AMD Threadripper 2950X Performance Review

Author: Michael Hoenig
Date: August 12, 2018
Product Name: Threadripper 2950X
Warranty: 3 Years
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So here we are in whatís the first review on the Hardware Canucks website in an embarrassingly long time. Whatís been going on behind the scenes will all be revealed soon but for the time being letís get things started again with AMDís newest introduction: the second generation Threadripper 2 processors.

By now youíve likely seen our Explained video as well as our first build being put together but what was missing should have been obvious. There were no benchmarks other than a few AMD-provided performance results which showed their new processors in a particularly favorable light against both Skylake-X and previous generation Threadripper CPUs. Well this review will be used to fill in those blanks which the build and Explained video left out.

But this review will be just that; a benchmark-heavy affair with only a bit of time spent on the architectural differences which the Zen+ evolution brings to the table. If you want to see a fuller explanation about what makes Threadripper and Zen in general ďtickĒ, then I recommend you go check out our original review and even our original Ryzen article. In essence everything has remained pretty much the same since AMD will continue to use their highly capable X399 platform as a foundation upon which to build their HEDT lineup.

Meanwhile, Zen+ represents an evolution Ėalbeit an important one- of the game-changing Zen microarchitecture but there are several key differences this time around on both the core and software side of things. Those will be detailed on the next page but for now letís take a look at what this new lineup brings to the table.

Letís cut right to the heart of things by quickly introducing the four new processors that will be part of this refreshed lineup. Starting right at the top, thereís the big daddy 2990WX which is the first 32-core, 64-thread processor to be available for the desktop market. Its smaller sibling is the slightly cut down but nonetheless insanely capable 24-core, 48-thread 2970WX. Naturally, these CPUs will obviously cost a kingís ransom at $1800 and $1300 respectively but when you compare this Intelís closest competitors -the $2,000, 36 thread i9-7980XE and $1700, 32 thread i9-7960X- these CPUs seem to be a very, very good value indeed.

Thereís a caveat here too and one that AMD has been extremely transparent about: the WX-series is absolutely not for gamers or even people who want to game while also processing a video and streaming at the same time. Those folks would be much better served by Ryzen 2, the X-series or Coffee Lake processors. The WX-series on the other hand is specifically targeted towards creative professionals, people working with parallelized virtual machines, high level visualization or other extremely multithreaded tasks. I can sympathize with AMD on this since they donít want their bleeding edge CPUsí already limited availability to be impacted by folks who canít take full advantage of them.

Speaking of that X-series, the 2950X and 2920X will be more than capable enough to power through games, online streaming and other tasks all at the same time. Priced at $900 and $650 respectively, theyíre well within reach for enthusiasts but still not that inexpensive for gamers. Again, people who just want to game should look towards Coffee Lake and Ryzen 2 while maximizing their GPU and storage purchases but youíll get that hammered home later on in this review anyways.

One of the highlights of Zen+ is its move to an advanced 12nm manufacturing process. As a result, AMD has been able to leverage Threadripper 2 towards higher overall clock speeds without sacrificing power consumption. Thatís a pretty important distinction since a boost in overall frequencies will allow these new CPUs to better compete against Intelís Skylake-X family. Remember, each Skylake-X core has higher IPC rates than Zen (and now Zen+) which allows those processors to boast higher performance when identical core-count chips are compared. AMD is still able to offer more cores for higher level application execution but those clock speed uplifts will be a welcome addition nonetheless.

By focusing solely on the 2950X and 2920X we can see their baseline specifications havenít changed all that much when compared to their predecessors. Other than the very minor uplift to the 2950Xís base clock, the real differences between generations are notable in the boost speeds and memory support. Naturally, some of that higher frequency is due to the aforementioned manufacturing process efficiencies but thereís also Precision Boost 2 and XFR 2 factored into this equation, both of which contribute to more clock speed overhead. More on those a bit later. Thereís finally higher level memory support too with 2933MHz being a new target speed bin.

Something else which needs to be taken into account is the price at which these CPUs are launching at. While there has been very little to any movement in Skylake-Xís cost hierarchy since launch, AMD is moving into very aggressive territory with second generation Threadripper SKUs. The 2950X will go for a solid $100 less than the 1950X while the 2920X takes a massive $150 bite out of its predecessorís initial cost.

Part of the latterís large downwards shift is due to AMDís decision to not launch a replacement for their 1900X. The reasoning behind this should be self-evident: with 8 core, 16 thread Ryzen 2 processors there was no reason to have an overlapping Threadripper part. Intel learned these lessons themselves with the ill-fated Kaby Lake-X series.

The ace up AMDís collective sleeves this time around is the 32-core 2990WX which represents the highest number of cores AMDís current dies can achieve and effectively matching AMDís own EPYC series payload. So what you see is what you get folks; if AMD and users want more cores theyíll have to switch to a brand new architecture.

Here, instead of two dies being enabled as they are in the X-series, the processorís full allotment of four dies and eight CCXís (each with four physical cores) get kicked into action. The only difference between this layout and that of EPYC is the 32-lane PCIe and dual channel memory controllers in the first and third dies are disabled since X399 doesnít support eight channel memory or 128 PCIe lanes.

As usual, these dies communicated with one another over the Infinity Fabric high speed interconnect but due to this 4-die topology, support for distributed mode or Unified Memory Access (UMA) isnít possible. That means WX-series CPUs will default to a localized NUMA configuration which should be a slight bit better for gaming while suffering extremely small penalties in certain non-gaming applications. It should also be mentioned that die-to-die bandwidth decreases from 50GB/s in the X-series to 25GB/s here.

The last thing I wanted to mention before getting into the meat of this review is how AMD will be staggering this launch. Threadripper 2 products will be trickling out rather than being available all at the same time. The first one out of the gate will be Threadripper 2990WX which starts shipping on August 13th which happens to be today and thatís followed by the 2950X on August 30th. For those of you wondering, presales of these two processors have been ongoing since last Monday. Then weíll have to wait all the way until October for the 2970WX and 2920X. I have to wonder if these dates are being planned around Intelís rumored launch schedule or itís just a matter of insuring availability.

With all of that being said, this is an exciting time for AMD. Not only have they proven Zen can effectively be scaled upwards for the desktop market but also that continual evolution can yield a more competitive landscape. If they continue on this course, Intel could find themselves fighting an uphill battle against Zen 2 before this time next year. But until that point, letís take a bit of a deeper Ėalbeit brief- dive into what these new processors have to offer.

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