AMD 64-Core Threadripper 3990X Review: Battle of the Flagships

The core wars rage on.

AMD Threadripper 3990X
Editor's Choice
(Image: © AMD)

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Test Notes

All right, all right, we get it: The Threadripper 3990X is in no way intended for gaming. 

But here we are on a page full of gaming tests. Regardless of the Threadripper 3990X's intended purpose, we couldn't resist the temptation to see how it fares when we pair it with a high-end GPU. And we know most of you want to see it, too. Our only regret is that we can't throw our 1U servers into the mix due to the form factor constraints of our Nvidia GeForce 2080 Ti. 

Bear in mind that you absolutely should not base your purchasing decision on these gaming results: The overwhelming majority of enthusiasts should opt for mainstream chips for the best gaming performance, not to mention the best value. The Threadripper 3990X doesn't have an impact on competitive positioning in the gaming market, so consider this round of tests an exhibition. 

Given Threadripper 3000's high-priced nature, we fully expect these processors to be paired with high-resolution QHD (and beyond) displays. However, in keeping with our standard practice, we test at the FHD resolution to eliminate graphics-imposed bottlenecks. Be aware: These deltas will shrink at higher gaming resolutions. 

VRMark and 3DMark

The 3DMark DX12 and DX11 tests measure the amount of raw horsepower exposed by the processor to game engines, but most game engines don't scale as linearly with additional compute resources. 

The DX12 tests expose the huge step forward with the other Threadripper 3000 processors as the chips easily outpace their predecessors, but the 3990X trails behind the 24-core 3960X, just like the 32-core 3970X.  

The DX11 tests also don't scale as well with the additional cores, though we do see the expected gains with overclocking. The 3990X is surprisingly agile in the VRMark test, which prizes per-core performance, as it beats out the lesser Threadripper models.

Civilization VI AI and Stockfish

The Civilization VI AI test measures AI performance in a turn-based strategy game and is heavily influenced by high clock rates and instruction per cycle (IPC) throughput. The 3990X posts surprisingly good performance after we engage the auto-overclocking feature, but the overclocked Core i9-10980XE and W-3175X take the lead by virtue of their drastically higher clock speeds. 

The open-source Stockfish AI chess engine, which runs entirely on the CPU cores, is the polar opposite of the Civilization VI engine. This engine is designed specifically for many-core chips and scales well up to 512 cores, which is music to Threadripper and EPYC's ears. The dual-socket EPYC server takes a monstrous win, but the 3990X also dishes out impressive performance that easily beats the dual-Xeon server. This result again highlights the impact of the 3990X's higher clock rates compared to the EPYC 7720P. 

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation responds well to extra cores and threads, which benefits AMD's lineup. The Threadripper 3990X takes a commanding lead in these tests by virtue of its 64 cores and 128 threads, but given the high cost of stepping up to the expensive chip, the gain wouldn't be worth the extra cash even if you're particularly obsessed with this title. 

Civilization VI Graphics Test

Dawn of War III

It isn't surprising to see the overclocked Intel HEDT chips take the top of the Dawn of War III chart due to their per-core performance advantage. 

Intel's HEDT chips can suffer from their unique mesh architecture in some game titles, but that same trend applies to the Threadripper processors, too. AMD's first- and second-gen Threadripper models were known for their erratic performance that stems from unoptimized game engines, necessitating a game mode that effectively removes cores and threads to boost performance. That trend doesn't plague Threadripper 3000 models as much, but there are exceptions. As a result, we tested the third-gen Threadripper processors in game mode for this title.

Far Cry 5

Far Cry 5's unoptimized code incurs a big performance penalty when all cores and threads are exposed to the operating system (creator mode), so we also tested this title in game mode. 

It's noteworthy that similar adjustments might also benefit Intel's high core-count processors, but the company hasn't made an easy-to-use tool to reduce core counts. AMD has instituted the ability to switch between game mode and creator mode in its Ryzen Master software, but it requires a reboot, so we still think it is an inconvenient band-aid.

Final Fantasy XV

We run this test with the standard quality preset to sidestep the impact of a bug that causes the game engine to render off-screen objects with the higher-resolution setting.

Grand Theft Auto V

Grand Theft Auto V continues to be popular six long years after its release. This title favors Intel architectures and, more generally, multi-core designs with high clock rates.

Hitman 2

The Threadripper 3990X climbs the ranks in Hitman 2, trailing only the overclocked Xeon W-3175X and Core i9-10980XE. 

Project Cars 2

Project Cars 2 is optimized for threading, but high clock rates pay off. 

World of Tanks enCore 

AMD has addressed the lion's share of the erratic gaming performance we observed with previous-gen models, but Intel's chips are beastly overclockers. 

As we said at the top, the Threadripper 3990X isn't for gaming. However, if a developer decided to unwind with a few games at work, it delivers strong enough performance to deliver a smooth gaming experience. 


MORE: Intel & AMD Processor Hierarchy

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Paul Alcorn
Managing Editor: News and Emerging Tech

Paul Alcorn is the Managing Editor: News and Emerging Tech for Tom's Hardware US. He also writes news and reviews on CPUs, storage, and enterprise hardware.

  • mohammed2006
    Threadripper 3990X performance gape is not enough to justify it over 3970x. which i think is the one to buy.
  • King_V
    As the article states, though - this is for specific types of workload/use cases.
  • knekker
    A large number of applications don't scale well with NUMA architectures, particularly with Windows, which is the operating system of choice for visual effects artists.
    I work in the VFX industry, where I've been at ILM, DNEG, MPC and Cinesite that work on most of the block buster movies, and I can tell you this. Windows is definitely not the OS of choice, that would be linux.
    I do however currently work at a smaller vfx studio, and they use Windows.
  • splave
    Great read Paul! I love that the 64 core makes the 32 core look reasonable now haha
  • Roland Of Gilead
    Really enjoyed that one! Great comparison of the HEDT CPU's v Server and Mainstream, the good, the bad, and the ugly!

    Although, I don't get the almost apologetic tone in the Gaming Test notes. Yes, we know these CPU's aren't meant for gaming, but HEDT users, I'm sure, like to down tools too and game after a hard days slog! I suspect they'd like to know, along with the majority of the community, and anyone who'd be genuinely interested in these CPU's in the first place, what kind of gaming performance they can expect (and it's pretty damn good, by all accounts! ) from them.

    Anyway, including the gaming metrics is just being comprehensive. That's why I come to Tom's. Comprehensive is good. Don't resist the urge to include these benches in future comparison's. Don't mind the detractors! :D
  • domih
    So you could run a Cassandra 21-node cluster on one PC with 21 Virtual Machines each allocated with 6 threads, keeping 2 threads for the host. With a mobo max memory of 256GB, each VM could be allocated 11GB leaving 25GB for the host. AMD enables you to have fun 🆒
  • Phaaze88
    knekker said:
    I work in the VFX industry, where I've been at ILM, DNEG, MPC and Cinesite that work on most of the block buster movies, and I can tell you this. Windows is definitely not the OS of choice, that would be linux.
    I do however currently work at a smaller vfx studio, and they use Windows.
    Would your line of work actually enjoy using the 3990X, or would it just stick with something Intel again, due to the time and money lost swapping platforms?
  • bamboe
    Well here they did a linux test if you like it
  • rjacko01
    I have also worked Framestore, ILM, MPC etc & the idea of running windows for vfx on that scale is seriously scary. I think it's fair to say 95%+ of vfx are linux, cause only a few smaller houses run windows, often with horrendous results.
  • derekullo
    Hypothetically with 256 megabytes of L3 you could also have a 128 thread monero miner.

    My extrapolation from the 3970X (28900 hashes/second x 2) = 57800 hashes/second x 0.9 (due to scaling not being completely linear due to lower clock speeds) = 52020 hashes per second

    Putting that into a monero calculator with a 300 watt power drain for the system and 0.06 Cost per KWh we get $1,364 profit a year.

    $3990 / $1364 = 2.9 years to recoup your investment.
    Comparing this to a Geforce 2080Ti we get a strangely similar 2.89 years to recoup its investment.
    $1300 / $1.23 a day = 1057 days / 365 days = 2.89 years

    With the 3950x clocking higher and being 35% cheaper per core it would make more sense to use 3 - 3950x in 3 separate rigs than a 3990x.