Introduction, Chip Background CPU Tests
We’ve seen and tested so many new high-end desktop CPUs from Intel and AMD over the last several months that it’s becoming tough to fit all the relevant models into any single benchmark chart. Plus, these new processors span so many different platforms, our test bench is getting mighty crowded with all the required test machines. Some days, it looks like we’re assembling our own local branch of Best Buy or Micro Center, given all the parts required to test them all.
Of course, while these are minor problems for us reviewers, it’s all good news for consumers. Whether you’re in the market for a budget-minded, around-$100 chip like the AMD Ryzen 3 1200Intel Core i9-7980XE Extreme Edition, or something in the vast gulf between those two, there’s likely an appealing new CPU option to fit your budget and/or workload.
To put it another way, the 16-core Intel Core i9-7960X that we’re looking at here, one step down from the Core i9-7980XE Extreme Edition chip mentioned above, is the 18th processor we’ve reviewed this year. It’s also the sixth chip we’ve looked at on Intel’s enthusiast Core X-Series platform alone—out of nine total Core X-Series chips that now span both the “Skylake” and “Kaby” Lake architectures. And then there’s AMD’s competing Ryzen Threadripper platform that, while it doesn’t offer quite as many chip options (just three, at this writing), is highly competitive on price. The top-end AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950XIntel Core i9-7980XE Extreme Edition (a chip very similar to this one, just with two extra cores), we’ll direct you there to the finer details of that discussion. Once you’re all caught up, we’ll join you below for our benchmark, overclocking, and gaming tests to find out just where this chip lands in this suddenly crowded market of extremely high-end CPUs.
CPU-Specific Performance Testing
For our test setup, we dropped the Core i9-7960X into the Asus Prime X299-Deluxe motherboard of our Core X-Series testbed PC, along with 32GB of Corsair memory running in a quad-channel setup. An Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Founders EditionKingston HyperX Savage was our SATA-interface boot drive.
We stuck all those components into the Deepcool GamerStorm Genome ROG Certified case, which includes a self-contained liquid cooler with a large three-fan radiator.
The Core i9-7980XE Extreme Edition sits at the top of today’s consumer CPU heap, with the Core i9-7960X we’re looking at here one step down the Core X-Series ladder. Both of those chips sit far, far above mainstream offerings such as the four-core Intel Core i7-7700KRyzen 7 1800XIntel Core i7-7820XAMD Ryzen Threadripper 1920XIntel Core i9-7900X.
As noted earlier, the 16-core AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950XIntel Core i7-6950X Extreme Edition. That last chip sold at launch for about the same price as the 16-core CPU we’re looking at here, so it should show how far we’ve come, from a price-to-performance standpoint, in the last year or so—at least when it comes to tasks that like lots of cores and threads.
First up in our testing regimen: Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads, using the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Along with the usual test that makes use of all available cores, we’ve added the single-core results here to get a sense of how Intel’s 16-core chip fares in lightly threaded workloads.
As we expected, the Core i9-7980XE Extreme Edition landed on top on the multi-core test here, with its 18 cores besting the 16-core AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X by about 12 percent. The Core i9-7960X was only about 6 percent behind its pricier Extreme Edition sibling chip, but it was also about the same amount ahead of the Ryzen Threadripper 1950X here, despite costing $700 more than that chip. On the single-core test, all of Intel’s recent high-end chips were effectively tied, with AMD’s Threadripper parts landing about 15 percent behind.
In one way, the Core i9-7960X is undoubtedly impressive: On the multi-core test, it’s almost 80 percent faster than 2016’s 10-core Core i7-6950X Extreme Edition. But even if you’re an Intel die-hard, you have to thank AMD for pushing its CPU rival to release a consumer chip this much more powerful from one generation to the next.
iTunes 10.6 Conversion Test
We then switched over to our venerable iTunes Encoding Test, using version 10.6 of iTunes. This test taxes only a single CPU core, as much legacy software still does.
Music encoding doesn’t push a modern CPU anything close to its limits—and certainly not these chips. But this is precisely the kind of test that shows Intel’s chips to their best advantage. Intel’s recent Skylake and Kaby Lake architectures do better than AMD’s Zen on single-threaded or lightly threaded tasks. That said, unless you’re hanging on to some very old programs, most software that can take good advantage of multiple cores and threads has been updated to do so, at this point.
Interestingly, the eight-core Core i7-7820X was the fastest chip here, with the Core i9 CPUs close behind. The recent AMD parts lagged a bit further back, but they weren’t left in the silicon dust, by any means. All that said, if you care most of all about lightly threaded or single-threaded performance, get thee out of Intel Core X and AMD Threadripper altogether: The Core i7-7700K is a much better value on that front, at under $350.
This is a time-consuming test of video-crunching capabilities. Handbrake, a tool commonly used for converting videos from one format to another, benefits from having lots of cores and threads at your disposal. In this test, we use a nice, big hunk of 4K video to see how the chips perform with a sustained task of this kind. We tasked the CPUs to convert a 12-minute-and-14-second 4K .MOV file (the 4K showcase short film Tears of Steel) into a 1080p MPEG-4 video.
This is our first real-world test, so far, that takes advantage of lots of cores and threads. We again saw the Core i9-7980XE Extreme Edition finish first. But the difference here between it and the 16-core Core i9-7960X was minimal. And the Ryzen Threadripper 1950X was only 6 seconds behind, while costing a whole lot less.
We have taken a huge leap in core counts over the last year or so. Perhaps software will need to be rewritten to unlock the full potential of these high-core-count beasts. Given the pace of hardware advancements, that would be understandable, though hardly a consolation for consumers investing in a $1,000-plus chip today.
Next up, using the “All CPUs” setting, we ran the POV-Ray benchmark, which challenges all available cores to render a complex photo-realistic image using ray tracing. After that, again to get a sense of how the Core i9 handles single-core performance, we ran the same benchmark using the “One CPU” setting.
Once again here, the Core i9-7980XE Extreme Edition landed on top on the “All CPUs” test, but it was only 2 seconds ahead of its 16-core Core i9 counterpart, and 6 seconds ahead of the Threadripper 1950X. On the single-core test, some of the lesser Core X chips pulled ahead, but the Core i9-7960X did manage to trump the top Threadripper chip—by about 9 percent.
Blender is an open-source 3D content-creation program that can be used to design and create visual effects, animation, and 3D models for use in video games or 3D printing. We open a standard test file (it’s of a flying squirrel) and time how long the test processor takes to finish the render.
The results here were all fairly close, with the Ryzen 7 1800X the only real outlier (by far the least-expensive AMD chip on our charts). Interestingly, though, it was the Core i9-7960X that landed in the lead here by a couple of seconds. But given the $700 price difference between it and the Ryzen Threadripper 1950X, it’s hard to see a five-second victory meriting $700 on this front.
7-Zip File Compression
Last, we fired up the popular 7-Zip file-compression software and ran its built-in compression/decompression benchmark, which is another useful test of a CPU’s raw multi-core abilities.
This last test showed Intel’s 18-core chip once again besting the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X by about 15 percent. The 16-core Core i9-7960X was, surprisingly, only about 5 percent behind its 18-core sibling, and almost 10 percent ahead of the top Threadripper chip. But again, that price difference between Intel and AMD’s competing processors is tough to ignore