AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X Review

Final Analysis

AMD’s mainstream Ryzen CPUs heralded the return of competition in the desktop processor market. Now, AMD brings the same Zen architecture and strategy to the high-end desktop, and we’ve already seen Intel’s reaction in the form of lower prices for its (still-pricey) Skylake-X line-up.

First, the elephant in the room: AMD positions Threadripper for creators, heavy multi-taskers, and gamers who stream to services like Twitch. It also specifically states that the processor isn’t intended for low-resolution gaming, particularly under lightly-threaded titles.

We are going to explore more intense use-cases in an upcoming feature, but were unable to complete streaming testing due to the usual time constraints we face during a launch window. We did run some ad hoc tests and were able to easily play Mafia 3 at 4K while encoding a video and running a virtual machine, which we could still access via remote desktop. We didn’t experience any significant performance degradation via our own subjective measure. Still, we prefer hard data and will work at putting definitive results behind the experience.

High-resolution gaming is unequivocally a niche, according to Steam's Hardware and Software Survey, but it's clearly growing in popularity. Of course, enthusiasts who spend $1000 on a processor are far more likely to use high-resolution monitors. But testing at 1440p or 4K very obviously pushes the bottleneck back over to the GPU. And because we're testing CPUs in these reviews, we deliberately use 1080p as a tool to emphasize broad differences between architectures and more specific deltas separating models. As GPUs evolve, higher resolutions should become more processor-bound, and hopefully by then we'll see more optimization for lots of cores.

The following gaming price efficiency charts use a geometric mean of the 99th percentile frame times (a good indicator of smoothness), which we convert into an FPS measurement and plot against price. Our suite includes six games released in 2016 and five older titles that launched in 2014/2015. Threadripper’s extra cores could enable more performance in the future as software evolves to utilize them better, so we also include a chart with newer games that exploit host processing resources more thoroughly.

It’s clear that Intel's Core i9-7900X offers better average frame rates during purely gaming workloads, but our standard practice of focusing on 99th percentile metrics takes performance and smoothness into consideration. We’re looking at a five FPS delta between the stock -7900X and Threadripper’s best stock configuration in all games, and six FPS for new games. That gap becomes seven and four FPS, respectively, after overclocking both processors. You can imagine that gap will shrink at higher resolutions.  

We didn’t add platform costs to our price efficiency charts because all high-end parts drop into obviously premium platforms, and X399 is no exception. But be mindful that you'll pay a lot more for a HEDT platform than the two mainstream configurations we tested. Cheaper alternatives like the Core i7-7700K and Ryzen 7 series are likely better for the folks who are interested in gaming, first and foremost. Much like our recommendations for Intel’s high-end desktop processors, we don’t recommend AMD’s flagship 1950X for strictly gaming, either.

If your workloads are CPU-bound, though, Threadripper shines in our benchmarks written to exploit as many cores as you can throw at them. Threadripper outpaces the similarly-priced -7900X in rendering, encoding, and compression. As expected, it isn’t quite as nimble in lightly-threaded applications, such as decompression and portions of the Adobe suite. Those applications continue to favor Intel’s IPC throughput and frequency.

After the Ryzen launch, AMD was faced with the challenge of quickly maturing its motherboard ecosystem and convincing game developers to optimize existing titles for the new architecture. The company has met with success on many fronts in a relatively brief time (it’s hard to believe it’s only been five months), and enablement continues. Threadripper is a unique product that introduces even more complex challenges. No doubt, AMD is ready to take action on those, too. Case in point: Threadripper offers so many cores that some games won't even load. No doubt, Intel will face the same conundrum in the future as it scales out its architectures as well.

AMD is obviously aware of the challenges it faces. Using a combination of BIOS switches and Windows-based utilities, it exposes several knobs that ensure compatibility and address the architectural eccentricities of a data center-inspired desktop product. We’re sure to see well-heeled enthusiasts work through the settings to find the best combinations, even if most want to use Threadripper the way it ships. Of course, we like to experiment, so we’ll spend the coming weeks working on more stressful use-cases and finding the best combinations for different workloads.

Ryzen Threadripper 1950X is a solid entrant for AMD, and the company knows it's going after a niche market here. Those who need what Threadripper offers likely already know. And if that's you, we have to imagine you're elated to know there's an alternative to Intel's steep buy-in, particularly now that AMD is winning in benchmarks it hasn't won in a very long time.

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  • vMax
    Very good in depth review. Threadripper looks like a great productivity CPU especially for the price to performance... At last AMD are back at the big table and thats not to put Intel down as they still make the fastest CPU's overall...just you have pay that much more for the privilege, but finaly we have a real choice at all price points... Great for the consumer. Good job Tom's and AMD.
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  • HEXiT
    so happy this has happend. intel wont be, but for amd, its great news. 95%+ the perfomance for half the price makes threadripper a very attractive cpu for virtual machines and even office environments that use terminals rather than every 1 using a desktop.
    so much potential for a £2k build that just wasnt there a year ago...
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  • fla56
    where is XFR testing?

    surely it's clear by now that the worst way to overclock a Ryzen is to try and overclock the cores?
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  • gferrin2012
    Hmm. I will first state I have no preference to AMD nor Intel. I can buy any CPU, or GPU that suits my needs. I looked over you "benches" and I will be very upfront. I do not believe yours. I think the "threadripper" benches a lot better than your are showing. Your test methods seem to favor Intel. I have long suspected and heard of Toms Hardware of being an Intel fanboy site. I have owned Intel and swore by them for years. In am considering AMD for the first time. I will continue to look at, what I believe, to be more honest test sites. Lets see how this plays out. I happen to have a friend who has an 1800x and and another associate that has an I7-7700k. I am familiar with Blenders Bmw benchmark. I would like an explanation as to why, in CPU rendering using blender 2.78c, the 1800x literally destroys the I7-7700k.
    If you look at my account (go ahead) here on Toms Hardware, you will notice I am not an AMD fanboy at all. When I start feeling I am getting biased reviews and have the sneaking suspicion of Intel slipping the 'ol kickback to you, it's time to delete my membership.
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  • HEXiT
    i think the variance between these and other benches is the way they have done em... maybe they didnt set the cpu to productivity and just used gaming mode or vies-versa. but there is some discrepancy between what im seeing here and elsewhere. whats up toms. normally your stuff is accurate.
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