Hot on the heels of the Core i9-7900X comes the response from AMD in the form of the Ryzen Threadripper 1950X. It costs the same, but has an extra six cores and 12 threads.
But before you jump to any conclusions about performance, let’s look at how AMD has made this monster processor.
AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X: price
You can buy a Threadripper 1950X for £999.99 from Scan or Overclockers UK. You’ll also need a motherboard with an X399 chipset and a TR4 socket. They’re not cheap: the Asus RoG Zenith Extreme costs a whopping £519 – more than most sane people would spend on a processor.
And yes, that’s also more than the perfectly adequate Ryzen 7 1800X, which can now be found for well under £500.
AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X: Features and design
Perfectly adequate is not a description AMD would be happy about for Threadripper, and it’s mean-spirited to even call the 1800X that: it’s very powerful and excellent value for money.
Can the same be said of the Threadripper 1950X though? Put simply, it’s overkill if you’re building a gaming rig with a single GTX 1080 or 1080 Ti (or Radeon RX Vega 64 for that matter).
Ultimately, it’s designed for heavily multithreaded applications, or scenarios where you need to run several demanding applications at once.
For gamers who need to be able to play at high resolutions and frame rates while simultaneously recording and streaming, Threadripper might just be the right solution, however.
Threadripper is part of the Ryzen range, but it’s closer to AMD’s server chips physically. It uses hardware from the 32-core Epyc chip but although there are four dies beneath the heatspreader, two are ‘dummies’ to provide the necessary support when a hulking great cooler is screwed down on top of it.
The architecture is akin to having a motherboard with two CPU sockets, with an eight-core processor in each. Here’s AMD’s simplified diagram of how it’s set up:
Unlike Intel’s approach of one big piece of silicon, AMD uses its Infinity Fabric – a high-speed interconnect – to join two eight-core dies together. And if you’ve been following the hype, you’ll probably also know that each of those is really two four-core ‘complexes’ which AMD calls CCXs.
So in the 12-core version, you have the same dual eight-core setup, but with one processor disabled in each four-core complex.
As with the Core i9-7900X, the Threadripper 1950X supports quad-channel DDR4 and while Intel leaves it out, AMD retains the server chip’s support for ECC RAM.
And while Intel cuts the number of PCIe lanes for lesser processors, AMD doesn’t: all Threadripper chips have 64 lanes (that’s 20 more than the i9-7900X by the way).
It’s enough for four graphics cards and three NVMe SSDs by the time you’ve subtracted the four PCIe lanes that are reserved for connecting the south bridge on the motherboard.
The main physical difference from other Ryzen chips, other than the fact it is absolutely massive, is that it doesn’t have pins. Instead you’ll find the same LGA (land grid array) as on Intel’s chips, and those bendable pins are shifted to the motherboard’s socket instead.
Installation is more involved than most consumer CPUs, and the fact that Threadrippers come with a torque wrench in the box means you’ll want to watch a video tutorial if you’re going to attempt it yourself.
You’ll probably need to upgrade your power supply unless it’s already high wattage: Threadripper’s TDP of 180W is even higher than the Core i9’s.
The 1950X has a base clock of 3.4GHz and boosts to 4GHz, or 4.2GHz with XFR. It is, as with all Ryzen chips, unlocked and overclockable.
Although it isn’t really designed primarily for gaming, AMD realises that some buyers want to do serious work during the day and then play some serious games at night. It also knew that game performance wasn’t always great depending on whether the game in question was happy with such a high number of cores.
It’s also important to understand that each of the eight-core chips in Threadripper has its own dual-channel memory controller. The cores on CPU0 can access memory via the controller on CPU1, but not quite as fast as through their own controller.
Fame Mode addresses this latency issue by effectively switching off eight cores and using just one memory controller. In theory, this makes game run a bit quicker. However, to enable Game Mode you have to reboot your PC. And then you have to reboot again to disable it.
Not all games benefit from lower latency – some prefer more cores. So you may have to investigate yourself whether your favourite runs better with Game Mode or not.
Ryzen Threadripper 1950X: Performance
How does the 1950X perform then? With a rig consisting of the monstrous Asus RoG Zenith Extreme X399 motherboard, a ThermalTake Floe Riing 360 cooler, GTX 1080, Samsung 960 Pro SSD and 32GB of DDR4 3200MHz RAM, it performs very well.
In multithreaded apps such as Cinebench R15, the extra cores give the Threadripper 1950X the edge and it’s almost 40 percent quicker than the Core i9-7900X.
However, the Core i9-7900X is 12 percent faster when you restrict Cinebench to a single thread.
Geekbench 4 isn’t the best benchmark to use for these chips with crazy core and thread counts: in version 4.04, the Threadripper is only 5 percent quicker than the Core i9.
This could be due to the benchmark itself not scaling up to the full 16 cores, or it could be something about the fundamental Ryzen architecture.
In any case, it’s a synthetic test that isn’t really worth worrying too much about.
In 7-Zip, the 1950X proved 22 percent quicker than the Core i9-7900X and 73 percent faster than the Ryzen 7 1800X.
Running game tests at high resolutions, such as 4K, tells you more about GPU performance (and limitations) than CPU. So, running them at lower settings, such as 1920×1080, helps to highlight the differences in CPU grunt.
In Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation, the Threadripper shows some optimisation is needed: we saw 41.2fps in standard mode, and 45fps in Game Mode. Both scores are behind the Core i9-7900X which managed 50.4fps.
However, in 3DMark’s Fire Strike, the AMD chip won out with 19,047against 18,721 for the Core i9. And if you isolate the Physics sub-score, you’ll see similar gains (which is where the overall gain comes from).
Should I buy a Threadripper 1950X?
Our advice is pretty much the same as for the Core i9-7900X: if you’ve money to spend and you don’t want to put it into multiple graphics cards because you actually want to run apps that’ll benefit from all those cores, then by all means, buy a Threadripper.
But those who just want a powerful CPU to pair with one of the latest graphics cards for playing games, it’s simply overkill. You’re just as well off with a Ryzen 7 or Core i7 Kaby Lake chip.
If you’re choosing between a Core i9-7900X and the Threadripper 1950X, it’s a little trickier. However, let’s not forget that both processors cost the same, but you’re getting six extra cores and 12 extra threads from AMD, along with more PCIe lanes.
It’s currently the most powerful consumer CPU you can buy and, while it’s not exactly cheap, it’s surprisingly good value when you compare it to what the same money would have bought you just a few years ago.