2nd Gen Thread­rip­per 2990WX: AMD’S 32-core CPU is in­sanely fast but not for ev­ery­one

AMD’S Ryzen Thread­rip­per 2990WX crushes multi-threaded tasks like we’ve never seen be­fore.

PCWorld (USA) - - Reviews - BY GOR­DON MAH UNG

Stop, AMD. You had us at 32-core, 64-thread Ryzen Thread­rip­per 2990WX con­sumer CPU. You didn’t have to make it bet­ter by say­ing this weapon of thread de­struc­tion could be ours for $1,799 (avail­able on Newegg [ go.pc­world.com/ egrz] or Ama­zon [ go.pc­world.com/amrz] ) —just $76 more than what In­tel wanted us to pony up for its 10-core Core i7-6950x two

years ago. In Mil­len­ni­alese: That. Is. Just. In­sane.

But be­fore you in­vest too much thought or cash into the con­cept of a 32-core CPU sit­ting in your PC at home, there’s a lot of caveats you need to know. Sim­ply put: This CPU may be too much power for most of us.


If you’re won­der­ing just how AMD went from an 8-core Ryzen 7 1800X to a 16-core Ryzen Thread­rip­per 1950X to a 32-core Ryzen Thread­rip­per 2990WX in the space of 16 months, while it took In­tel three years just to go from a 6-core Core i7 to a 10-core Core i7, the magic is in the de­sign.

What makes a 32-core Thead­rip­per even pos­si­ble is the multi-chip de­sign. Rather than the sin­gle con­tigu­ous or mono­lithic die ap­proach that In­tel takes, AMD CPUS are mul­ti­ple chips joined to­gether by the com­pany’s high-speed In­fin­ity Fab­ric. The orig­i­nal 16-core Ryzen Thread­rip­per 1950X joined two 8-core chips to­gether.

With the 32-core Ryzen Thread­rip­per 2990WX AMD joins four 8-core chips to­gether.

This method comes with its own spe­cial penalty, though. Al­though the STR4 socket for Thread­rip­per is phys­i­cally the same as the server socket used for AMD’S Epyc CPUS,

STR4 is wired to sup­port four-chan­nel mem­ory us­ing two of the dies, rather than eightchan­nel mem­ory us­ing four dies.

On Thread­rip­per, that es­sen­tially means that of the four dies in the 2990WX, two are

pure com­pute-only dies, with­out di­rect ac­cess to mem­ory and to PCIE. Those two com­pute dies must talk through an I/O die that has PCIE and ac­cess to the mem­ory. This de­sign means an I/O die with mem­ory ac­cess has 64ns of la­tency to mem­ory, while a com­pute-only die has a la­tency of 105ns.

There’s also a re­duc­tion in band­width across the In­fin­ity Fab­ric. On the new 16-core Ryzen Thread­rip­per 2950X, which uses just two dies, the bi-di­rec­tional die-to-die band­width is 50Gbps. On the four chip, 32-core 2990WX, the bi-di­rec­tional die-to-die band­width is halved to 25Gbps.

For what it’s worth, that die-to-die band­width is ap­par­ently con­sid­er­ably less ( go. pc­world.com/frls) than a 7000-series server Epyc CPU’S 42Gbps. What im­pact that low­ered die-to-die band­width has on per­for­mance isn’t clear to us, nor is the rea­son for less band­width. It’s pos­si­bly due to how the CPUS are con­nected to the moth­er­boards them­selves. The server­fo­cused Epyc CPUS fea­ture 8-chan­nel mem­ory, with each die ac­cess­ing its own set of RAM, in­stead of Thread­rip­per’s shared ap­proach.]


What that multi-chip de­sign does do is en­able core-count scal­ing at a rate un­seen be­fore. With In­tel’s mono­lithic de­sign, an 18-core

CPU would re­quire that ev­ery sin­gle die be nearly per­fect and all of the cores func­tional to be sold. With Thread­rip­per, to get to 32 cores, it just needs four func­tional 8-core dies. This all adds up to the crazy num­ber of cores now avail­able to con­sumers.

AMD has called this the “Ryzen Ef­fect,” and you can see this on the chart be­low, where we mapped out In­tel’s ma­jor CPU launches over the years and how many cores they’ve had. So what caused that spike in core counts in the last year and a half? It took In­tel from 2008 to 2016 to go from 6 cores to 10 cores. It’s taken AMD 18 months to from 8 cores to 32 cores.


With the 2nd gen Thread­rip­per, there was much hand-wring­ing that the CPUS might not

work with the ex­ist­ing X399 moth­er­boards. AMD has said ev­ery sin­gle X399 board avail­able to­day will work once you’ve up­dated the UEFI/BIOS to sup­port the newer chip. All of the X399 moth­er­boards sup­port “BIOS Back” fea­tures, which let you up­date a board’s BIOS via USB with­out re­quir­ing an older CPU.

While all of to­day’s moth­er­boards will work, they might not all over­clock the same— but even there the news is mostly good. AMD said the main is­sue is the mas­sive power draw of the 32-core and 24-core ver­sions of the chip, so some board ven­dors have beefed up ex­ist­ing boards by of­fer­ing cool­ing kits.


For this re­view, we spooled up the Ryzen Thread­rip­per 2990WX in an MSI MEG X399 Cre­ation moth­er­board with Win­dows 10 Fall Cre­ators Up­date and 32GB of DDR3/2933 RAM. For graph­ics we run a Founders Edi­tion Ge­force GTX 1080 and the lat­est Nvidia graph­ics driv­ers avail­able. Stor­age is a Kingston Hyperx Sav­age SSD. Both sys­tems

were cooled with closed-loop cool­ers. The Core i9 used a Cor­sair 280mm H110i, and the Thread­rip­per 2990WX used an En­er­max Liqtech 240 TR4 cooler with cold plate that of­fered full cov­er­age for the gi­ant Thread­rip­per. Both cool­ers were set to max­i­mum fan speed.

For fair­ness, rather than re­cy­cle older num­bers, we up­dated the orig­i­nal 18-core Core I9-7980XE setup that we used in that CPU’S re­view ( go.pc­world.com/i9rv) with the same ver­sion of Win­dows, newer Nvidia driv­ers, and the new­est BIOS. The last de­tail is key, as it’s been some time since the orig­i­nal Core i9 re­view, and we were cu­ri­ous as to whether its per­for­mance had im­proved with a newer BIOS.

The last time we com­pared Ryzen Thread­rip­per vs. Core i9 ( go. pc­world.com/ rti9), In­tel’s 18-core Core I9-7980XE took home the prize for per­for­mance (al­though not for value). This is the one to beat.

For con­text, we’ve in­cluded scores for some CPUS that were run on a pre­vi­ous build of Win­dows. The num­bers haven’t shifted, so they’re still valid. We’ll note where you might want to dis­miss re­sults for older chips, or we’ll sim­ply ex­clude them if we think they don’t ap­ply.


Up first is Maxon’s Cinebench R15. This multi-threaded bench­mark is based on the en­gine used in the com­pany’s pro­fes­sional Cine­ma4d prod­uct. The en­gine is some­what older, but su­perbly ef­fi­cient. It scales well with core and thread count as well as clock speed.

The re­sult speaks for it­self, as Thread­rip­per 2990WX dusts the rest of the pack. The 32-core Thread­rip­per 2990WX is 52 per­cent faster than the pre­vi­ous champ, the Core


If only it were as easy as run­ning Cinebench and declar­ing a win­ner. Re­al­ity is a lot more nu­anced, though, so we also run Cinebench with it set to use just one thread. This fa­vors CPUS with higher in­struc­tions per clock, and also ones that can hit higher clocks.

The win­ner is the 8th-gen Cof­fee Lake-s Core i7-8700k, thanks to its high Turbo Boost clock scores. In­tel’s 18-core Core I9-7980XE comes in sec­ond, with other Sky­lake-x and Kaby Lake CPUS fol­low­ing. We don’t see AMD show up un­til we see the Ryzen 7 2700X in 7th place. Granted, the

scores are fairly close, but those higher Turbo Boost scores clearly put In­tel in the driver’s seat.


Our next test is the open­source Blender 3D mod­el­ing and ren­der­ing ap­pli­ca­tion, which has seen some use in indie movies.

It’s so pop­u­lar, even NASA now dis­trib­utes its 3D model for Blender.

The CPU ren­der­ing op­tion fa­vors more cores, and the per­for­mance of the

Thread­rip­per 2990WX again is a crazy 37 per­cent faster than the 18-core Core i9 chip.

For this test, both the Core i9 and Thread­rip­per 2990WX were on the lat­est 2.78C ver­sion, but we also in­cluded the per­for­mance CPUS runs us­ing 2.78B for ref­er­ence on older CPUS.


Up next is the Corona Photorealistic Ren­derer. Avail­able for 3ds Max and Cinebench, the ren­derer is see­ing pop­u­lar­ity in ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign and vi­su­al­iza­tion. As with other 3D ren­der­ing tasks, Corona loves CPU threads, ergo the 32-core Thread­rip­per takes the top spot.

The per­for­mance of the 32-core 2990WX, is about dou­ble that of the 16-core Thread­rip­per 1950X. The 18-core Core i9 does rather well, though, so it’s en­tirely the up­com­ing 28-core In­tel part will take this one away from AMD when re­leased later this year.


V-ray is an ad­vanced 3D ren­derer that’s notched some good wins in its belt, as it was used for some ef­fects scenes in Doc­tor Strange, Cap­tain Amer­ica: Civil War, and Dead­pool. The bench­mark can be used to mea­sure both CPU and GPU per­for­mance,

but we’re look­ing only at the former.

Like most ren­der­ers, V-ray just loves CPU cores, mak­ing the new 32-core Thread­rip­per 2990WX the clear win­ner. That’s just smok­ing. For com­par­i­son, PC maker Puget Sys­tems mea­sured a dual 14-core Xeon E5-2690 V4 sys­tem with a score of 31. So yes, that’s a $1,800 con­sumer CPU eat­ing the lunch of $4,200 worth of Xeons.


Our last ren­der­ing test is POV-RAY—A ray trac­ing pro­gram that dates back to the Com­modore Amiga in the 1980s. It’s ob­vi­ously been up­dated along the way, and like ev­ery­thing you’ve seen be­fore, thread count should count the most. No sur­prise, we see the 32-core 2990WX eat everone’s lunch yet again. That 18-core Core i9 is in dis­tant sec­ond place.

POV-RAY also al­lows sin­gle-threaded

The 16-core Ryzen Thread­rip­per 2950X fea­tures two ac­tive dies which each have their own mem­ory and PCIE ac­cess.

AMD has four new 2nd-gen­er­a­tion Thread­rip­pers on tap, but only two you can or­der to­day.

The new 32-core Ryzen Thread­rip­per 2990WX fea­tures four dies con­nected by In­fin­ity Fab­ric. Two of those dies must ac­cess RAM and stor­age through an ad­ja­cent die.

The Ryzen Ef­fect is in full swing. Ever since the in­tro­duc­tion of the AMD’S Ryzen CPUS in 2017, core counts of CPUS have taken off like an F-22 Rap­tor.

Here’s what you get with a new Thread­rip­per: a torque wrench, car­ry­ing case, big sticker, and CLC adapter that will fit most Asetek-based cool­ers.

Run­ning Cinebench R15 us­ing a sin­gle CPU thread, you can see that CPUS with higher clock speeds rule the day, and it’s pretty much all about In­tel.

Con­sumer Re­ports pulled its rec­om­men­da­tion of the Sur­face Lap­top, even though the note­book wasn’t cov­ered in the sur­vey.

Blender Per­for­mance puts the 32-core Thread­rip­per 2990WX about 37 per­cent faster than the 18-core Core i9.

Corona is a real-world photo-re­al­is­tic ren­derer used in pop­u­lar ap­pli­ca­tions such as 3ds Max. Corona is not op­ti­mized for any spe­cific CPU, but it does love more threads, help­ing the 2990WX take the prize.

Chaos group’s V-ray is a re­al­is­tic ray tracer see­ing some suc­cess in Hol­ly­wood. The stand­alone bench­mark tends to fa­vor thread count over clock speed. The 32-core Thread­rip­per 2900WX takes the prize, but not by the mar­gin we’d ex­pect.

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