Blender AND Premiere Pro 2018 tests at the same time, measured in seconds. We can see the Threadripper pulling far ahead of the i9 once again, as that raw additional core count starts to weigh in.

Boost and Thermal Performance

The 2990WX has a TDP of 250 and a socket power of 250 watts which it will reach extremely rapidly the moment you put it under any considerable load. You will need to make sure the CPU well supplied with power and nice and cool, although perhaps not quite as cool as you were expecting with this sort of performance.

The results showed temperates of around 45 degrees with the Enermax Liqtech cooler so you’re not going to need a man in a hazmat suit with a fire hose to keep this thing cool. The optional $99 ‘Wraith Ripper’ heat sink showed similar cooling performance too, showing that AMD is continuing their excellent own brand aircooling on from the Ryzen 2 series of stock coolers.

Threadripper 2990WX: Performance conclusion

The general theme to take from the results is that while the Threadripper has more available power than the i9, the Intel chip is much better at applying this power on a core by core basis.

Core for Core the i9 offers better performance, but the moment a program can take advantage of the extra power that the Threadripper offers the AMD chip is going to run away with it.

If you’re planning on mainly doing ‘lighter’ multi-threaded loads then the Core i9 will hold better performance. We found the turning point to be roughly around the 14 core / 28 thread mark, so if you’re going to be using programs that take advantage of more than that number the Threadripper will start to win out.

Is the Threadripper 2990WX good value?

The answer to the question is a resounding yes, assuming you’re going to be using programs that can fully take advantage of the huge core count.

The second generation Threadrippers range between $27-28 per thread where as the Core i9-7980XE sits at $55 per thread.

It’s impressive to be able to say that a $1,800 CPU is good value, but when you’re objectively looking at the amount of performance potential you are getting per dollar, then the 2990WX really is a fantastic deal.

Threadripper 2990WX: Specs

  • Cores/Threads: 32/64
  • Base Frequency: 3.0GHz
  • Boost Frequency: 4.2GHz
  • Memory Speed: DDR4-2933 (Varies)
  • Memory Controller: Quad-Channel
  • Unlocked Multiplier: Yes
  • PCIe Lanes: 64 (Four to the chipset)
  • Integrated Graphics: No
  • Cache (L2 / L3): 80MB
  • Architecture: Zen+
  • Process: 12nm LP GloFo
  • TDP: 250W
  • Cores/Threads: 32/64
  • Base Frequency: 3.0GHz
  • Boost Frequency: 4.2GHz
  • Memory Speed: DDR4-2933 (Varies)
  • Memory Controller: Quad-Channel
  • Unlocked Multiplier: Yes
  • PCIe Lanes: 64 (Four to the chipset)
  • Integrated Graphics: No
  • Cache (L2 / L3): 80MB
  • Architecture: Zen+
  • Process: 12nm LP GloFo
  • TDP: 250W

SHOULD I BUY THREADRIPPER 2990WX?

For the vast majority of people doing every day tasks, this CPU would be massive overkill. The latest generation Ryzen 7 or Intel i7 will provide more than enough performance for content creators and gamers alike, and even if you did decide to buy yourself a Threadripper for these tasks, you wouldn’t notice enough of a performance increase the justify the price.

However, for those of us who require massive amounts of CPU power for those giant workloads, the Threadripper is not only the most powerful choice but also the best value. While it may be surpassed by Intel’s Core i9 in the lighter multithreaded tasks, the price difference and performance boost across the heavier workloads make it well worth the price.