AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX & 2950X CPU Review

AMD teased us a bit last week by showing off its new 2nd Generation Threadripper 2990WX and 2950X packaging and specifications. This week AMD lets us show off the new Threadripper. The 2990WX is likely a lot different part than many people were expecting, and it turns out that it might usher AMD into a newly created market.


Overclocking with Precision Boost Overdrive

All the overclocking we did with the 2990WX and 2950X was done "by hand" in the UEFI/BIOS. Precision Boost Overdrive is however making its first appearance with the 2990WX and 2950X. This is very much an extension of Precision Boost 2 using AMD XFR2. Using PBO however voids your CPU's warranty if you use it. Think of PBO as PB2 on steroids, as PBO allows you to tell XFR2 to go outside of the manufacturer's suggested power and temperature guidelines.

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PBO requires you to use the Ryzen Master application. We were less than lucky with this latest version of Ryzen Master. Trying to use it continually ended in the program crashing so often that it was not usable for PBO. That said, after we had beat on Ryzen Master for a few hours we moved on, so we do not have much feedback to share about PBO today. Hopefully we will get a handle on PBO over the coming weeks.

2990WX Overclocking

All the benchmarks you see here today with the 2990WX at 4GHz were done on the MSI MEG X399 Creation motherboard. It never broke a sweat during our overclocking sessions. The VRM configuration is about as beefy as it gets. However, we "broke" that motherboard this weekend, and I am not sure exactly what happened. As of this morning, we do have some feedback from MSI on what they think the issue is and we hope to get it back onto the test bench today. After we mounted up our Cooler Master Wraith Ripper air cooler, we could never get the board to POST again. So again, more testing will have to be done there. We moved our 2990WX over to the ASUS Zenith Extreme motherboard, and even with the extra cooling kit supplied, the VRM on this board got very hot very quickly when overclocking at 4GHz.

We used the 2990WX set at 1.375 vCore and 1.1vSOC for the 4GHz scores that we shared here today. If you noticed the missing Blender Gooseberry score, the system would immediately shut down when trying to run it. I think this was the OverCurrent Protection (OCP) on the PSU kicking in. Running the 2990WX at 4GHz with Prime95 SmallFFTs, we were able to realize a ~590 watt CPU Package Power and saw ~1069 watts being pulled at the wall. We "only" have 1000W Seasonic Prime PSUs on the test bench. Running Prime95 at stock PB2, the 2990WX CPU Package Power stayed right at ~250W (which is its TDP rating) while pulling 425W at the wall, with our CPU clock settling out at 3.125GHz. You can see a picture of our fully loaded 2990WX below at 4GHz. Do note that the vCore shown in that screenshot is incorrectly reported by HWinfo.

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With our XSPC water cooling, we saw our clocks scale like this: 1T-4.1 to 4.2GHz / 4T-4.0 to 4.2GHz / 8T-3.9 to 4.1GHz / 16T-3.75 to 3.85GHz / 24T-3.425 to 3.875GHz / 32T-3.25 to 3.33GHz / 40T-3.475 to 3.875GHz / 48T-3.5-3.85GHz / 64T-3.1 to 3.125GHz. That 32T scaling sticks out in that data, but if you watch the way that Windows loads up the CCX units, sometimes it "bunches" up workgroups on particular dies, at least with the workload we were using. So we think there is a bit of work to be done there with the way Windows 10 64-bit handles the 2990WX CPU.

We still have not had the time to figure out a "bullet proof" overclock on the 2990WX at 4GHz, if it is even possible with ambient water cooling. We have more work to do here. Talking to Sami Makinen at AMD, he did not think we could be successful above 4GHz with ambient water cooling, and quite frankly, he is probably very correct.

2950X Overclocking

We used the same 1.3725 vCore and 1.1v vSOC voltages for overclocking the 2950X to 4.2GHz/3400MHz across all 16 cores. We can run Prime95 for a good 20 minutes before this will crash at 4.2GHz. We likely need to roll back both these voltages a good bit and truly dial in the voltages this for the processor which we have not done yet. That said, we have no issues running any real workloads at 4.2GHz and 3400MHz on the 2950X.

Running the 2950X at 4.2Ghz with Prime95 would net us a ~331 watt CPU Package Power pulling ~485 watts at the wall. Certainly a lot more manageable than the 2990WX and we think that a 2950X "bullet proof" 4.2GHz overclocks will be attainable. At stock PB2 settings, the 2950X pulled its rated 180W TDP CPU Socket Power while pulling 286W at the wall while running a solid 3.56GHz across all cores with Prime95 SmallFFTs.

Are 2nd Gen Threadripper Enthusiast CPUs?

Well, are these enthusiast CPUs? Yes and no. The 2950X certainly fits the bill for a gamer's and enthusiast's CPU. The numbers bear that evaluation out and its power requirements leave it in the realm of being accessible by a lot of different hardware configurations.

The 2990WX is not a gamer's or an enthusiast's CPU, at least in our opinion. Let's make no bones about it, AMD is in no way marketing the 2990WX as a gamer or enthusiast CPU. The "W" in the part number very much means "workstation." That said, the Game Mode on the 2990WX does give you the ability to make good use of the 2990WX in a gaming environment, if you are will to reboot it every time you want to use it for gaming. That said, a lot of folks are not going to want to do this, as many of us have enough mutitasking going on now days where we very often never want to turn our computers off....ever.

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The slides spell it all out. The 2990WX is a workstation part, and it is very likely going to carve out a very new market for AMD. If you look at the HEDT 7980XE part we purchased for this review, it cost us around $2000. Of course this is not far off from the 2990WX pricing of $1800, but when it comes to actual workstation workloads, the 2990WX simply crushed the 7980XE in terms of time saved on those workloads. We think the 2990WX is going to be well received in the workstation market.

Where the 2990WX falters, and falters badly is as a HEDT for mere mortals wanting to encode our videos for home use and online distribution using highly popular tools such at Handbrake and Premiere Pro. These applications have not yet been tuned to take advantage of the Threadripper 2990WX. We would expect this to happen, but when is the question.

We would also be remiss if we did not look at the price of the 2990WX processor as well. At $1800 it is simply outside the limits of many of us just looking for fun and games.

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Not Close to Done

We still have a lot of work to do on the overclocking front with both the 2950X and the 2990WX CPUs. Overclocking the 2990WX is going to come down to the motherboard you are using, the power supply you have plugged into it, and of course it is going to come down to cooling. Even with our best TR4 CPU water blocks from the likes of XSPC, HeatKiller, and Koolance, overclocking the 2990WX to 4GHz is going to be a tall order using an ambient temperature system. Again, we need to look closely at getting the vCore down as low as possible as you can see above the overall system power increases exponentially as we start to push up the vCore. I do think we can get a bullet proof 4.2GHz out of the 2950X with a bit of effort. Our current water cooling lineup should be very capable of this. Of course we want to get a stable version of Ryzen Master to work with as well and see what Precision Boost Overdrive can do for us.

We are also going to cover air cooling on these CPUs as well. We have just not had time to drill down to that yet. We have the Cooler Master Wraith Ripper to test as well as units from Thermalright and Noctua that we will be looking at.

The Bottom Line

AMD has knocked it out of the park with the 2990WX as a low cost and high performance workstation part. We would say that AMD is poised to take the "low end" workstation market, but there is not actually a "low end" market in workstations at the performance level that AMD is piercing. AMD is basically creating an entirely new market with the 2990WX, and it is one that Intel currently does not have a product to directly answer with. The 2990WX Threadripper is truly a revolutionary part for AMD and the workstation market. Expect to see AMD market it as such. The 2990WX, and likely the 2970WX, does have some shortcomings to conquer in the media encoding realm however.

The 2950X Threadripper is an evolutionary processor. It takes everything that we loved about the 1950X and makes it just a little bit better. The 2950X is good for the overclocking enthusiast, but much like we saw with the Ryzen 7 2700X, depending on your needs, AMD's Precision Boost 2 is likely going to take care of that in the overclocking department. The 2950X is good for all of us that like to play our games at night and use our computers for HEDT computing during the day.

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AMD Threadripper 2990WX - AMD Threadripper 2950X

The 2990WX is available today for $1800 at both Newegg and Amazon. The 2950X will become available on August 31st for $900.