AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3970X and 3960X Review

Written by Antony Leather

November 25, 2019 | 14:00

Tags: #3rd-gen-ryzen #3rd-gen-threadripper #7nm #socket-trx4 #threadripper #trx40 #x399 #x570 #zen-2

Companies: #amd

Overclocking

Heat is still an issue when overclocking CPUs with more than 20 cores, but with 32 cores sitting at 4.2GHz with 1.3V, our EK Water Blocks Phoenix 240 liquid-cooler kept things around the 80°C mark under load with the Threadripper 3970X. That's 300MHz down from the peak single-core boost of 4.5GHz, so here using PBO might be a better option to increase the all-core boost while maintaining that single-core boost.

With the Threadripper 3960X, 4.35GHz was the eventual limit with 1.325V, with POV-Ray refusing to complete a full benchmark above this, even with significantly more voltage. This is only 150MHz down from the single-core boost but 250MHz higher than the all-core boost we observed at stock speed. Again, manual overclocking is questionable but slightly more beneficial and less detrimental to lightly-threaded performance.

Performance Analysis

Content creation

Premiere Pro has been Intel's domain for a long time, and the Ryzen 9 3950X didn't fare particularly well here given its prowess in other areas and the fact it only loses out by two cores compared to the Core i9-10980XE. However, with more cores, cache, and quad-channel memory, 3rd Gen Threadripper powered its way to a one-two finish, shaving up to 11 percent off the Intel CPU's time and annihilating the WX-Series Threadrippers, cutting their project export times in half. Value-wise, things aren't quite there, especially as the Core i9-10980XE managed to match the far more expensive Threadripper 3960X once overclocked. It's very much a two-horse race here between 3rd Gen Threadripper and Intel's 18-core CPUs - nothing else comes close.

HandBrake was more of the same, with a massive lead for 3rd Gen Threadripper at stock speed but the 32-core not really offering any benefit. That's not surprising, though, given HandBrake's poor scaling above 10 cores. Intel closed in again with the overclocked Core i9-10980XE, but at stock speed AMD was utterly dominant, as it was in PC Mark 10's Image Editing test. 

Rendering

The single-threaded Cinebench scores were just as remarkable as the difference between 2nd and 3rd Gen Ryzen, and 3rd Gen Threadripper lacks little here, even compared to the Ryzen 9s. As you'd expect, the multi-threaded results are monstrous, even compared to the WX-Series, with the 3970X topping 18,000 points - nearly double Intel's Core i9-10980XE. Switching to some workstation-class software now and Blender saw some stellar results from both CPUs that nothing else got close to, although the Threadripper 3970X didn't offer much more performance than its 24-core sibling. POV-Ray was a different matter, with 17 percent separating the two CPUs at stock speed.

Gaming

It's not likely to be something you'll be basing your purchase on, but DotA 2 nevertheless revealed a vast improvement moving to 3rd Gen Threadripper, bettering Intel's 18-core CPUs at stock speed and coming within spitting distance of matching the top six results in the graph. Far Cry 5 was more of the same, with the stock speed Core i9-10980XE sitting roughly level but its huge overclock powering it to a decent lead. We should also mention here that we had to use Game Mode in our motherboard's BIOS to cut the number of active cores for the Threadripper 3970X, else we were met with very low frame rates. According to AMD, Far Cry 5 is one of those games that still doesn't like extreme high core count CPUs, and our testing seems to support this, as every other game was fine, as was the Threadripper 3960X.

Overall it's huge gains for AMD over the previous generation, and if frame rates are a concern, you'll be losing little unless you massively overclock your Intel CPU. Civlization VI's AI test benefited from the high IPC, frequencies, and core counts with the Threadripper 3970X sitting in first place and the 3960X not doing badly either. For some reason, Time Spy didn't respond well to the 32-core CPU either, with it scoring a couple of thousand fewer points than the 24-core.

Power Consumption

While the Ryzen 9 3950X was a triumph of power efficiency, things were quite toasty and power-hungry here, at least at face value. Load values of round 450W are high, but considering the performance advantage in some tests, the fact there's a large I/O die in tow, and the fact we know AMD's chipsets can be quite greedy too, this isn't such a bad deal. Overclocking added a significant amount to these figures, but the Threadripper 3960X still drew less than Intel's overclocked Core i9-10980XE.

Conclusion

In most cases we're genuinely astounded by the gains AMD has made over the WX-series Zen+-based Threadrippers. Performance across the board is in a different league and we'd argue that this is a bigger, more impressive leap than mainstream Ryzen moving from Zen+ to Zen 2. You only have to look at benchmarks such as Adobe Premiere Pro to see just how much better these CPUs are. In fact they almost make the old ones look broken.

AMD has been keen to pitch 3rd Gen Threadripper as a CPU you can use for all tasks too - not just dumping those multi-threaded workloads onto it. We'd have to agree in all but extreme situations such as getting the absolute best frame rates. Here, the Core i9-10980XE does still hold an advantage, but only once overclocked. The important thing to take away is that there's next to no need to have a second system for gaming or lightly-threaded tasks. Such are the improvements, 3rd Gen Threadripper is a great all-rounder as well as a multi-threaded powerhouse. 

As we eluded to at the start, though, the Core i9-10980XE isn't really a competitor. It has its own niche in its own price bracket that sits well below 3rd Gen Threadripper and the TRX40 platform. If you need the best performance, though, and you'll be saving money by shaving those export or rendering times, then there's currently nothing else out there in the desktop PC market that offers the same grunt. The 64-core CPU will likely be extend the lead in those select workstation-focussed tasks, but we're honestly wondering what on earth 2020 will bring and what Intel can do to counter it.

As for recommending either the Threadripper 3970X or 3960X, overall, the latter offers better value. In games and lightly-threaded tasks they perform similarly and it's only in a select few tests that the 32-core SKU reaches its full potential. Everywhere else the Threadripper 3960X is never far behind, so the more value-conscious out there will likely want to put that extra $600 towards a bigger storage array, more powerful graphics card or water-cooling system.


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