***Update: Additional overclocked testing results can now be found here***
Over the past few hardware generations, we've seen strong performance gains occurring around the point in the market often viewed as consumer level. With previous generations before this, we normally would have expected to see a middle ground positioned between consumer-level hardware and workstation-grade solutions with a segment known as HEDT or "High-End Desktop" bridging the divide. Typically featuring increased memory support, numerous storage connectivity options, and a healthy increase in PCIe lane support, these would often prove to be the systems of choice for those wanting to handle larger projects be that for audio or video workloads.
With AMD dropping their regular Threadripper range, in favour of the more workstation-centric Threadripper Pro range a few years ago, it left the remaining Intel X299 platform with this part of the market largely to itself. Whilst it could be argued that the platform still held its own even up until relatively recently, mostly in part to its generous memory support, the market has otherwise since moved on by surpassing it in performance and the well-earned retirement of the X299 platform is finally upon us.
Today we get to take a look at its replacement as Intel brings us the initial set of processors from the "Sapphire Rapids" generation of CPUs. Offering a range of chips that pass on the hybrid design of mixed high and low-performance cores found in the 13th Gen midrange "Raptor Lake" CPUs, instead bringing us chips that offer fully matched performance across all of the available cores.
The chips will arrive in two groups with the 2400 series chips already available and the 3400 series to follow in late April. Both ranges are pitched as HEDT successors, the 2400 series featuring up to 24 cores, 64 PCIe CPU lanes, and up to a potential of 2TB of memory. The 3400 series, by contrast, will offer up to 56 cores, 112 PCIe lanes, and a potential of 4TB of memory support when they arrive.
Based on the new Socket 4677 design, the first thing to note is that these are physically large chips. We've seen the power requirements for the top-end chips in the mid-range climb steeply in recent years and those physically smaller chips in the midrange can often get toasty under load. Here where we see a more sizable socket designed to take up to the full 56 cores, we find that as the 2400 series spans from just 6 cores, up to 24 cores, even at the top end of the range we would expect it offer fairly easy heat dispersion, which in practice did prove true. With it being a new socket, there needs to be a new range of coolers to support it and we find ourselves using the Noctua NJ-U14S DX-4677 air cooler here today, which handled everything we threw at it with ease.
This is set up on an ASUS W790 ACE board running with 64GB of Micron ECC 4800MHz RAM. Memory options at launch are extremely limited and given we've seen RAM performance help out with the sample-based VI test previously, this could outline that when faster kits arrive it might prove one variable to keep an eye on.
Today we have the 16 core (W7-2465X), 20 core (W7-2475X), and 24 core (W7-2495X) joining our results table here, with what was initially a surprising set of results at least until we dug a little bit deeper.
The W7-2495X has a turbo 3.0 rating of 4.8Ghz and lists a turbo 2.0 boost rating of 4.6GHz although this is noted as only a single-core target figure. Our testing by contrast sees the channel loads spread across all of the cores, causing the chip to lower its overall boost target. When fully stress loading the chip the all-core boost target will vary depending on which CPU model it is, but across the range, we're seeing results in the region of 3.0GHz to 4.0GHz at 100% load.
The easiest comparison is pulling up each range's flagship, with the W7-2495X sporting 24 full-performance cores in contrast to the 13900K's 8 performance + 16 efficiency core arrangement. The 13900K only has hyper-threading on the 8 performance cores, whereas the W7-2495X features it across all 16 suggesting that it should be in a very strong position. The limitation however has those W7-2495X cores dropping to an all-core rating of around 3.3GHz under load testing, which means that with the 13900K and its efficient cores running up to 4.3GHz along with its performance cores reaching up to around 5.4GHz it returns the stronger result overall in the CPU-focused DSP test.
Alternatively, the Kontakt based DAWBench VI test leverages both the CPU and RAM performance and tends to also benefit from stronger cache performance, all of which pushes the 2495X into the lead here and also helps to give the other chips in the same range relatively strong showings overall as well.
Looking at only the performance on offer and the W7-2495X is trading off against Intel's own 13900K depending on your usage scenario. It does so with a lower power draw and better heat dispersal which are all points in its favour, making a strong first impression until we stop to consider other factors.
These are professionally targeted solutions and the supporting workstation-grade mainboards tend to be decidedly more costly than their consumer-orientated counterparts. The ASUS W790 ACE used in testing weighs in at £900 retail and finds itself as one of the better value board offerings at launch. On top of that you would need to add server-grade ECC memory, which also typically carries a premium over regular DDR5 kits.
With a price at the time of writing of £2399 for the W7-2495X, the CPU itself will set you back an amount that would easily buy you a complete 13900K system with performance in the same ballpark at least for audio applications. Where I suspect this new range will excel will be in situations that can make use of extra PCIe lanes, with multiple rendering cards in video or AI learning setups but wouldn't offer such benefits in the typical studio arrangement.
The one other feature that has previously made the HEDT solutions popular in the past came down to the larger quantity of memory that could be fitted to help support large audio library users. However, over the course of early 2023 a number of firms have started to introduce matched 48GB kits targeted at the Intel 13 gen consumer level boards, where we are now seeing 4X48GB quad pack RAM kits available for the first time. With the potential to now fit up to 192GB of RAM on those midrange, it offers a more affordable, yet overall comparable in performance solution for the vast majority of users.
The W7-2495X's Xeon lineage is clear here and as a platform, they have had mixed suitability in the studio over the years. We often see their tendency to cram in more cores overall, but with generally lower clock speeds overall in comparison to the consumer-level offerings, which has often counted against them in audio project handling scenarios. Whilst we came into this round of testing looking for a true successor to the HEDT crown, the results in testing haven't quite born this out. There are certain markets out there where this style of configuration makes a lot of sense and the added features found within the new chipset will no doubt prove a boon. For the average audio user, however, the strengths of the platform would have a far more marginal impact outside of some fairly specific configuration requirements.
At the time of writing, from a value-orientated point of view, either the 13900K or 7950X or other chips within their respective ranges offer the best-value solutions, plus with price adjustments recently to some of the AMD X3D chips perhaps bringing them more into consideration, there are certainly a number of options that already offer great value when given consideration along with the test results.