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

AMD's monster CPU stomps and smashes punier competition.

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Multitasking performance

Before we move on to gaming performance, we wanted to present how well these CPUs do when tasked with running multiple, multithreaded workloads. For that we decided to run Blender and Cinebench simultaneously. Multitasking tests can be difficult to pin down. AMD recommends manually setting the affinity of each core to the various applications to increase the reliability of the results. Most people won’t do that, however, so we decided to see if we could obtain repeatable results just by clacking off one benchmark and then another.

We found by running Cinebench first, and then starting Blender and keeping it in the foreground, we could obtain easily repeatable results. The results here are the average of three runs each, but we could reproduce the results days later. 

Note that in the chart below, the Blender and Cinebench results have opposite scales. For the Blender test (in blue), a shorter bar is a faster and better score. For the Cinebench test (in red), a longer bar is a faster and better score.

Threadripper 1950X, with 32 threads at its disposal, finished the Blender render about 19 percent faster than the Core i9-7900X. In CineBench R15 it was 46 percent faster than the Core i9-7900X.  

ryzen threadripper 1950x simultaneous blender cinebench IDG

By multitasking some multithreaded apps, Threadripper 1950X really shows its strength.

Gaming performance

Do people really buy $1,000 mega-core CPUs exclusively to play games? Probably not, but how well each CPU performs in gaming benchmarks is still an important metric for many (like it or not).

3DMark FireStrike performance

First up is the venerable 3DMark FireStrike test. This is a bit old and mostly a GPU test, but the overall score factors in CPU performance too. The overall winner is the 10-core Core i7-6950X (there’s a reason it cost $1,723). A close second is the Threadripper 1950X in Creator Mode. We did flip the switch for Game Mode and performance dropped. Why? Remember, Game Mode tells Windows it has access to only eight cores, so 3DMark uses only eight of them.

ryzen threadripper 1950x 3dmark firestrike 1.1 overall IDG

Game Mode hurts Threadripper performance because the core count gets cut in half.

Drilling down into the Physics test results, you can see the direct impact of Game Mode. With all cores used by Windows, Threadripper pulls out in front. With half of them off in the OS, it’s just slightly faster than an 8-core Ryzen 7 1800X.

ryzen threadripper 1950x 3dmark firestrike 1.1 physics IDG

Game Mode tells Windows not to use half the cores in Threadripper, so performance drops.

This isn’t a knock on AMD’s Game Mode, but clearly, for games that really need more CPU cores, set it to Creation Mode instead.

Tomb Raider performance

Turns out.Tomb Raider with a GTX 1080 at 1080p and set to Ultimate really doesn’t care about the CPU—it’s purely a GPU test. Why would we say that? If you look at the results of the elderly FX-8370 CPU, which was a dog in every single test, it’s humming nearly as well as the $1,000 CPUs here. 

ryzen threadripper 1950x tomb raider 19x10 ultimateIDG

Even the older Tomb Raider at 1080p and Ultimate is purely GPU-bound.

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege performance

Moving on to something newer, we used Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege at 1920x1080 resolution and the medium-quality setting to make it less about the GPU.

The Threadripper 1950X exhibits the familiar pattern we’ve seen in Ryzen-Core face-offs in the past: Intel has 10 percent or more better performance. Considering that in the past we’ve seen AMD’s defecit be 15 to 20 percent in some games at low resolution, this isn’t bad. But can Game Mode make a difference?

Yes. With Game Mode activated, the gap between the top-performing Core i7-6950X and Threadripper closes to about 5 percent. That’s right on the heels of the Core i9-7900X, which likely takes a performance hit from its mesh interconnect.

ryzen threadripper 1950x rainbow six 19x10 medium IDG

You’ll want to turn on Game Mode for Rainbow Six

Rise of the Tomb Raider performance

Just as in Rainbow Six, the Threadripper 1950X’s performance in Rise of the Tomb Raider is a bit underwhelming in Creation Mode, but flip on Game Mode and it’s a ball game. Well, at least it’s in the ball game and trying.

ryzen threadripper 1950x rise of the tomb raider dx 11 very high 19x10 IDG

Game Mode helps get the Threadripper back into the battle in Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation performance

Our last gaming test is Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation, which is the poster child for how to use a CPU in gaming. Unfortunately for AMD, it’s all about Intel here: The Core i9-7900X has a commanding lead over Threadripper 1950X. Game Mode helps inch the Threadripper 1950X closer, but Intel still wins by 12 percent.

Why? Some of it is pure clock speed differences. But we expected this to be closer, especially considering that the developer of Ashes was one of the first to optimize for Ryzen earlier this year. Granted, game optimization has not yet proven to be the cure-all AMD promised. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a big deal, but it’ll vex AMD fans.

ryzen threadripper 1950x aots escalation 19x10 crazy cpu focused IDG

AotS: Escalation shows AMD still has a lot of work to do on optimization.

Conclusion

In this short-attention-span world, you’re probably looking for the quick answer. Unfortunately, the real answer has three parts, since CPUs fulfill a variety of purposes.

The first is single-threaded or very lightly-threaded use, such as most photo-editing applications. In that category, the more spry quad-cores outpace Threadripper 1950X, though its relatively high clock speeds keep it very much in contention.

The second is gaming, where we see the familiar deficit of previous Ryzen launches. AMD argues that in social gaming, such as streaming and recording while gaming, more cores are better—and we’d tend to agree. But in conventional gaming, Intel leads. The good news is that AMD’s new Game Mode can help close that gap to the point that it doesn’t even matter.

cinebench r15.038 1t 32 ryzen threadripper 1950x vs corei9 7900x IDG

If you live in the right side of this chart, Ryzen Threadripper 1950X is the easy choice. If you live in the left side of this chart, the Core i9-7900X has the advantage.

That brings us to the last category: multithreaded performance. In every single multithreaded test we ran (including multitasking multithreaded tests), Threadripper 1950X outpaced all comers by significant margins. It simply destroys any 8-core CPU and makes you question how the 10-core Core i9-7900X can dare to be priced the same as the Threadripper 1950X.

This last point is very much the entire reason for Threadripper 1950X’s existence. Frankly, no one should buy a $1,000, 16-core CPU just to play conventional gaming or run lightly threaded applications. It’s the wrong tool for the job.

You buy a 16-core CPU for work. Real work. Real work means modelling, encoding, and doing five things simultaneously, because it’s work.

For that, Threadripper 1950X is an incredible breakthrough in performance and cost. Just four years ago, consumers paid $1,000 to get a 6-core CPU. Today, the same $1,000 gets you 16 cores. That’s something to be applauded loudly by anyone who cares about performance.

ryzen threadripper 1950x 2 Gordon Mah Ung/IDG
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