Ryzen Threadripper review: AMD's monster 1950X stomps on other CPUs

AMD's monster CPU stomps and smashes punier competition.

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How we tested

None of this matters without solid performance. Our Threadripper 1950X was tested with an Asus ROG Zenith Extreme X399 motherboard, a ThermalTake Floe Riing (yes, that’s how it’s spelled) 360 cooler, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080, Samsung 960 Pro SSD, and 32GB of DDR4/3200 RAM.

These last two items actually differ from our standard configuration, which is a HyperX Savage SATA SSD and 32GB of DDR4 at JEDEC 2133 speeds. To minimize the impact of the SATA SSD versus a PCIe SSD, we used a HyperX Savage SSD as the target and source drive for any tests where storage might have an effect—primarily our encoding test using Handbrake and Adobe Premiere Creative Cloud.

ryzen threadripper 1950x 16 Gordon Mah Ung/IDG

That’s no moon, that’s a Ryzen Threadripper below a Ryzen 7 and to the left of an LGA 2011 V3 Core i7 CPU.

The memory configuration was a little stickier, as we’ve tested previous CPUs with all DIMM slots filled. On Ryzen, that limited the memory clock speeds, as only JEDEC speeds are allowed when fully loaded with RAM. That hurts Ryzen, particularly because Infinity Fabric is directly tied to the speed of the memory controller.

Getting the Core i9-7900X to run at DDR4/3200 was also problematic, as it effectively overclocks the CPU to 4.3GHz on all cores in our BIOS. So, instead, we ran the Core i9 system using the XMP default setting of DDR4/2666. 

This isn’t ideal, but as memory increasingly ties itself to a platform’s performance, we’ll have to continue to search for a happy medium.

Application performance

Pull up a chair, because everyone wants to see how Threadripper does on pretty much everything. We’re going to start with single-application performance and some synthetic benchmarks, then move on to multitasking and gaming. 

Blender performance

Let’s kick this off where AMD started the Zen hype train almost exactly a year ago: Blender. This is an open-source 3D modelling application that actually gets decent use in indie films for effects scenes. Heck, even NASA uses it for its models these days. Blender loves CPU threads, but we’ve found that it doesn’t always scale as well as commercial products such as Maxon’s Cinema4D. Still, more cores generally means more performance, and the first win goes to Threadripper 1950X for handily rendering Mike Pan’s popular BMW benchmark file 22 percent faster than the 10-core Core i9-7900X.

We know we just said Blender doesn’t always scale perfectly, but when you look at the score from the 8-core, 16-thread Ryzen 7 1800X compared to the 16-core, 32-thread Threadripper 1950X, Threadripper takes just over half the time to render the image. 

ryzen threadripper 1950x blender 2.78b bmw cpu render IDG

The Threadripper 1950X’s performance in Blender puts it at the front of the pack.

POV-Ray performance

Our second test is also free: the Persistence of Vision Ray Tracer. This application dates all the way back to the Amiga but is continually updated and supported. It’s no surprise, but ray tracing is a CPU-intensive task, and throwing more CPUs at it makes it go faster.

Against the Core i9-7900X, the Threadripper 1950X is 35 percent faster running the internal performance benchmark. Against the 8-core Ryzen 7 1800X, you’re looking at an 85-percent performance boost. From a multi-threading point of view, it’s all win here for the Threadripper 1950X.

ryzen threadripper 1950x pov ray 3.7 nt IDG

POV-Ray’s internal benchmark also puts the Threadripper 1950X at the front with performance 30 percent greater than Intel’s top Core i9 CPU today.

Before you pop the champagne, let’s also see how the Threadripper 1950X does in POV-Ray when only a single thread is used. Once that happens, this turns into a battle of overall clock speed and IPC, or micro-architecture efficiency. When it’s all about single-threaded clock speeds, it’s all about Intel’s 7th Gen Core i7-7700K, which jumps to the front. Skylake-X, with its very high Turbo Boost Max 3.0 cores, comes in second. Threadripper pulls in about 14 percent slower than the Core i9-7900X, which is within striking distance.

ryzen threadripper 1950x pov ray 3.7 1t IDG

When we run POV-Ray on a single thread, Core i9 prevails.

CineBench R15 performance

CineBench R15 benchmark is based on the same engine Maxon uses in its Cinema4D professional application. Like the previous two applications, it’s all about the thread count, so again Threadripper 1950X triumphs with a score almost 39 percent faster than the Core i9-7900X.

ryzen threadripper 1950x cinebench r15.038 nt IDG

CineBench R15.038 puts the Threadripper 1950X about 32 percent ahead of the Core i9-7900X.

As with POV-Ray, we also run CineBench R15 single-threaded to get another dimension of CPU performance. When you’re talking CPU efficiency or IPC and high-clock speeds, the momentum again shifts back to Intel’s 7th-gen Kaby Lake CPUs and Core X, though Skylake-X is still just 12 percent faster than Threadripper. Note, too, that Threadripper 1950X manages to hang tight with Intel’s original consumer 10-core, the Core i7-6950X, which cost $1,723 when released.

ryzen threadripper 1950x cinebench r15.038 1t IDG

Single-threaded performance at the native clock speeds puts Skylake-X and Kaby Lake in charge.

Corona Renderer performance

One final rendering benchmark is the newish Corona Renderer test. It’s a new plug-in renderer for Autodesk 3ds Max and is touted as being “unbiased” and high-performance. As the test is new to us, our sample set is extremely limited. Given that AMD is promoting it, however, the results aren’t surprising: Corona Renderer loves CPU cores and gives the Threadripper 1950X a 21-percent advantage.

ryzen threadripper 1950x corona render 1.3 IDG

The new Corona Renderer touts itself as “unbiased.”

Geekbench 4 performance

Geekbench is one the most popular free benchmarks around. We don’t typically use it to gauge performance of desktop CPUs. It’s recently been gaining some traction, however, as the latest version does away with many of the controversial aspects of the previous version.

The results put the Threadripper 1950X in front, but not by much, never mind its six-core advantage. Does this mean Threadripper 1950X isn’t as fast as the previous tests show? No. More than anything else, it probably shows that Geekbench 4.04 doesn’t scale with available core count. Or that it just doesn’t like something about the Ryzen design, as the Ryzen 7 doesn’t do well either.

ryzen threadripper 1950x geekbench 4.04 nt IDG

Geekbench doesn’t seem to scale with the core counts that well.

And no, this isn’t the older 4.04 version. The latest 4.1 version did add some updates for AMD’s micro-architecture, but apparently not enough. 

ryzen threadripper 1950x geekbench 4.1 nt IDG

Despite the Threadripper having 12-more threads than the Core i9, the two are pretty close in Geekbench.

WinRAR performance

Speaking of applications that seem to have no love for Threadripper 1950X, here are the results of WinRAR 5.40’s internal benchmark. There’s no mixup: WinRAR just doesn’t perform very well on Threadripper.

WinRAR seems to be fair in that it doesn’t like Skylake-X much either, instead putting the two Broadwell-E chips clearly in front. Why? At the time of our Core i9 review, Intel said its analysis showed that the new mesh design on Core i9 was the issue. The mesh design makes it easier and faster for Intel to connect multiple cores, but there is a penalty in WinRAR and some games as well.

Intel’s mesh is similar to AMD’s Infinity Fabric in some ways, so it’s entirely possibly WinRAR is revealing an Achilles’ heel in both designs. 

ryzen threadripper 1950x winrar 5.40 nt IDG

WinRAR (multi-threaded) seems to disrespect Skylake-X as well as Threadripper, perhaps because of their somewhat similar mesh and Infinity Fabric designs.

7-Zip performance

Fret not, AMD fans: The good news is you can just use 7-Zip, because it’s all roses there. Threadripper 1950X is again large and in charge with a 22-percent lead over its Core i9 nemesis. Although 7-Zip doesn’t scale as well as the 3D tests, Threadripper’s still a healthy 73 percent faster than the 8-core Ryzen 7 1800X.

ryzen threadripper 1950x 7zip 9.20 nt IDG

In 7-Zip Threadripper takes a healthy 22-percent lead over Skylake-X.

VeraCrypt performance

One other test that AMD has touted is VeraCrypt. Based on TrueCrypt, VeraCrypt picked up where its popular free predecessor fell apart. As it’s new to us, our sample set is tiny, but it shows a whopping 45-percent advantage for Threadripper. 

ryzen threadripper 1950x veracrypt 1.21 aes mean IDG

VeraCrypt is a fork of the now dead TrueCrypt, and Threadripper posts a big win here.

Adobe Premiere Creative Cloud 2017 performance

Besides 3D rendering, video encoding is one of the top reasons people buy mega-core chips. To test that we take a short project that PCWorld’s video team shot on a 4K Sony Alpha camera and export it using the 1080p Blu-ray preset, with the maximum render quality option checked.

Both the target and the source of our test don’t actually reside on the PC’s local drive. Instead, we store it on a Plextor M8e PCIe SSD that’s moved from machine to machine for testing. This essentially makes the storage subsystem irrelevant in the performance discussion.

The first result uses CPU encoding rather than the CUDA engine on the GPU. Scoff all you want—many professionals still say CPU encoding gives you the best quality. 

The results put the Threadripper 1950X in front with a score about 20 percent faster than the Core i9-7900X’s. Against the 8-core Ryzen 7 1800X, it’s roughly 39 percent faster. Our actual encode times are relatively short given the video project’s short duration, but any professional who’d like to shave off 20 percent on a 5-hour encode will likely pay for it.

ryzen threadripper 1950x premiere creative cloud 2017 4k video encode to1080p cpu maximum render qu IDG

In this 4K video encode test, the 16-core Threadripper 1950X is almost 40 percent faster than the 8-core Ryzen 7 1800XCPU.

For those who use the GPU, we ran the same project using the GTX 1080 for the heavy lifting. Our encode times are drastically cut down using GPU rendering, but if you think the CPU doesn’t matter, think again. Compared to an 8-core CPU, for example, the Threadripper 1950X is still 37 percent faster. 

ryzen threadripper 1950x premiere creative cloud 2017 4k video encode to1080p gpu maximum render qu IDG

The CPU still matters, even on GPU encodes.

Handbrake performance

Our last encode test uses the free and popular Handbrake encoder to convert a 30GB file using the Android Tablet preset. Handbrake tends to love CPU cores and threads, but we’ve found the scaling starts to peter out as you approach crazy amounts of cores. In this test, the 16-core Threadripper 1950X is “only” 15 percent faster than the Core i9 chip. Still, when you notch a win, you notch a win.

ryzen threadripper 1950x handbrake 0.9.9 1080 encode IDG

Handbrake gives the win to Threadripper, though not by much.

You want multitasking and gaming performance? You got it on the next page.

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