AMD Threadripper 3970X Review: 32 cores of unbeatable power

It blows away Intel's best.

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Compression Tests

Our next battery of tests looks at the CPU’s file compression and decompression performance. We’re particularly interested in the the free and popular 7-Zip Benchmark because the older 32-core Threadripper 2990WX had issues with it. The problems were severe enough that the 32-core scored lower than an 18-core Core i9-7980XE in the compression test, which pushes memory latency, cache performance, and out-of-order instruction performance. The good news: The new topology, as well as updates to Windows 10, seem to have fixed much of the limitations Threadripper suffered in the compression test. 

threadripper 3970x 7 zip compress nt IDG

The older 32-core Threadripper 2990WX lost to the 18-core Intel chip in the compression test. There’s no such loss here.

Decompression performance, which stresses a CPU’s integer, branch prediction and instruction latency, is also as it should be, with the 32-core Threadripper 3970X simply singing.

threadripper 3970x 7 zip decompress nt IDG

Decompression performance in 7-Zip is integer performance-sensitive.

Our last test uses RAR Lab’s WinRAR to measure compression and decompression performance. WinRAR has never been particularly friendly to Ryzen in the past, but these results are perhaps even more puzzling. Although WinRAR is a “multi-threaded” test, it seems to favor the lower-core-count chips with the 8-core Core i9-9900K and 9900Ks dead even with the 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X. The 18-core Core i9-10980XE is up next with, oddly, the 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X and Threadripper 3970X pulling even. The short answer is probably: Just use 7-Zip.

threadripper 3970x winrar 5.20 nt IDG

Our WinRAR results were puzzling, seeming to favor lower core counts.

Gaming performance

We have a question: Why would you buy a 32-core content creation CPU to play games? We certainly wouldn’t. But it’s a relevant question, as many people work by day and play by night on the same machine. 

With that, we’ll get into a short summary of gaming performance on the Threadripper 3970X. Even though we’re showing only four results, we ran many other tests and at different resolutions. The only resolution we’re going to show here is 1920x1080, because higher resolutions you are more GPU-bound, and the differences get even smaller.

First up is the fairly new Shadow of the Tomb Raider at 1920x1080, set to Highest Quality and with ray tracing turned off. The results are surprisingly good for the Threadripper 3970X which outperforms the two Ryzen 9 CPUs and the 18-core Core i9-10980XE CPU.

threadripper 39870x sotr IDG

In Shadows of the Tomb Raider, the Threadripper 3970X surprisingly outperforms the new Intel CPU and the two Ryzen 9 chips.

Moving onto the mostly GPU-bound Gears of War 5, we see results more in line with what we expected: The higher clocked Core i9-9900K and 9900KS lead the way, with the Ryzen 9 chips nipping at their heels. Both of the larger-socket, high-core count Intel chips come in last. But differences aside, all of the CPUs here are producing decent performance, and you can’t make the wrong choice.

threadripper 39870x gears 5 IDG

The 5GHz Core i9’s lead the way, but we wouldn’t say any of these were performing badly in this GPU-bound game.

In Far Cry 5, however, the results were not good. This game has long run better on Intel CPUs, and the higher clock, the better the performance. We expected the 18-core Core i9-10980XE to do better, but its lower clock speeds basically pull dead even with the 12-core and 16-core Ryzen 9 chips. 

The biggest loser is the Threadripper 3970X. At 76 fps, it’s basically half as fast as the 5GHz Core i9-9900KS. There’s really no reason for it to be so much slower when you consider that the Ryzen 9’s at least are in the race. We should also mention that when you start Far Cry 5, you get a “Ryzen and Radeon” screen so, yeah.

Clearly, Far Cry 5 runs pretty badly on the Threadripper 3970X. We considered using Ryzen Master to run the game in Game Mode (which switches off some of the compute dies), but it wasn’t available at the time we ran we our tests. We’ll consider revisiting this in the future. 

threadripper 39870x far cry 5 IDG

It’s clear some games such as Far Cry 5 will run poorly on the 32-core Threadripper chip.

Our last game is Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, which has fairly low graphics requirements. This is probably pretty typical of most games, which see the Ryzen CPUs slower by only about 10 percent. Consider that we’re using a GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, and at a fairly low resolution. These results reinforce our belief that most of the time, the gap between Ryzen and Core isn’t enough for us to give up the Ryzen CPUs’ greater core count.

threadripper 39870x siege IDG

The Ryzen CPUs are about 10 percent slower than the Core chips, which is pretty typical in most games.

Performance analysis

Before we close this off, we wanted to look at the performance of the 32-core Threadripper 3970X using Cinebench R15, ramping from using a single-thread to the maximum threads on the chip. This helps us visualize the strength of the CPU, as most applications simply can’t utilize 64 threads very efficiently. 

First up, we see the percent difference between the 32-core Threadripper 3970X and its sibling, the 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X. As you can see, the smaller Ryzen 9 3950X actually has a small advantage on lightly threaded workloads—its higher boost clocks give it up to a 5- to 6-percent advantage over the big Threadripper. As you move further to the right though, just get out of the way 

threadripper 3970x vs ryzen 9 3950x IDG

Ryzen 9 3950X actually has an advantage on lighter loads, but nothing can touch that 32-core Threadripper 3970X right now.

Besides the 16-core Ryzen 9, we also compared Intel’s new 18-core Core i9-10980XE against the 32-core Threadripper 3970X. Yes, some will say that’s unfair, because it’s a $2,000 CPU vs. a $1,000 CPU, but it’s also clear to to us why Intel slashed prices of the 18-core chip. Remember: Last year’s 18-core Core i9-9980XE sold for $1,999, and in a post-Threadripper 3970X world would make no sense at all.

So how does the Core i9-10980XE fare? Well, not better than the Ryzen 9 3950X, anyway. The mighty Threadripper simply outmuscles it. 

threadripper 3970x vs core i9 10980xe IDG

The 18-core Core i9-10980XE doesn’t fare any better than the Ryzen 9 3950X against the mighty Threadripper.

Intel does have one more card up its sleeve, which we fortunately have numbers for: The 28-core Xeon W-3175X. The CPU was made as a showpiece, intended to put AMD’s 32-core Threadripper 2990WX in its place. For the most part it achieved that with its higher clock speeds. But the 32-core Threadripper 3970X is a different chip.

Although the comparison below is based on performance obtained with a slightly older version of Windows, they’re still valid. While the 28-core Xeon W-3175X actually fares better than the 18-core Core i9 on the right side of the chart where the core counts are closer, it actually performs worse than the 18-core Core i9, too. Losing by 37 percent is better than losing by 100 percent, but it’s still a loss.

There’s an argument that the Xeon W-3175X isn’t meant to be run at stock speeds at all. It’s a flashy chip that should be liquid-cooled or liquid-nitrogen-cooled for overclocking runs only. But there’s also an argument that at $3,000 for the Xeon and $1,800 for the motherboard to run it—it’s not even meant as a practical platform. 

threadripper 3970x vs xeon w 3175x IDG

The flashy Xeon W-3175X gets closer on multi-threaded performance but its lower clock speeds on lighter loads are worse than the 18-core Core i9 chips.

Conclusion

The 32-core Threadripper 3970X runs unopposed in our eyes. Intel’s new 18-core Core i9-10980XE basically has its hands full dealing with the 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X. And the 28-core Xeon W-3175X at $5,000 isn’t practical.

Some will complain that $2,000 is too much for this chip. But for anyone who actually needs multi-threaded performance that easily outperforms all previous high-core-count CPUs, it’s almost a bargain.

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