Threadripper 3990X review roundup: AMD's 64-core CPU can play Crysis, but it's not for everyone

Its performance is in a class by itself, but it has some distinct limitations as well.

3rd gen threadripper pib still 3
AMD

AMD’s 64-core CPU officially went on sale Friday, and early reviews of AMD’s flagship high-end desktop processor give the chip very high marks—assuming you can make use of it.

And provided you can afford it! Newegg is selling the new Threadripper 3990X for $3,989.99, which is a penny below its MSRP of $3,990. Anything below MSRP on a new CPU launch is rare for Newegg. If you’d rather get that brick-and-mortar experience, Microcenter has it in stores and online at the chip’s $3,990 list price.

newegg below msrp Newegg

Newegg priced the Threadripper 3990X below its list of $3,990. Yes, please look closely.

Before you break out that roll of hunnert-dollar bills though, you should ask yourself: Is it worth it? 

Most reviewers are saying: “It depends.” Here are the highlights from major sites and some other interesting places that tested it.

Anandtech says Threadripper 3990X is “no brainer” (but...)

Kicking off the review roundup are Anandtech.com’s Dr. Ian Cutress and Gavin Bonshor, whose views don’t fit into sound bites. 

Cutress and Bonshor say the consumer/prosumer chip is stunningly fast in some workloads, but many times it has issues outrunning the 32-core Threadripper 3970X at half its price:

“For the first stage, the consumer/prosumer level, our conclusion is that the usefulness of the 3990X is limited. Aside from a few select instances (as mentioned, Corona, Blender, NAMD) the 32-core Threadripper for half the price performed on par or with margin. For this market, saving that $2,000 between the 64-core and the 32-core can easily net another RTX 2080 Ti for GPU acceleration, and this would probably be the preferred option. Unless you run those specific tests (or ones like it), then go for the 32 core and spend the money elsewhere. Aside from the core count there is little to differentiate the two parts.”

As anticipated, Anandtech’s review shows the single-chip Threadripper 3990X outpacing $20,000 dual-socket Xeon chips, which makes it an easy win.

“The second stage, the enterprise level, it becomes a no brainer to consolidate a dual socket system into a single AMD CPU – the initial outlay cost is substantially lower, and the long term power costs also come into play. This is what the enterprise likes to combine into ‘Total Cost of Ownership’, or TCO. The TCO and performance advantage of AMD here is plain to see in the benchmarks and the pricing.”

Anandtech’s review interestingly digs deep into one of the biggest challenges for AMD’s 64-core, 128-thread chip: Windows itself.

anantech Anandtech.com

Anandtech.com showed one of the challenges for Threadripper is out of its control: Which version of Windows you use matters.

Cutress and Bonshor ran the Threadripper 3990X through different flavors of Windows to show off the issues in how the OS handles not just 64-core processor pools, but also how some versions of it treat the new CPU as a dual-socket system even though the Threadripper is a single chip. As part of their testing, Cutress and Bonshor found disabling SMT in the CPU in Windows 10 Pro yielded better performance in some workloads, while Windows 10 Enterprise performed far better. Here’s Anandtech’s full review of the AMD Threadripper 3990X.

Tom’s Hardware said more is yet to come after Threadripper 3990X

Paul Alcorn of Tom’s Hardware, who also showed the Threadripper 3990X outpacing Intel’s dual socket Xeon chips was a bit less on the fence on the 64-core part saying: “The Threadripper 3990X is pretty much exactly what AMD says it is: A highly specialized processor that provides incredible performance in a narrow cross-section of workloads, but at an extremely attractive price point given its capabilities.”

Yet, like Anandtech.com, Alcorn said there are clearly limitations—not all of them within AMD’s control. “We’ve done our best to show you the best of the Threadripper 3990X’s performance, but we can’t tell the whole performance story due to spotty software support for a processor of this class,” Alcorn writes. “Outside of AMD’s targeted workloads, most software can’t extract the best performance from this processor.”

Still, Alcorn notes in his review here: “...the Threadripper 3990X is an incredibly impressive chip. Just three years ago, an eight-core $1,000 chip represented the best the industry had to offer on an HEDT platform, but now we have up to 64 cores and 128 threads at our disposal, and AMD says it won’t slow down as it shrinks to smaller process nodes. As crazy as it sounds, we’ll see higher core counts in the future. Hopefully the software and operating system ecosystems respond with performance-boosting optimizations so this kind of incredible performance benefits more types of workloads.”

Amen, Paul.

HotHardware’s take on Threadripper 3990X

Marco Chiappetta of Hothardware.com described Threadripper 3990X as a “beast” though with the same “under the right conditions” qualifier as other reviews.

Chiapetta continues: “The AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X isn’t perfect and it’s meant to appease a specific sub-set of users, obviously. Even still, we must commend AMD for continually and aggressively pushing the envelope since the introduction of its first-gen Ryzen architecture. AMD’s efforts that last few years have re-shaped the enthusiast computing landscape and injected some real excitement. If AMD continues on this trajectory with Zen 3 and beyond, we can’t wait to see what the company has in store for us all next year.”

tweaktown power Tweaktown.com

Tweaktown said the Threadripper 3990X consumes up to 800 watts and more by flipping on PBOC and XMP profiles.

TweakTown’s says you’ll want a big PSU for Threadripper 3990X

Many reviewers looked at power consumption of the new chip, but Steven Bassiri of TweakTown.com might have had the most fun, noting: “The Ryzen Threadripper 3990X eats up power, but not nearly as much as we expected, at least at stock. We saw total system power go to around 370W, with the CPU pulling about 300W. We noticed that AMD achieved this by greatly reducing the core voltage, so we were pulling a bit over 300A at less than 1v. HOWEVER, look below to see what happens when we enable PBOC; hint, the system power went over 1000W.”

Bassiri said he believes Threadripper 3990X itself was likely consuming about 800 watts.

Yup. Throw in an GeForce RTX 2080 Ti and custom liquid cooling, and the days of a 1,500-watt PSUs just might be back.

linus Linus Tech Tips

Can it run Crysis?! Yes, in fact Linus Tech Tips used the 64-core Threadripper 3990X to do just that. And no, not on the GPU: The game ran rendered in software on Threadripper.

Linus Tech Tips runs Crysis on Threadripper 3990X

But can it run Crysis?! Glad you asked. Besides showing the chip easily ripping through rendering tests, Linus Sebastian of Linus Tech Tips shows the CPU is actually capable of running Crysis. And no, we don’t mean running Crysis on a GPU in the system with Threadripper 3990X, we mean, actually running Crysis rendered in software mode ON THE CPU. It’s an amazing feat worth watching.

Sebastian does point out the odd position AMD occupies at the moment. Yes, Threadripper 3990X eats Xeons for breakfast in compute, but he notes that AMD is now at the point where it has put artificial limitations on the 3990X so as not to compete with its own Epyc server chips, which support much higher RAM capacities than Threadripper does. In Sebastian’s eyes, the new chip is a “$4,000 deadend” due to its “low” memory limit of 256GB. That’s a mere quarter of what Intel’s Xeon W-3175X can take, he points out.

Puget Systems on Threadripper 3990X for Premiere

It wasn’t just YouTubers and hardware sites who got first dibs on Threadripper 3990X. PC workstation maker Puget Systems put the new chip through its Adobe Premiere CC benchmark and answers the singular question of “Is the AMD Threadripper 3990X good for Premiere Pro?”

The answer isn’t likely to shock anyone: No.

“While there may be some niche uses for the AMD Threadripper 3990X 64 Core within the greater video editing industry, the 3990X is underwhelming for Premiere Pro. It is certainly no slouch, but only performs roughly on par with the Threadripper 3960X 24 Core for both live playback and exporting,” Puget’s Matt Bach writes.

Phoronix: What about Linux on Threadripper 3990X?

We’ll close off our review roundup by satiating Linux fans, who are all screaming, “it’s Windows’ fault!”

Phoronix’s Michael Larabel writes that the “AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X Offers Incredible Linux Performance.”

Larabel continued: “When taking the geometric mean of the benchmarks for this article today, The Threadripper 3990X came out overall 26% faster than the dual Xeon Platinum 8280, which is a very nice accomplishment since such a configuration currently retails for $20,000 USD worth of processors alone. For those doing serious content creation work like Blender or other CPU-based renderers/modeling, engaging in heavy multi-threaded workloads that aren’t memory intensive (where instead you’d be better off with the EPYC 7002 CPUs with eight-channel memory), or code compilation of large software projects, the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X is a mighty impressive competitor.”

This story, "Threadripper 3990X review roundup: AMD's 64-core CPU can play Crysis, but it's not for everyone" was originally published by PCWorld.

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