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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)

Test Notes

All systems in this section of tests use our standard test bench setup listed on the second page of the article. 

Rendering

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As we seen on the preceding page, rendering is the perfect use case for Threadripper's generous helping of cores and threads. As we've seen with other Zen 2-based processors, Threadripper dominates in threaded workloads, and the improvements in single-core performance is impressive. Threadripper leads the single-core Cinebench benchmarks, but the stock Core i9-10980XE crops up in the single-core POV-Ray benchmark with leading performance due to its excellent performance with AVX workloads.

Intel's overclocked Xeon W-3175X takes the win in Corona and V-ray, but we expect that level of performance given it's $3,000 price tag and $1,500 motherboard. At stock settings, however, it often grapples with the $1,399 Threadripper 3960X, highlighting the massive pricing disparity. 

Encoding

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Intel's Core i9-10980XE excels at single-threaded workloads due to its aggressive 4.6 GHz boost clock, so at settings it takes the lead over the Threadripper processors in the LAME benchmark. 

The Threadripper processors offer dominating performance at stock settings in the HandBrake x264 test, and in the AVX-heavy x265 version of that same benchmark. Flipping through to the SVT-AV1 encoder, which is heavily threaded, paints a similar picture. Yet again, the Threadripper 2990WX shows its bipolar nature as it lags in these tests due to its reduced memory throughput, highlighting AMD's solid performance gains with the same number of cores and threads.

Compression, Decompression, Encryption, AVX

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The 7zip and Zlib compression/decompression benchmarks rely heavily upon threading and work directly from system memory, thus avoiding the traditional storage bottleneck in these types of tasks. 

The first-gen Threadripper processors are notorious for an unexplained deficiency in threaded 7zip compression workloads that find them trailing even the eight-core Core i9-9900K, but third-gen Threadripper marks a tremendous step forward in compression workloads. Threadripper leads the stock processors during these tests without storage throughput restrictions, but you also have access to the PCIe 4.0 interface with AMD's TRX40 platform. That extra throughput means these tremendous gains will largely transfer over to real-world application performance.

The heavily-threaded y-cruncher benchmark, which computes pi using the demanding AVX instruction set, is well-suited for the Xeon W-3175X and it's superior performance with AVX workloads. At stock settings the 28-core chip beats the 32-core Threadripper 3970X, and overclocking opens a larger gap. 

Office and Productivity

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Microsoft's office suite runs via PCMark 10's new application test and uses real Microsoft Office applications. It seems like an odd fit to test these fire-breathing processors in such mundane tasks, but Office is ubiquitous. As we've come to expect, third-gen Threadripper is much more impressive in these workloads than its predecessor, but Intel remains very competitive in some of the subtests, particularly after overclocking. 

The application start-up metric measures load time snappiness in word processors, GIMP, and Web browsers. Other platform-level considerations affect this test as well, including the storage subsystem. The Threadripper 3970X falls to the middle of the pack, while Intel's chips leverage their frequency/overclocking advantage to take the lead. 

The timed-LLVM compilation workload is more well-suited to the 3970X, and overclocking offers a small performance boost. 

Web Browser

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Browsers tend to be impacted more by the recent security mitigations than other types of applications, so Intel has generally taken a haircut in these benchmarks of fully-patched systems. Unsurprisingly, the Ryzen 9 3950X and Core i9-9900K are pretty agile in these workloads, but the Core i9-10980XE in stock trim is plenty snappy, too. 

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Paul Alcorn

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