The Refreshing Refresh
AMD's 32-core, 64-thread Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX gives high-end desktop users access to the most compute horsepower available from a single CPU socket. But while it may be on many enthusiasts' wish lists, the processor's unique architecture causes poor performance in many common desktop applications. Moreover, an $1800 price tag makes the flagship Threadripper a niche product, even among professionals accustomed to paying a premium for workstation hardware.
One of the best CPUS for desktop applications, the Ryzen Threadripper 2950X is unquestionably a better value proposition for the masses, offering 16 cores and 32 threads at a $900 price point. AMD's only real problem is that its own previous-gen Threadripper chips sell for less: the 16C/32T Threadripper 1950X can be found for $700, while the 12C/24T is available for under $500.
So, should you spring for the 2950X and its 12nm transistors, lower memory/cache latency, higher clock rates, and enhanced multi-core Precision Boost, or compromise a bit by buying an older Threadripper chip before they disappear for good? The 2950X's features do deliver tangible performance improvements over previous-gen Threadripper models, meaning you do get a lot of bang for your buck.
Ryzen Threadripper X-Series
AMD split its Threadripper family up into the WX and X series. The former mows through intense multitasking, software development, video/audio production, and content creation. The latter is aimed at gamers and prosumers.
|Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX||Ryzen Threadripper 2950X|
|Cores / Threads||32 / 64||16 / 32|
|Base Frequency||3.0 GHz||3.5 GHz|
|Boost Frequency||4.2 GHz||4.4 GHz|
|Memory Speed||DDR4-2933 (Varies)||DDR4-2933 (Varies)|
|PCIe Lanes||64 (Four to the chipset)||64 (Four to the chipset)|
|Cache (L2 / L3)||80MB||40MB|
|Process||12nm LP GloFo||12nm LP GloFo|
Although the $900 Threadripper 2950X "only" offers 16 cores and 32 threads, it serves up much higher clock rates than the 64-thread 2990WX. The 2950X starts with a base frequency of 3.5 GHz and boosts up to 4.4 GHz (a slight step up from the previous-gen Threadripper 1950X's 3.4/4.2 GHz). Moreover, the Zen+ architectural enhancements serve up much better benchmark results across a range of workloads compared to AMD's earliest Threadripper models.
All of the 2000-series Threadripper processors are backward-compatible with existing X399 motherboards. That's good news given the high prices on those platforms. While older Socket TR4-equipped boards may struggle under the power requirements of AMD's 250W Threadripper 2990WX and 2970WX, particularly if you try to overclock, those same motherboards were designed to accommodate (and overclock) the older Threadripper 1950X flagship. As a result, existing X399 platforms should have enough headroom to enable most of the 2950X's Precision Boost Overdrive capabilities for higher frequencies when they're needed.
|Cores /Threads||Base / Boost (GHz)||L3 Cache (MB)||PCIe 3.0||DRAM||TDP||MSRP||Price Per Core|
|TR 2990WX||32 / 64||3.0 / 4.2||64||64 (4 to PCH)||Quad DDR4-2933||250W||$1799||$56|
|TR 2970WX||24 / 48||3.0 / 3.2||64||64 (4 to PCH)||Quad DDR4-2933||250W||$1299||$54|
|Core i9-7980XE||18 / 36||2.6 / 4.4||24.75||44||Quad DDR4-2666||140W||$1999||$111|
|TR 2950X||16 / 32||3.5 / 4.4||32||64 (4 to PCH)||Quad DDR4-2933||180W||$899||$56|
|TR 1950X||16 / 32||3.4 / 4.4||64||64 (4 to PCH)||Quad DDR4-2667||180W||$750||$47|
|Core i9-7960X||16 / 32||2.8 / 4.4||22||44||Quad DDR4-2666||140W||$1699||$106|
|TR 2920X||12 / 24||3.5 / 4.3||32||64 (4 to PCH)||Quad DDR4-2933||180W||$649||$54|
|TR 1920X||12 / 24||3.5 / 4.2||64||64 (4 to PCH)||Quad DDR4-2667||180W||$399||$33|
|Core i9-7920X||12 /24||2.9 / 4.4||16.50||44||Quad DDR4-2666||140W||$1199||$100|
|Core i9-7900X||10 / 20||3.3 / 4.3||13.75||44||Quad DDR4-2666||140W||$999||$99|
|Core i7-8700K||6 / 12||3.7 / 4.7||12||16||Dual DDR4-2666||95W||$359||$60|
|Ryzen 7 2700X||8 / 16||3.7 / 4.3||16||16||Dual DDR4-2933||105W||$329||$41|
We detailed the second-gen Threadripper architecture in our review of the 2990WX. In short, though, Ryzen Threadripper 2950X mirrors the layout of AMD's first-gen Threadripper chips: two Zeppelin dies are connected via another layer of the Infinity Fabric. AMD flanks them with a pair of dummy dies that serve as non-functional fillers, ensuring the heat spreader's structural integrity and consistent mating with the socket's pins. This configuration demonstrates the same eccentricities as AMD's previous models, which are largely borne of the multi-chip design. Fortunately, the company's architectural improvements do soften the impact in workloads that were more severely affected last generation.
AMD ships all Threadripper CPUs with an Asetek bracket that provides partial coverage of the massive heat spreader using certain closed-loop liquid coolers. According to AMD, this partial coverage is fine for stock operation. But we found that full-coverage coolers work better. AMD also collaborated with Cooler Master to develop the Wraith Ripper heat sink/fan combo for its Socket TR4 interface. It's sold separately, though.
As per usual, AMD uses Indium solder between its dies and heat spreader to improve thermal transfer. In contrast, Intel employs thermal grease on its highest-end processors. Intel also recommends liquid cooling for its Skylake-X processors. AMD says that's not necessary for Threadripper.
|DIMM Config||Memory Ranks||Official Supported Transfer Rate (MT/s)|
|4 of 4||Single||DDR4-2933|
|4 of 8||DDR4-2667|
|8 of 8||DDR4-2133|
|4 of 4||Dual||DDR4-2933|
|4 of 8||DDR4-2667|
|8 of 8||DDR4-1866|
All of the new Threadripper chips come equipped with the hallmarks of AMD's Ryzen value proposition, such as unlocked ratio multipliers for overclocking and 60 lanes of third-gen PCI Express (plus four lanes attached to the supporting chipset). Copious connectivity could come in handy for multiple add-in graphics cards, but it's also useful for high-performance storage and networking.
Threadripper CPUs feature independent dual-channel memory controllers located on two dies, which combine to provide quad-channel support with varying data transfer rates based upon your configuration. With the second-gen Threadripper processors, AMD bumps its maximum specification to DDR4-2933 (up from DDR4-2666).
The platform supports ECC memory and up to 256GB of capacity, but it can accommodate up to 2TB as density increases. We've already seen new, denser DRAM coming from the likes of Samsung, making support for more capacious memory configurations a future-looking feature.
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