Not everyone who buys a CPU wants one that’s specifically tailored towards gaming. Despite this being a huge market, there’s also a ton of scenarios in which more powerful, HEDT processors become more desirable.
As the market finally starts to calm down, we take a closer look at some of the most powerful HEDTs it has to offer. We’ll be running down the best workstation CPUs out there, comparing price, performance, and specifications as we go. So, whether you’re looking to do UltraHD video editing, high-end streaming and recording, 3D rendering, or CAD work, the following guide will have a processor that suits your exact requirements.
So, without further ado, let’s jump into the best workstation CPU guide!
Our Top Picks
Best Workstation CPU: First Look
If you want the best of the best in terms of core-count and overall multitasking performance, look no further. The 3990X is by far the best in this list, even going beyond what we class as “enthusiast” level.
AMD’s flagship Threadripper processor offers up more cores than anything in this guide. Whilst it destroys all the HEDT processors on display here, it even matches the $20,000 server processors from Intel – at a fraction of the price.
Runner up to the 3990X is the popular 3970X, one of the best price/performance HEDT processors in this guide.
The 3970X offers up 32 cores and 64 threads, half that of the 3990X. That said, it comes equipped with greater base and boost clock speeds, making it more desirable in very unique situations.
The best mid-range pick falls to the 3960X, a processor that offers up 24 cores and 48 threads. As far as cores to price is concerned, the AMD pick is on par with the like of Intel’s 10980XE.
The 3960X falls into direct competition with the i9-10980XE in terms of price to performance. That being said, it still dominates the Intel in most computing tasks. The only area it doesn’t effectively trash the Intel, is in software that supports AVX512 – which, let’s be honest, is fairly bespoke.
Intel’s flagship consumer-grade HEDT comes in the shape of their i9-10980XE, a processor that sports 18 cores and 36 threads. Whilst this CPU is considered one of Intel’s best, it still falls short when compared to AMD alternatives.
As Intel’s best HEDT consumer-level processor, no one will be surprised to hear it handles the highest level of rendering and 3D modeling with ease. However, one perk this CPU has over alternatives is its ability to be overclocked – and with fairly relative ease.
At the lower end of the price spectrum, sits the AMD Threadripper 1920X, a CPU that is by far the cheapest in this list.
If you’re looking for entry-level multitasking performance, we can’t think of a better option than AMD’s first-gen 1920X Threadripper. It’ll be able to process moderately taxing workflows, supports large DRAM capacity, and has numerous PCIe lanes too.
Choosing new hardware is never easy. It usually involves hours of intense product research, user feedback, and a whole host of other considerations to get anywhere close to a definitive decision.
If you aren’t tech-savvy and struggle to put the time aside to go through the above requirements, you may end up purchasing a piece of hardware that simply isn’t right for your specific needs.
Fear not though, friends! Here at WePC, we like to take the stress of research away, and transform the whole process into an easy-to-follow, complete buyers guide. That’s right, our team of PC enthusiasts has done all the hard work for you!
Like any PC component, learning and understanding the fundamental specification that affects its performance can be some of the most important steps you can take before entering the purchasing process. With workstation CPUs, that ideology couldn’t be any more important – and not just for cost reasons either.
For this reason, we’ve outlined some of the most important features of a HEDT processor below. Learning what each does will ensure the next workstation CPU you buy is the correct one for your specific needs.
Cores And Threads
At the heart of every CPU, whether it’s an APU or the latest Threadripper, lies a set of cores and threads. The cores are a physical processor within the CPU. A thread, on the other hand, is a virtual core – specifically designed to help the CPU with more demanding multitasking scenarios.
As things stand, processors have reached a place many may not have thought possible. Consumer-grade desktop CPUs, for example, can boast up to 16 cores (AMD Ryzen 3950X) and 32 threads – which, off the bat, sounds great. That being said, it’s nothing compared to the latest high-end desktop processors, some of which are equipped with 64 cores and 128 threads.
As a general rule, the following guidelines are recommended when purchasing a new processor:
- 4 Cores – General use, light browsing, and very light gaming
- 8 Cores – Decent for gaming, moderate multi-tasking, and all general-use purposes
- 16 Cores – Entry-level workstation CPU. Can handle moderately demanding tasks if coupled with good RAM and decent clock frequencies.
- 32 Cores – Mid-range workstation CPU. Handles fairly demanding tasks including rendering, CAD, and all kinds of streaming. At this level, we start to enter into the higher end of the price spectrum.
- 64 Cores – High-end workstation CPU. Handles the most demanding workstation tasks. At this range, you’re looking at extremely expensive hardware, expect to fork out well above $2,000.
Next up we have clock speed (also known as core frequency or cycle speed depending on how you look at it). This refers to how many cycles your CPU can execute every second and is measured in GHz (gigahertz). So, for example, a CPU that has a 3.8GHz clock speed will be able to perform 3.8 billion cycles per second. Easy.
Whilst the general rule regarding CPU clock speed is faster is always better, it isn’t the only thing to consider when purchasing a CPU. Furthermore, modern CPU manufacturers will advertise three or four different clock speeds, indicating base, boost, all core boost, and single-core boost speeds. Whilst this does get a little confusing, it is always important to understand your CPU’s capabilities:
- Base clock speed – The speed your CPU will operate at when in idle
- Boost clock speed – The maximum speed your CPU can reach under its own overclock
- All core boost – The maximum speed all the cores can be boosted to – simultaneously
- Single-core boost – The maximum speed a single core can be boosted to
So, if you’re building a workstation computer, what should you be looking for? Well, Single-core speed and single-core boost speed are really only relevant to certain applications and gaming. All core boost, on the other hand, is much more relevant, as its the overall working speed of your CPU.
All-in-all, you should be looking for maximum core count and highest all-core clock speed.
Socket type is a fairly easy concept to understand, it’s the mounting point on your motherboard that holds the CPU in place – theoretically allowing your PC to work. For first time builders, you’re going to want to pay particular attention to this section, because not all CPUs are compatible with all motherboards.
Every motherboard and CPU comes equipped with its own socket type. To make things even more confusing, Intel has its own unique socket type that differs dramatically from AMDs. Whilst finding a motherboard that is compatible with your CPU isn’t the hardest thing in the world to do, it’s still something that should be understood before entering the purchasing decision.
The easiest way to find out what socket your CPU is using is to locate the product page on the manufacturer website. Once found, simply go to the specifications section of that CPU, and it will show you what socket type that CPU is using. Once you have found this, simply pair it with a motherboard that uses the same socket.
In this particular scenario, the AMD CPU uses an sTRX4. Intel, on the other hand, is utilizing the FCLGA2066 socket.
TDP is a pretty important factor to understand, even more so when you’re putting a workstation PC together that handles extremely demanding workflows. TDP stands for thermal design power and refers to the maximum amount of heat that the CPU generates on its own.
Basically, TDP tells the consumer what kind of cooler the CPU is going to need. A CPU that has a TDP of 100 only creates half the amount of heat as a CPU with a 200 TDP – meaning a smaller CPU cooler can be utilized for the lower TDP. Most of the time, the cooler will have a TDP rating, referring to how much physical heat it can dissipate off the CPU. When choosing a CPU cooler, simply choose one that has equal (or greater) cooling performance than the CPU’s output.
The Best Workstation CPUs In 2020 & 2021
By far, the best multi-tasking performance out there
64 powerful cores – more than any other
Outperforms all Intel processors for multi-tasking and rendering
By far the most powerful processor in this guide, the 3990X dwarfs everything in its wake – even equaling Intel’s $20,000 premium enterprise CPUs. If you’re looking for lots of cores to help run virtual machines and highly taxing workloads, there is no better option than AMD’s 3990X Threadripper.
The latest flagship Threadripper from AMD comes equipped with 64 cores and 128 threads – yep, that’s right, 128 threads. It has a base clock speed of 2.9GHz and a boost speed of 4.3GHz respectively. It also gives you 56 lanes of PCIe 4.0, with an additional 8 lanes for the chipset. That makes this one of the most powerful processors ever built.
As far as performance goes, the 3990X tops the Corona 1.3 and Blender charts, beating out Intel’s Xeon range of CPUs quite easily – a monstrous feat when you consider the difference in price. Whilst it falls short of the 3970X for base, all-core, and single-core frequency, the 3990X offers double the cores and threads, making it far superior for those multi-tasking scenarios.
This CPU is really tailored towards render farms, game developers, and even film studio production crews where every second counts. Whilst it can be used for lesser intensive workflows, this CPU is really tailored towards companies running the most demanding of workflows.
All being said, from a technical sense, this CPU is a fantastic achievement from AMD, to say the least. It firmly puts them back on the map, leaving Intel well in their wake.
Very good value for money
Extremely high core frequency
Still outperforms most (if not all) Intel HEDTs
Not as powerful as the 3990X
Another new entry into the AMD Threadripper ranks is their 3970X – a CPU many are calling (including ourselves) the best value high-end desktop processor out there. Whilst it isn’t on the same level as the 3990X, it can boast impressive figures that outperform the similarly priced Intel 10980XE.
At the heart of the 3970X lies 32 cores and 64 threads, effectively making it half as powerful as the 3990X. However, with higher base/boost clock speeds (3.7GHz/4.5GHz), the 3970X is still extremely capable. When comparing to the 10980XE, Intel’s current flagship HEDT processor, it’s safe to say the 3970X wins out in almost every field. Higher core count, higher base frequency, more L3 cache/DRAM capacity/DRAM Frequency, and more PCIe lanes. All coupled together, it’s no surprise that the 3970X beat the Intel counterpart in almost every benchmark – apart from gaming which saw a 3% increase in Intel’s favor.
From a performance standpoint, the 3970X did extremely well in our benchmarking – seeing off the 3960X and the 10980XE easily. We recorded some pretty staggering figures in the Blender, Corona, and LuxMark tests, with the 3970X almost doubling the score of the 10980XE. This was pretty much the standard for most tests, unless the workload was AVX512 accelerated – in which Intel’s chips would come out on top.
Overall, the 3970X is a fantastic chip, however, like all the chips in this guide, you need to consider the price implications that come with purchasing a processor of this caliber. Not only does it come with a staggering price tag, but you’ll also have to fork out for a $500 motherboard, $150 CPU cooler, and probably $500 worth of RAM. All being said, it’s still another fantastic contribution by the guys in red.
Great mid-range workstation performance
Very good value for money
High max boost frequency
Only 24/48 threads
Next up we have our midrange pick, AMD’s 3960X Threadripper. This well-priced HEDT processor is the perfect choice for individuals looking to perform highly taxing workflow scenarios, without having to splash out of the eye-watering price tags that come with the top two picks. That being said, this is still a processor that makes the 3950X (AMD’s flagship desktop CPU) look incredibly cheap.
With 24 cores and 48 threads, the 3960X comes into direct competition with the 10980XE – in both price and core count. It’ll be interested to see how AMD’s midrange offering stacks up. That being said, for all intents and purposes, the 3960X is basically the same CPU as the 3970X, only with few cores. It comes with the same base/boost clock frequency (well, 100MHz great base clock), same L3 cache, DRAM IDPC, PCIe lands, and TDP. So, overall, still more advanced than the 10980XE.
Looking at performance and we see that the 3960X is much closer to the 10980XE – in the benchmarks – than the 3970X was. That being said, it still outperforms the 10980XE in most multi-tasking scenarios – including Blender, Corona 1.3, and LuxMark. However, and like the 3970X, any scenario that can be accelerated by AVX512 sees the Intel chip come out on top. The price to performance of the two chips is extremely close, giving consumers a real headache when it comes to deciding which is best for their needs. However, if you’re purely looking for multi-tasking performance, the 3960X just edges it – albeit slightly more expensive.
Excellent multi-tasking performance
Good overclocking potential
Outperforms all other Intel processors in multi-tasking and rendering
New socket requires a new motherboard
As for the Intel pick, there was really no other choice than the 10980XE – as far as affordability goes. The i9-10980XE is a refresh of the 9980XE, bringing greater clock speed and a few other tweaks to the table. With Ryzen performing so highly in most of the multi-tasking workstation benchmarks, it’ll be very interesting to see what fields the Intel excels in.
The Intel i9-10980XE is Intel’s latest 18core/36thread HEDT processor, bringing to the table a base clock frequency of 3.0GHz and 4.6GHz boost frequency – across all cores. It’s Intel’s attempt to re-capture some of the workstation consumer markets, albeit falling short of the AMD counterparts quite dramatically. That being said, it’s still the best Intel’s best offering as far as a domestic-consumer level CPU goes.
As we’ve already mentioned, the 10980XE doesn’t do that well in the benchmarking when comparing to the AMD powerhouses. That being said, there are still certain fields in which it does actually perform extremely well – one being AVX512 supportive Softwares.
Whilst AVX512 is fairly sporadic when it comes to consumer software – and only utilizes in some unique scenarios – it’s still worth mentioning the difference in performance when comparing Intel to AMD. Intel’s have been pushing its AVX512 support for some time now, in an effort to boost things like DLBoost and AI throughput. That being said, when it comes to performing tasks supported by AVX512 acceleration, the Intel chip leads the benchmarking over the AMD counterpart.
That being said, for all other scenarios, it’s fairly conclusive that the AMD is far greater value for money. Overall though, this is the best Intel has to offer.
A very cheap workstation processor
Still offers great max boost frequency
Great for lesser intensive multi-tasking scenarios
Nowhere near as powerful as other options in this guide
Last up we have our budget pick, the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1920X. Whilst it’s tough to call any Threadripper a “budget” offering, this one certainly falls into a category that is considered much more affordable than everything else in this guide. It also offers up more cores than many other similarly priced alternatives that reside in the desktop CPU category.
Being a 1st gen Ryzen Threadripper, the 1920X is nowhere near as advanced as the third-gen of today, only bringing 12cores and 24threads to the table. That being said, it does offer high capacity memory support, lots of PCIe lanes, and (what I like to call) excellent overall build affordability – Ie, the cost of the supporting hardware. Alongside these features, the 1920X offers up a 3.5GHz base clock and 4.0GHz boost clock frequency – more than enough to handle less intensive workflow scenarios like video rendering and streaming/recording.
At the time of writing this, the 1920X is currently retailing for well under $350, making it a real prospect for budget builders looking to build a workstation PC. When you take the reducing cost of low-end Threadripper motherboards into the equation, it’s easy to see why this is the preferred choice over say, the 3950X.
Related CPU Pages
Still struggling to figure out which CPU best suits your specific needs? If so, why not check out some of our other CPU related pages. These will give you a greater understanding of the CPU market and will definitely help you in your next purchasing venture.
As mentioned above, cooling is incredibly important in HEDT processors. For that reason, here are our best CPU cooler pages:
<span style=”font-weight: 400;”>We understand that choosing the best workstation CPU for your exact needs is a difficult task, to say the least. And whilst we’ve tried to keep the descriptions as short as possible, they can still be a little overwhelming for some individuals. If you’re still scratching your head over which CPU will best suit your requirements, here’s the final rundown in short.:</span>
<span style=”font-weight: 400;”>The best of the best. If you want lots and cores and require the highest level of performance, look no further. </span>
If you still want the highest levels of performance but don’t have the cash to splash out on the high-end price tag that comes with the 3990X, the 3970X is still a fine choice.
As far as midrange HEDT processors goes, this one pretty much rules them all. It falls into direct competition with Intel’s 10980XE CPU, beating it on almost every front.
Intel fans will be more than pleased with the performance levels this HEDT processor provides. Whilst it isn’t nearly as efficient as the AMD options, it still offers far greater multi-tasking performance than any of their desktop CPUs.
If you’re in the market for a budget workstation CPU, the 1920X offers some of the best value for money out there. Despite it being the least powerful out of any chip in this guide, it still provides decent multitasking performance when compared to other similarly priced alternatives.
So, there you have it guys, our complete breakdown of the best workstation processors currently available in 2021. Whilst the market isn’t exactly flooded with options, the choices that are available are <em>by far</em> the most powerful we’ve ever encountered. If you were to tell me a couple of years ago that AMD would be head and shoulders above Intel in the race for HEDT processing power, I’d of told you to take a day off the hard stuff. However, here we are, 2021 and that is exactly what has happened.
Hopefully this guide has made your next workstation CPU purchase that little bit easier, however, if it hasn’t, why not leave us a comment in the section below and we’ll answer any questions as soon as we can. Better still, why not head on over to our <a href=”https://www.wepc.com” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Community Hub</a> where you can discuss any workstation-related hardware with like-minded individuals.