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AMD Threadripper 3970X and 3960X Review: High-End Domination

Threadripper gets a big bump, thanks to 7nm, Zen 2 and PCIe 4.0.

AMD Threadripper 3970X
Editor's Choice
(Image: © AMD)

Intel's seemingly-endless delay in transitioning to the 10nm node for the desktop, not to mention a new architecture beyond Skylake, has left the industry ripe for disruption. As a result, AMD's new Threadripper 3000 processors march into the upper segment of the HEDT market uncontested. 

Intel does have its workstation-focused Xeon W series, but the company's expensive pricing model for those chips, not to mention the supporting platforms, is now under serious attack. It wouldn't be surprising to see AMD's forthcoming 64-core 128-thread Threadripper 3990X debut at lower pricing than Intel's flagship $4,449 Xeon W-3275 that only comes with 28 cores. That means you can expect deep price cuts from Intel in that segment, too, to match the price cuts it made as it moved forward to its Cascade Lake-X processors. 

Threadripper 3970X and 3960X mark a significant step forward in nearly every way, either reducing or eliminating many of the vagaries of the first- and second-gen Threadripper processors. Unlike the previous-gen chips, there were no errant results that would give us pause in making a universal recommendation.

The Zen 2 architecture provides a tangible bump in instruction per cycle (IPC) throughput. Pairing that advance with AMD's clever combination of software, firmware, and hardware to target the fastest cores with lightly-threaded tasks yields a big advance in overall per-core performance. AMD spreads that performance out over multiple cores with a more uniform design that eliminates many of the odd performance issues that prevented Threadripper from enjoying broader uptake in the professional segment. Not to mention that the new design allows AMD to utilize more efficient manufacturing techniques that enable paradigm-shifting changes to the pricing landscape. 

AMD has bumped up pricing for the Threadripper 3000 processors, and a quality TRX40 motherboard isn't going to come cheap. You'll also need a capable cooler to dissipate heat from the beefy 32-core chips to extract the most performance from the silicon, along with a quality power supply. These are expected accommodations for a processor of this class, and given the performance we saw throughout our test suite, AMD's per-core asking price is very competitive. 

The Threadripper 3970X and 3960X delivered devastating threaded performance in their respective price ranges, often trouncing Intel's most exotic silicon. Intel's Xeon W-3175X is ill-suited to take on the comparatively power-sipping Threadripper processors on a power efficiency basis, not to mention pricing. Just for comparison's sake – the overclocked W-3175X pulled 768 watts under load, while the overclocked Threadripper 3970X peaked at 356 watts while often providing more performance in threaded workloads. That math is easy. 

Threadripper 3000 also brings a solid gain on the single-threaded performance front, too. As a general observation, both Threadripper 3970X and 3960X offered surprising snappiness in general desktop use, which is a first for any Threadripper processor we've tested. 

Finally, AMD's forward-thinking adoption of the PCIe 4.0 interface is another attraction that will help win over the semi-professional crowd. While the faster interface isn't as useful on the mainstream desktop, the ability to stack up throughput-craving devices behind the chipset without the radical throughput restrictions we see with Intel's DMI is a win. 

Intel has cut the pricing of its Cascade Lake-X processors in anticipation of Threadripper 3000, which promises to shake up the value proposition at lower price ranges. We'll analyze that in detail in our coming review. 

For now, the highest tiers of the HEDT market belong to AMD's Threadripper 3000 processors. If you're looking for a chip that is incredibly powerful for brute-force parallelized workloads, but still agile enough for some entertainment, the Threadripper 3970X is the perfect solution. 

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Paul Alcorn
Paul Alcorn is a Senior Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He writes news and reviews on CPUs, storage and enterprise hardware.
  • tgiguere
    small error in pricing paragraph. the 3970x isn't 1199$. :)
    Reply
  • Vrooman
    By default, Numpy and Scipy in Python are compiled with Intel's MKL. This math library provides excellent results with Intel CPUs but quite poor results with AMD. Changing the compile flag to use OpenBlas math library provides significant speedups ( sometimes on the order of 100% ) with AMD processors in Numpy and Scipy. This has been reported fairly often in Puget Systems & Phonorix processor reviews and I've personally seen it in my 3900x use. Just a note I thought would be useful to point out ( as I'm not sure this is addressed in the review )
    Reply
  • g-unit1111
    Kind of unfair that the 3175X gets lumped in that category since it's nearly 3 times as expensive as the other CPUs included in the benchmark and has almost double the cores and threads. It's like comparing a Bentley Flying Spur to a Nissan Maxima.
    Reply
  • delaro
    That is a massive amount of cores and threads that are twiddling their combined thumbs when your gaming. I'm surprised this review focused so much on that aspect. This isn't the kind of chip you buy for that use, this is the kind of chip you buy to make the games.:unsure:
    Reply
  • AC5L4T3R
    3950x currently on sale for 850 euros in Germany compared to 1550 for the 3960x. Really struggling to justify paying almost twice as much when theres nowhere near twice as much performance.
    Reply
  • larkspur
    g-unit1111 said:
    Kind of unfair that the 3175X gets lumped in that category since it's nearly 3 times as expensive as the other CPUs included in the benchmark and has almost double the cores and threads. It's like comparing a Bentley Flying Spur to a Nissan Maxima.
    Huh? We're comparing high-end CPUs here. Most of the folks buying a threadripper are using it for professional purposes. Why wouldn't we include other high-end CPUs used for professional purposes? The 3175X isn't even the most expensive chip listed. The inclusion of a Ryzen 3950x is a nice comparison for those deciding whether the extra ~$1250 for the 3970x or ~$650 for the 3960x makes sense (not including platform costs). Just as the inclusion of the Intel 3175X helps to decide whether another ~$1000 makes sense to go with a somewhat comparable Intel. In the professional world these price differences aren't nearly as large as they seem. Time=money.

    Still upset about abandoning TR4 but I know, I know. That's how it goes... <sigh> oh well :(
    Reply
  • RodroX
    Why not use a pci-e 4.0 nvme SSD for the tests?

    And why having to buy a new Mobo is a Con? Is the only way to support for PCI-E 4.0. This is not a consumer chip, so not having backward motherboard compatibility is not really an issue.
    Reply
  • larkspur
    RodroX said:
    And why having to buy a new Mobo is a Con? Is the only way to support for PCI-E 4.0. This is not a consumer chip, so not having backward motherboard compatibility is not really an issue.
    Well, ultimately you're right, it's not a dealbreaker. It's just a PiTA - swapping a CPU is relatively quick. Swapping out an entire mobo + fresh OS and software install takes a lot more time. Like I said, you're right it's not a dealbreaker, but it would have been nice to get a Zen 2 chip in a TR4 mobo.
    Reply
  • TJ Hooker
    RodroX said:
    And why having to buy a new Mobo is a Con? Is the only way to support for PCI-E 4.0.
    For the same reason that it's nice that Ryzen 3000 chips work on pre-X570 motherboards: it's nice to have that option. The new chips are still attractive options even without PCIe 4.0.
    Reply
  • RodroX
    TJ Hooker said:
    For the same reason that it's nice that Ryzen 3000 chips work on pre-X570 motherboards: it's nice to have that option. The new chips are still attractive options even without PCIe 4.0.


    I know that, heck I have an R5 3600 runing on inexpensive B450 mobo. But if you swap pins around, and you don't have extra ones like it seems AMD had to accomodate the pci-4 support on AM4 socket for its consumer chips, then theres no much you can do right?

    Its nice to have, but I still wont think is a Con.
    Reply