2nd Gen Threadripper 2990WX review: AMD's 32-core CPU is insanely fast but not for everyone

AMD's Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX crushes multi-threaded tasks like we've never seen before.

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32-core Threadripper 2990WX performance

For this review, we spooled up the Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX in an MSI MEG X399 Creation motherboard with Windows 10 Fall Creators Update and 32GB of DDR3/2933 RAM. For graphics we run a Founders Edition GeForce GTX 1080 and the latest Nvidia graphics drivers available. Storage is a Kingston HyperX Savage SSD. Both systems were cooled with closed-loop coolers. The Core i9 used a Corsair 280mm H110i, and the Threadripper 2990WX used an Enermax Liqtech 240 TR4 cooler with cold plate that offered full coverage for the giant Threadripper. Both coolers were set to maximum fan speed.

For fairness, rather than recycle older numbers, we updated the original 18-core Core i9-7980XE setup that we used in that CPU's review with the same version of Windows, newer Nvidia drivers, and the newest BIOS. The last detail is key, as it’s been some time since the original Core i9 review, and we were curious as to whether its performance had improved with a newer BIOS.

The last time we compared Ryzen Threadripper vs. Core i9, Intel’s 18-core Core i9-7980XE took home the prize for performance (although not for value). This is the one to beat.

For context, we've included scores for some CPUs that were run on a previous build of Windows. The numbers haven’t shifted, so they’re still valid. We’ll note where you might want to dismiss results for older chips, or we’ll simply exclude them if we think they don’t apply. 

threadripper 2 4 Gordon Mah Ung

Here’s what you get with a new Threadripper: a torque wrench, carrying case, big sticker, and CLC adapter that will fit most Asetek-based coolers.

Cinebench Performance

Up first is Maxon’s Cinebench R15. This multi-threaded benchmark is based on the engine used in the company’s professional Cinema4D product. The engine is somewhat older, but superbly efficient. It scales well with core and thread count as well as clock speed. 

The result speaks for itself, as Threadripper 2990WX dusts the rest of the pack. The 32-core Threadripper 2990WX is 52 percent faster than the previous champ, the Core i9-7980XE.

ryzen threadripper 2990wx cinebench nt IDG

Maxon’s Cinebench R15 scales incredibly well with core count, and the performance of the Threadripper 2990WX is nothing short of phenomenal. 

If only it were as easy as running Cinebench and declaring a winner. Reality is a lot more nuanced, though, so we also run Cinebench with it set to use just one thread. This favors CPUs with higher instructions per clock, and also ones that can hit higher clocks.

ryzen threadripper 2990wx cinebench 1t IDG

Running Cinebench R15 using a single CPU thread, you can see that CPUs with higher clock speeds rule the day, and it’s pretty much all about Intel.

The winner is the 8th-gen Coffee Lake-S Core i7-8700K, thanks to its high Turbo Boost clock scores. Intel’s 18-core Core i9-7980XE somein second, with other Skylake-X and Kaby Lake CPUs following. We don’t see AMD show up until we see the Ryzen 7 2700X in 7th place. Granted, the scores are fairly close, but those higher Turbo Boost scores clearly put Intel in the driver's seat. 

Blender Performance

Our next test is the open-source Blender 3D modelling and rendering application, which has seen some use in indie movies. It’s so popular, even NASA now distributes its 3D model for Blender.

The CPU rendering option favors more cores, and the performance of the Threadripper 2990WX again is a crazy 37 percent faster than the 18-core Core i9 chip. 

For this test, both the Core i9 and Threadripper 2990WX were on the latest 2.78C version, but we also included the performance CPUs runs using 2.78B for reference on older CPUs.

ryzen threadripper 2990wx blender IDG

Blender Performance puts the 32-core Threadripper 2990WX about 37 percent faster than the 18-core Core i9.

Corona Photorealistic Render Performance

Up next is the Corona Photorealistic Renderer. Available for 3ds Max and Cinebench, the renderer  is seeing popularity in architectural design and visualization. As with other 3D rendering tasks, Corona loves CPU threads, ergo the 32-core Threadripper takes the top spot.

The performance of the 32-core 2990WX, is about double that of the 16-core Threadripper 1950X. The 18-core Core i9 does rather well, though, so it’s entirely the upcoming 28-core Intel part will take this one away from AMD when released later this year.

ryzen threadripper 2990wx corona renderer 1.3 IDG

Corona is a real-world photo-realistic renderer used in popular applications such as 3ds Max. Corona is not optimized for any specific CPU, but it does love more threads, helping the 2990WX take the prize.

V-Ray Renderer 

V-Ray is an advanced 3D renderer that’s notched some good wins in its belt, as it was used for some effects scenes in Doctor Strange, Captain America: Civil War, and Deadpool. The benchmark can be used to measure both CPU and GPU performance, but we’re looking only at the former.

Like most renderers, V-Ray just loves CPU cores, making the new 32-core Threadripper 2990WX the clear winner. That’s just smoking. For comparison, PC maker Puget Systems measured a dual 14-core Xeon E5-2690 V4 system with a score of 31. So yes, that’s a $1,800 consumer CPU eating the lunch of $4,200 worth of Xeons.

ryzen threadripper 2990wx vray 1.08 cpu IDG

Chaos group’s V-Ray is a realistic ray tracer seeing some success in Hollywood. The standalone benchmark tends to favor thread count over clock speed. The 32-core Threadripper 2900WX takes the prize, but not by the margin we’d expect.

POV-Ray Performance

Our last rendering test is POV-Ray—a ray tracing program that dates back to the Commodore Amiga in the 1980s. It’s obviously been updated along the way, and like everything you’ve seen before, thread count should count the most. No surprise, we see the 32-core 2990WX eat everone's lunch yet again. That 18-core Core i9 is in distant second place. 

ryzen threadripper 2990wx pov ray nt performance IDG

POV-Ray agrees with just about every renderer we’ve tried: More cores are better.

POV-Ray also allows single-threaded performance testing. The pattern we see is very similar to what we saw in Cinebench: When it comes to single-threaded performance, Intel still rules. Haters go ahead and hate, but that Core i8-8700K is the clear front-runner, with a batch of other Core chips right behind it. Just like with Cinebench, we don’t see a Ryzen until 7th place. While these scores are all relatively close, they do illustrate yet again that Intel’s chips can hit those higher clock speeds.

ryzen threadripper 2990wx pov ray 1t performance IDG

POV-Ray’s single-threaded results seem awfully similar to Cinebench R15's in single-threaded mode.

VeraCrypt Performance

Thus far, we’ve done the easy, feel good tests. The tests where a giant 32-core CPU make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Not all code and not all tasks are the same. One of those is VeraCrypt, an open-source encryption application that picked up where the now-defunct TrueCrypt left off. This particular test, by the way, was a test AMD used as part of it test suite for the Ryzen CPU launch. 

Performance generally appears to scale with core count, as the 16-core Ryzen Threadripper 1950X offers almost double the performance of an 8-core Ryzen 7 2700X. So why is the 32-core Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX so far off the mark?

Is it the die-to-die latency? Is it clock-speed-deficient? We honestly don’t know as performance here is a puzzler.  But again, this is benchmark AMD had recommended, so we’re at a loss to explain what’s going on right now.

ryzen threadripper 2990wx veracrypt aes IDG

VeraCrypt seems to scale with core and thread count—but not for the new 32-core Threadripper 2990WX.

HandBrake Performance

That unease goes beyond VeraCrypt performance. Our encoding test uses an older version of the excellent, popular and free HandBrake encoder to convert a 30GB 1080p MKV file using the Android Tablet preset. It generally increases in performance the more CPU cores you throw at it. But oddly, the 32-core Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX is sandwiched between two Intel CPUs with only 10 cores apiece.

Again, it’s a bit of a mystery to us why this is happening. Is it an overall lower clock speed? Is it that die-to-die memory latency? Is it because HandBrake just can’t use all of those threads? We suspect the answer is all of those, but at the end of the day, the 32-core chip is underperforming here. 

Premiere Pro CC 2018 Performance

Next on our video test is Premiere Pro CC 2018. We take a two-minute video shot on Sony Alpha in 4K and edited for our website. For the test, we take that project and export it using in Premiere using the Blu-ray preset with Maximum Render quality checked, which aids when resizing media. We’ve done this same workload on other CPUs, and it generally scales well with core count. Here are the results from the previous Core i9 test

core i9 7980x premiere cc 4k cpu encode IDG

Video snobs say CPU-based rendering is superior, and if you do that—you’ll want more cores.

As you can see, the 18-core Core i9 takes the gold, with the 16-core Ryzen Threadripper taking the silver. Because the previous tests were all conducted with Premiere Pro CC 2017, we didn’t feel it was fair to compare directly. But we did rerun the same test on the updated Core i9-7980XE and the 32-core Threadripper 2990WX. The result? Just as with HandBrake and VeraCrypt, the performance is lower than expected. Based on the performance of the Core i9 between the 2017 and 2018 version, it looks like the Threadripper 2990WX is just a bit faster than the 10-core Intel CPUs.

ryzen threadripper 2990wx premiere blu ray IDG

Premiere Pro CC 2018 puts Intel’s Core i9 in front of the 32-core Threadripper CPU.

Now hold on, folks...

If you’re ready to slam your mouse on the table and jab the power button, you do need to read on. While we’re not sure whether it’s the die-to-die latency or simple lack of efficient multi-threading in software at fault, we did want to see if the 32-core Threadripper 2990WX can make magic on another important segment of hard work: multi-tasking. More specifically, what happens when your throw heavy loads at the 2990WX all at the same time. You know the Core i9 actually beats up the Threadripper 2990WX when you run Premiere Pro CC by itself, but what if you also run a Blender rendering test at the same time?

While this may sound unrealistic to you, it’s not that crazy for a indie video editor to encode in Premiere while also rendering out a visual effect in Blender. In fact, if you could to that without dragging everything to a halt, you would.

Once you do that, the performance of the 32-core Threadripper 2990WX comes alive. In the chart below, the shorter blue bar and the shorter red bar win. In this case, it’s the Threadripper 2990WX by a healthy margin. 

ryzen threadripper 2990wx simultaneous blender premiere IDG

Running Blender and Premiere Pro together gives the advantage to the 32-core Threadripper 2990WX.

Taking the same project, we exported it to Adobe Media Encoder and then simultaneously had it encode the same two-minute video to Blu-ray, HEVC, 1080P YouTube, and 4K Vimeo. Maximum Render quality was selected for the Blu-Ray, HEVC and 1080P Youtube video. The 32-core Threadripper again pulled ahead, but not by the margin we expected. We think that’s because of how long the videos took to encode. The Blu-ray, Vimeo and YouTube videos completed fairly quickly, with the HEVC encode taking the longest. Once they were finished, this turned back into mostly a single video encode, which can’t use all the cores of the Threadripper.

ryzen threadripper 2990wx media encoder ray IDG

Encoding four different files simultaneously gave the advantage to the Threadripper CPU. 

Our last simultaneous test run involved running Blender and Cinebench at the same time. Because both are heavily multi-threaded, we expected the Threadripper to win big, but it didn’t. It won huge. Not only did it finish Blender 40 percent faster than the 18-core Core i9, its performance in Cinebench R15 is about the same as the Core i9—when the Intel CPU isn’t running two things at once. Let me say that again: The 32-core Threadripper is as fast as the top-gun Intel CPU when running two jobs, compared to just a single job on the Core i9. 

ryzen threadripper 2990wx simultaneous cinebench r15 and blender bmw 2.78b IDG

One big obstacle facing Threadripper WX is lack of applications that can truly take advantage of 64 compute threads. Where the Threadripper WX makes up for that is in multi-tasking of multi-threaded tasks. Here we ran Blender and Cinebench together. The Theadripper WX’s performance equals the 18-core Core i9's when the Intel CPU is running Cinebench alone.

But what about games? Keep reading for the good and bad news.

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