We all knew that November’s HEDT and mainstream CPU launches would be interesting, and with AMD finally announcing the pricing and specifications of its 3rd Gen Threadripper CPUs, it’s looking like there will be some seismic shifting going on when reviews are published. However, I stand by my previous predictions that Intel is far from done for. In fact, the Core i9-10980XE could well hold its own niche spot in the market despite Threadripper topping it, once again, in terms of core counts and very likely multi-threaded performance too.
Unlike the battle between Skylake-X refresh CPUs and their 2nd Gen Threadripper counterparts, though, Intel's Cascade Lake-X price drops and AMD's slight price hikes for the Threadripper 3960X and 3970X as well as lack (so far) of 12- or 16-core parts mean that, in my view, the two are no longer really competing directly with each other - Intel's Cascade Lake-X flagship will be around $1,000 for 18 cores, while AMD's starting point will be 24 cores at $1,400. The two associated platforms will also offer distinct reasons to buy into them. Starting with AMD's new HEDT lineup, it's fairly clear now that it will hold the high ground and offer more performance than Intel can muster. If AMD has managed to sort out the previous WX-series' shortcomings, the new chips could finally be far better all-rounders too with genuinely good performance in games and lightly-threaded tasks and not just more grunt in multi-threaded applications.
The downside, though, is price. Sure, if you're in the market for a $1,400 or $2,000 CPU and these products will save you money by getting your work done faster, money is maybe somewhat inconsequential. However, Intel's price cuts mean that even the Threadripper 3960X is going to be significantly more expensive than Intel's Core i9-10980XE, both in terms of price and the cost of the platform, as TRX40 motherboards (which are a necessity) are expected to leave you with little change from £400. You can pick up X299 boards for less than £200, which will result in fairly significant savings overall. Yes, Intel's new HEDT flagship will be slower, but your PC will be a lot cheaper too. This means that Cascade Lake-X and 3rd Gen Threadripper will simply be offering different performance at different price points. We expect AMD to be faster in most tasks, but Cascade Lake-X will still have ground to stand on.
And what about the Ryzen 9 3950X? A valid question, and for me it's super-exciting, because all the leaks are pointing to it matching Intel's 18-core CPUs. Even if that is the case, it's still a fact that Intel offers more I/O if you step up to its X299 platform, which may be useful for content creators that can't justify the stretch to 3rd Gen Threadripper. You'll be spending more for similar performance, but X570 boards have their limits.
That's not to shun the Ryzen 9 3950X, though, as I for one am considering it for my next PC (me too! - ed.). I don't have a need for the I/O that either HEDT platform provides, and a couple of high-capacity NVMe M.2 SSDs are likely to be enough for most people anyway. I also love the fact that AMD is bringing HEDT CPU performance to the mainstream, as this is one of the most important performance leaps of the last decade. However, despite this, I still feel Cascade Lake-X will hold its own in the somewhat hefty gap between the Ryzen 9 3950X and Threadripper 3960X. In fact, Intel's price drops and the fact it has a cheaper platform are probably one reason lower core count 3rd Gen Threadripper CPUs are not on the cards and AMD is, for now, continuing to churn out 2nd Gen Threadripper CPUs. This will all make for some interesting performance analysis when the time comes and the results are in, but it's a truly fascinating way to end the year, and there will be plenty of exciting new hardware around to add to your Christmas list.
April 16 2021 | 18:20