AMD Threadripper 2950X and 2990WX Review
Published: 13th August 2018 | Source: AMD | Price: |
The 2nd Generation Ryzen Threadripper comes in four flavours, two of which we have reviewed today, one of which is available to purchase with the other coming at the end of the month. All of them combine with the new X399 chipset to bring the whole Zen architecture bang up to date with the latest connectivity options, fast DDR4 support and plenty of PCI Express lanes to handle the blazing speed of current M.2 storage solutions.
Of the two the Threadripper 2950X is probably the easiest one to sum up, so we'll start with that.
Much like the 2nd Generation Ryzen CPUs we've looked at previously, the Threadripper 2950X is an update and refinement of the already successful 1950X. It has been made more efficient, requiring less voltage per core which enabled us to overclock it far higher than the 1950X. Additionally the automatic Precision Boost technology is now in revision 2, which takes into account the loading of each core rather than simply whether each core is being utilised, to boost automatically to higher clocks than the capabilities of the 1950X. If you've spent some extra money on your cooling to ensure that the CPU is kept as frosty as possible then the XFR2 (Extended Frequency Range) also takes into account any thermal headroom and works in conjunction with the Precision Boost 2 to make the most of all the hardware and headroom the 2950X has available to it.
If you've found yourself lusting after the 1950X then you'll be pleased to know that the 2nd Generation refines what few harsh edges there were in the user experience and brings 16 cores to the masses in a manner that is cool, relatively affordable and works well in every title we threw at it. It's plenty capable as a gaming CPU too, so if you're a power user who plays as hard as they work, you could do a lot worse than invest in a Threadripper 2950X and it wins our OC3D Enthusiast Award.
Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX
The 2990WX is a much pricklier prospect to get to grips with.
Of course it sports all the upgraded elements that we spoke about with regard to the 2950X - Precision Boost 2, XFR2, DDR4 2933 support - and whilst this processor might be new, it is basically two 2950Xs stuck together. It should be obviously brilliant given the love we have just shown for the 2950X, but the reality is somewhat murkier than that, albeit not in manner that is anything to do with AMD themselves or decisions they've made.
Naturally the headline feature, the part that it is very difficult to look past, is the 32 cores. For those of us to whom a six core CPU is still an in-my-dreams extravagance having 32 of them and 64 threads brings a quickening of the heart rate it is impossible to ignore. Not that long ago you had to purchase a dual-CPU motherboard and a couple of "this or a Bugatti" priced Xeons to achieve anything close to that. If you live in a world where speedy 3D rendering, 4K video encoding or solving chess is something that forms the greater part of your day then the Threadripper 2990WX makes for a supremely attractive prospect. Who could say no to 4 GHz on 64 threads?
If, however, you use your system more as a general purpose utility, doing this or that however your whim takes you, then there are a few elements to the 2990WX that make it a more difficult proposition to wholeheartedly recommend. Firstly, not everything - in fact a great number of things - aren't designed to take advantage of such a huge number of cores and threads. Whether this is a side effect of the design scheme where only two of the 8 core dies can access the PCI Express lanes or memory, and the other two rely on talking to those two to get anything done, is a matter for conjecture. Looking through our testing you can see a few tests where you might have expected the 2990WX to shine but it didn't. Obviously there are some - Cinebench for example - where it absolutely smashes the graph to tiny pieces. But others are less impressive. Yes there are 32 cores, but something like PC Mark which is heavily based upon letter writing and internet browsing shows that 32 cores is about 28 too many for such tasks.
Additionally we know that even with this many cores a lot of you will be wondering how it performs in games, to which the answer is very much dependant upon the game itself. In the old days, and we realise we're dating ourselves, coders would do all they could to squish the game into the smallest possible size and maximise the workarounds to eke all the performance they could. Nowadays with practically infinite storage space and the ability to do a Crysis and just say "buy a better PC", coders have got lazy and don't optimise their products or work within the DirectX guidelines. Thus processors like the 2990WX which step far beyond what seemed likely a couple of years ago cause games to just go "huh?". It isn't just small companies either. Titles such as Civ 6, Total War : Warhammer (I and II), Fallout 4 and almost everything Ubisoft have ever released including Far Cry 5 absolutely grind to a halt on the 2990WX. We got 16 FPS from Total Warhammer. Sixteen. Now AMD have given a workaround for this issue wherein you can go into the Ryzen Master software and enable Legacy mode which disables a large proportion of your CPU so it runs as a simple 8 core option, which solves this problem. How much you can be bothered going in and out of the software to turn this on and off is up to you.
All of which means that, in the current climate, you need a very specific set of requirements to fully utilise the Threadripper 2990WX and get your monies worth out of it without spending as much time tinkering under the hood as you do getting on with your work. It's so case specific we'd almost recommend a try before you buy approach if a particular package is vital to your daily use. However, if the stars align and the product you want to use can maximise the incredible latent performance of the Threadripper 2990WX then nothing else in a desktop environment can get close, so obviously it wins our OC3D Performance Award.
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