Benchmark Breakdown: AMD Threadripper vs Intel Core i9

It’s been an interesting year for CPU releases. After years of lagging behind Intel, AMD released the impressive Ryzen 7, followed by its little brothers, the Ryzen 5 and 3. Meanwhile, Intel launched Kaby Lake, which was panned by some reviewers for failing to improve on its predecessor, Skylake.

This summer, AMD gave us the high end Threadripper 1950X CPU, competing directly with the Intel i9-7900X at the $1000 price point. Which is the better value? Let’s take a closer look at the data and what the experts have been saying so far. 

Benchmarks

Right off the bat, it's important to note that this is not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. The 1950X is a 16 core processor, while the 7900X only has ten cores. You could argue that it would be more accurate to compare the 1950X to the 16 core i9-7960X, but the 7960X is priced at $1699, which is an enormous jump, enough to scare off even determined PC enthusiasts.

If budget isn't a concern then by all means, wait for the September release of the 7960X and make your comparisons. But if your processor budget is $1000, and the rest of your budget needs to go to GPU, RAM, mobo, etc., then the 1950X provides 60% more cores than the 7900X for the same price. 

In terms of multicore benchmarks, Threadripper pulls ahead enormously. We are seeing a 30% performance gap between the 1950X and the 7900X, and that is really impressive. Those are the kinds of gaps we see between entire classes of CPUs, not two identically-priced processors.

Chart via wccftech.com.

1950X lags behind 3-8% on single core benchmarks, mostly due to the 7900X’s higher clock speed. But as gaps go, this one’s pretty small.

ExtremeTech also backs up these results in their comprehensive article.

But what happens if you start “mega-tasking” on these processors? Logical Increments set up a benchmark test where they simultaneously played Rise of the Tomb Raider in 4K, streamed it at 1080p 60 FPS, and encoded a recording of the gameplay.

Chart via logicalincrements.com

While the 7900X gave slightly better frame rate performance while gaming and rendering, the 1950X completed the render much faster.

Some folks will want to pay attention to CPU power consumption as well, and the Threadripper is ever so slightly less power hungry than the 7900X, but compared to other non-HEDT chips, that’s sort of like saying that it only eats eight pizzas while its competition eats nine. Whichever chip you choose, you probably need to order more pizza.

 

Gaming 

FPS benchmarks show these processors going punch for punch on many games, with performance fairly close. Occasionally, the 7900X’s higher clock speed helped it pull ahead of the 1950X.

Chart via logicalincrements.com.

If you’re pursuing pure game performance, the i7-7700K defeats both the Threadripper and the 7900X in several games while coming in at the comparably affordable $339. In fact, it comes close to the high benchmarks set by the i7-6950X, 2016’s extreme chip (which is still going for a now-ludicrous $1695).

Note that two modes were tested for the 1950X: uniform memory access (UMA) and non-uniform memory access (NUMA). UMA is the default mode, which utilizes all cores, and is oriented toward content creation. NUMA is oriented toward gaming, and disables half of the cores. Ostensibly, this gives you a performance boost while gaming, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, according to the tests above, unless you’re playing Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Then again, Forbes told a different story about game mode. It provided a few extra FPS in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Fallout 4.

Charts via Forbes

In ExtremeTech’s tests, we see slight variance between the 1950X and the 7900X. ExtremeTech broke their game tests up into 1080P, 1440P, and 4K, and in each category, both processors stay relatively close, with the 7900X pulling ahead in a few instances in 1080p, like Hitman. Note that the biggest variations happen in 1080P, since GPU power dictates 4K performance.

Charts via ExtremeTech.

The Ashes of the Singularity test results were almost exactly the same, which is surprising, given how that game utilizes multiple cores. However, optimization patches helped boost Ryzen’s performance, and future patches may do the same for Threadripper. Then again, the game itself may be maxed out on how many cores it can utilize. I’d be interested to see Extremetech’s Task Manager window when they performed this test.

Do You Need This?

Threadripper and the 7900X are both meant for content creators and professional streamers who require every single available core. If that isn’t you, you don’t need these massively powerful chips. Today’s games aren’t built to take advantage of so many cores.

When considering need, you should note that the 7900X has only 44 PCIe lanes while the 1950X has 64. This may not matter much to most gamers, who aren’t running dual GPUs and a ton of NVMe, but if you’re creating content you may need tons of SSD drive space. As PCs slowly migrate away from the SATA interface, PCIe lanes are going to become more and more important. A Threadripper CPU might be a bit more futureproof, but that all depends on your build and needs.

If you’re just using your PC to game, upgrading to the 1950X or the 7900X is like using the Death Star to kill a cockroach. They’re impressive testaments to how many cores you can fit on a die in 2017, and they might provide nerd bragging rights, but gaming-only users might do better with an i7-7700K. Folks who want a light side of content creation with their Overwatch/Wolfenstein/Far Cry should look at the Ryzen 7 series.