Late last year, I met with two AMD employees as we discussed the future launch of 3rd Gen Ryzen Threadripper. During the meeting, they revealed that the new CPUs, now revealed as the Ryzen Threadripper 3960X and 3970X, were very different under the hood. Critically, all cores now had direct access to memory and the PCIe bus, removing the bottlenecks that had hampered performance with the predecessors. Combined with tweaks in Windows 10 to better make use of AMD CPUs, I knew back then that these Threadrippers would be brilliant. Sure enough, their performance in every area was a vast improvement compared to the previous WX-series models.
They're expensive, to be sure - £1,300 is a huge amount to pay for a processor, but people will, either with fatter wallets than the rest of us and just keen to build an awesomely powerful PC, or those that genuinely need that kind of CPU horsepower for working with professional applications. It's a great time to be a PC enthusiast with a market flooded with options ranging from £100 to £4,000 on the desktop. There's a plethora of cooling options, too, as you'd expect, and while air cooling is by far the most popular, AIO liquid coolers remain an increasingly interesting way to cool your PC. Whether you're a fan of RGB lighting or not, they sit at the top of the cooling performance stack, with only a select few air coolers able to match them for noise and performance.
However, with Socket TR4, it was fairly clear that many AIO liquid coolers lacked contact plates that were large enough to deal with Threadripper CPUs. Half the heatspreader would remain untouched, and while the underlying dies would be covered, it still meant a smaller surface area able to get involved in thermal transfer. My own testing with various coolers proved this to the case and Threadripper-specific coolers, both air and liquid-cooled, with larger contact plates, were definitely more effective. However, Threadripper-specific liquid coolers have been rare items. Enermax's Liqtech coolers were excellent, but stock has often been lacking and the coolers themselves were hit by coolant issues, gunking up inside after just a few months. While Enermax claims to have fixed this, there were precious few alternatives.
EKWB had its Phoenix modular AIO and I've been using this for my recent motherboard and CPU testing. As you'd expect, you get the quality and performance of a large Threadripper waterblock with a powerful pump and reservoir. However, this too has seen stock issues here in the UK. I'm surprised at the situation and the lack of dedicated coolers for Socket TR4/sTRX4 given the attention AMD's cut-price 2nd Gen Threadrippers have had over the last year and more recently with AMD's stunning 3rd Gen models. I can appreciate these are still niche items, even with 2nd Gen price cuts meaning the Threadripper 2950X now costs around £700. This is especially so looking at some of the major manufacturers of AIO liquid coolers.
For example, Corsair still has smaller cold-plate universal coolers offering Socket TRX4 compatibility - I haven't seen the latest XT-series coolers yet but it's my understanding that the cold-plate is still not big enough to cool a 3rd Gen Threadripper CPU as effectively as possible. EKWB's new AIOs lack Threadripper compatibility entirely according to its specifications, and with NZXT, you need to use the optional Asetek bracket that comes with the CPU, so I doubt much has changed here, either.
You'll obviously need a hefty AIO cooler to deal with the Threadripper 3960X and 3970X anyway, and arguably even more so with the 3990X, but these have been available for a while. Having spoken to retailers about their choices with 3rd Gen Threadripper systems, many are unsurprisingly opting for full-on custom liquid cooling. If I was to build a 3rd Gen Threadripper PC that's absolutely what I'd do, too. However, it seems a shame that this is the situation. There are one or two exceptions, but on the whole, Socket TR4 and sTRX4 are both poorly-catered-for when it comes to dedicated coolers. Perhaps the costs involved would mean prices that approach custom kits, but not everyone wants the hassle of a custom loop.
If you were building a 3rd Gen Ryzen Threadripper system, which cooling would you opt for? If there was a decent dedicated AIO cooler available, which manufacturer would you like to see build one? Let us know in the comments.
October 15 2020 | 14:00