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Is An AMD Threadripper Worth It? Part 2 of 2

We discuss the origins, present and future of the legendary processor, asking if a Threadripper is still worth it for gaming and workstation use.

 

Is An AMD Threadripper Worth It? Part 2 of 2

 

The raft of delicious specifications in the Threadripper makes it easy for someone to say “I need a PC that’s the best of the best!” and pick the 3970X.

But it’s not that simple.

There is a sliding scale here that will even make sense to opt for a Ryzen 9000 chip rather than a Threadripper. This is why the Threadripper might not be worth it after all. What you might perceive as being a perfect use case for the 3000 series may transpire that - even on your best day - you will underuse the capabilities of these powerhouses.

We will eventually look at the various use cases and figure out where the Threadrippers fit in. Specifically, the two chips we’ll look at are the 3960X and the 3970X.

Let’s take a look at them side by side: -

Processor AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3970X
Market High-end desktop computer Very high-end desktop computer
ISA x86-64 (64 bit) x86-64 (64 bit)
Microarchitecture Zen 2 Zen 2
Core name Castle Peak Castle Peak
Family Ryzen Threadripper 3000 Ryzen Threadripper 3000
Part number(s), S-Spec 100000010WOF 100000011WOF
Release date Q4 2019 Q4 2019
Lithography 7 nm FinFET 7 nm FinFET
Transistors 23,540,000,000 23,940,000,000
Cores 24 32
Threads 48 64
Base frequency 3.8 GHz 3.7 GHz
Turbo frequency 4.5 GHz 4.5 GHz
Cache memory 128 MB 128 MB
Max memory capacity 512 GB 512 GB
Memory types DDR4-3200 DDR4-3200
Max # of memory channels 4 4
Max memory bandwidth 95.37 GB/s 95.37 GB/s
Max PCIe lanes 64 64
TDP 280 W 280 W
Suggested PSU 800W ATX Power Supply 800W ATX Power Supply
GPU integrated graphics None None
Socket sTRX4 sTRX4
Compatible motherboard Socket sTRX4 Motherboard Socket sTRX4 Motherboard
Maximum temperature 95°C 95°C
Maximum temperature 95°C 95°C

With Great Power…

The first thing to note when we’re talking about how expensive these chips are, and if they are worth buying for your particular application, is the practicalities of owning one. With great power comes great responsibility (to keep the damn thing cool), so this is the first point of call right after you find a TRX40 motherboard to plant the chip in.

 

Linus Sebastian holding an air conditioning unit

Image Courtesy LinusTechTips

 

Cooling Threadripper 3000 Processors

If you are a follower of Linus Tech Tips, then you know there’s one great big divide across the subject of cooling monster CPUs. Of course, Linus is no longer on the fence and is a big fan of air cooling.

You might be forgiven for thinking either one is best given a modest amount of research. The reason? The benchmark gaps are so finite that it’s almost a 50/50 comparison in some cases. Manufacturers are constantly upgrading the technology (even Corsair came out of almost ten years of air cooler hibernation to make the A500!) to meet the needs of the PC Master Race, so whatever is available right now will no doubt have a successor hot on its heels next quarter.

Water or air?

Air (or HSF - HeatSink Fan) coolers can and will perform the same as (or better) than water cooling systems. Basically, it comes down to personal choice and brand trust. Fitting a big old air system is simple. Water coolers can be a little more involved. Further, you would also need to think about the level of noise from either system. Having what sounds like a freshwater fish tank bubbling away on your desk may put you off when you’re quietly video editing in the wee small hours. That said, some HSF CPU coolers can make noise, too.

The acoustic performance of either system will always be in the specifications, and it’s one of the most important metrics alongside thermal performance. Another point to consider is the fact that HSF systems have less moving parts, so fewer points of failure, and can be more reliable long term.

One of the best value HSF systems is the Noctua NH-U14S, priced at under £80 and has seen its fair share of awards and top reviews from all corners of the high-end PC press. In the AIO liquid cooling corner, we have the titan that is the EVGA CLC 280 AIO with a sub-£100 price point. Performance is unquestioned and unrivalled by NZXT, Corsair or beQuiet.

Again, it comes down to personal preference, but you would be hard pushed to find two better all-rounders than these.

Other Considerations

There are a few other things to keep in mind with a Threadripper purchase, we thought would be helpful to mention in this article. Quite often these little snippets of info are not mentioned in a buyer’s guide (usually because there’s an affiliate link waiting somewhere). We consulted the professional PC technicians here at CCL, and they told us this: -

Choose your motherboard before your RAM.

Whilst this might seem like common sense, the motherboard will dictate a few things down the line for your Threadripper build. Consider the amount of memory you are going to need, but also the brand of memory that matches the motherboard manufacturer’s Qualified Vendor List (QVL). Some manufacturers have a special relationship with certain memory manufacturers, and there’s a difference between compatibility and two companies working together to ensure 100% synergy of components.

For example, we’ve discovered that MSI and ASRock offer the best support & Bios updates, and memory compatibility that make use of Quad Channel support - but if you are hoping to install 256GB in an Asus board, you will ideally need to buy a dedicated kit rather than 2 x 128GB or 4 x 64GB. So, do plenty of research at the motherboard stage. Example: ASRock’s TRX40 boards have an extensive QVL.

Also, consider buying a larger motherboard because bigger really is better in terms of the features they pack into them. With the price points we’re working with, it doesn’t make much sense to scrimp on features like Thunderbolt 3 (if you can make use of it) or decent sized gaps between PCIe slots (for best cooling operation).

Select the best RAM for a Threadripper

Threadrippers love to work with fast RAM. Choose the fastest clock speed you possibly can, and take latency into consideration so you get the very best performance for your spend.

Select storage that matches your needs

If you’re doing video editing for example, accessing data is going to be a high priority. The m.2 is sat right next the the CPU, so lump in a super-fast SSD for best results. Most would agree that the Samsung 970 or 980 PRO SSD drives are right on the money for performance across a range of disciplines. It is also helpful to have some knowledge of AMD’s StoreMI technology, “ a powerful tool for PC enthusiasts that want to improve load times, boot times, file management, or system responsiveness”. This benchmark on Reddit shows a real world test that might shed some light on the tool.

FuzeDrive from Enmotus is also of note in terms of storage access performance. FuzeDrive combines your installed SSD with your large capacity storage into one drive that “looks and performs like your fast SSD”. This is especially helpful for those who are going to use the Threadripper for AAA titles (with their 100GB stored data!) or chunky raw video files that video editors need to access quickly, for example.

Who Uses AMD Threadripper?

On to the meat of this article - who is actually using a Threadripper? And why are they using it? It was our intention to make this article somewhat of a flow chart that explains “If you are a CGI power user, you need this...” and “If you want to play games in the glorious manner developer’s dreamt of, you need this...”.

Let’s be honest: benchmarking the 3rd Gen Threadripper is a lot like being allowed to throw around Thor's Mjolnir for an afternoon. Happily, many industry professionals have already lined up the 3000 series with the Ryzen 9 3950X, which makes for a good comparison given its performance. We included links to some of the use cases to make things easier, and the benchmarks will be using various memory and graphics card configurations - so that’s worth checking these to see .

Hopefully the handy guide below will help you make a decision on whether to pull the trigger.

"Prosumer" Application Examples of application Ryzen 9 3950X Threadripper 3960X Threadripper 3970X Benchmark Example
High End AAA Pro Gamer Play and stream the most CPU intensive games, and capture HD footage. Games in Very High or Ultra settings YES MARGINAL MARGINAL HWBench
3D Designing Blender, 3DS Max & Maya 3D animation rendering YES YES** YES** CPU-Monkey
HQ Video Production 4K video production in Adobe Premiere or equiv. Up to 3hrs footage to process. Encoding work. YES*** YES** YES** Pro Video Coalition
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Producing & mixing using high-end sound engineering tools for movies, games etc. YES YES** YES** SoundOnSound
CG/Animation/Motion Design Feature length 4K 3D animations YES YES** YES** CGDirector
Photo Editing High definition, large format photo editing using Photoshop YES YES YES  
Workstation Encryption software, heavy file compression, data mining YES* YES YES  

*Ryzen 3950X performs well for encryption

** TRX40 Motherboards support connectivity for audio/video production e.g. Thunderbolt 3

***Performs well in terms of value for money

Summary

It’s a tough call, right? There are a lot of factors to consider depending on your exact needs. There’s a veritable buffet of benchmarks to go at, too. In the end, we have to look at what AMD themselves said about use cases to truly understand why they made the Threadripper in the first place: -

It’s already battle tested for feature film creation, streaming, gaming, and more. The ideal processor choice for visual effects and cinematic mastering professionals, AMD is already seeing individuals and companies make full use of their power across CAD, video editing, gaming and development, 3D rendering, and more.

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding the Threadripper’s application in gaming. Hardcore PC builders dissuade consumers from purchasing Threadrippers if they will never be streaming, recording and editing HD game footage and doing a lot of processor intensive work. The marginal increase in FPS and quality is just not worth the price tag in many cases. However, this is very game specific. The best option is to look at specific benchmarks for specific games, and weigh up the pros and cons alongside your budget. The current state of the market for GPUs renders the “price” argument almost invalid, granted, but an extra wedge of cash spent on a processor that provides a gaming experience that is just “okay” according to most benchmarks does not make a lot of sense.

So, to sum up? The 3000 generation of Threadrippers CAN be applied to many disciplines - but will not excel in all of them.

Is the Threadripper worth it? Absolutely. It just depends why you need the all-powerful AMD chip in the first place.