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Arnold for Maya CPU Comparison: New 14, 16, and 18-core Skylake-X Processors

Written on September 25, 2017 by William George


Arnold is the render engine included with Maya 2017, and is also available as a plug-in for several other design applications. It is made by SolidAngle and produces beautiful 3D renditions of scenes and visual effects. When rendering those graphics, the performance of the central processor (CPU) in a computer is of paramount importance. CPU-based rendering generally scales well with both clock speed and core count, but those specifications cannot be directly compared across different brand or generations of processor. Here at Puget Systems we do real-world testing to ensure we provide our customers with the right computer for their needs.

Intel has just released a trio of new Core X series processors, with higher core counts than anything they have offered in this line to date: the Core i9 7940X, 7960X, and 7980XE - with 14, 16, and 18 cores respectively. We ran these chips through a few tests in Maya 2017, using the Arnold render engine, to see how they perform. We had recently put out an article on this same software that covered some additional processors as well, and at the time AMD's Threadripper CPUs were found to be the fastest single-CPU option. This time we will focus just on the Core X series in comparison to Threadripper, to see if the new models can take the performance title back for Intel.

Test Setup

To see how these different CPUs perform in Arnold, we ran it within Maya 2017 on the following configurations:

The main focus here is on the three new Core X (formerly code named Skylake X) processors, and specifically how they compare to AMD's Threadripper models. In our last round of testing we found that the 16-core 1950X took the lead in single-CPU performance with Keyshot, as well as many other CPU-based rendering engines. Dual CPUs are often a great way to increase performance as well, though they cost substantially more and are outside the scope of this particular article. Here are some details about how we conducted our testing, but if you just want to skip straight to the results then feel free to scroll past this section.

The results presented below are from Arnold for Maya, which comes standard with Maya 2017. That program is available from Autodesk for a 30-day trial, as well as in several subscription options for long-term use. Within Maya we opened a test file called from Solid Angle called "model village", and then navigated to the Arnold render window. The scene was rendered at two resolutions: 640x480 and 1280x960. No threads were reserved for the UI or other applications, so that we could measure the true performance of each CPU without artificial limitations.

Village render scene for Arnold from Solid Angle

It is also worth pointing out the speed of memory we used in these tests. We prefer to use the speed of memory that each CPU is rated for, according to its manufacturer. For the current crop of Core X and Threadripper processors that is DDR4-2666. These platforms can technically be run with even faster RAM modules, but that is pushing the memory controller built into the CPU past its rated speed - overclocking it, effectively. That may lead to slightly increased performance but we have also found it to lead to stability issues and higher rates of memory failure. For that reason we stick with the manufacturer specs when it comes to selecting RAM for our systems.

Benchmark Results

Here are the results, in seconds, for the various CPUs we tested in Arnold for Maya at 640x480. Lower times are better:

Arnold for Maya 640x480 Render Results With New Skylake X Processors

And here are the results for the same scene but rendered at 1280x960:

Arnold for Maya 1280x960 Render Results With New Skylake X Processors

Both sets of results are nearly identical in terms of relative CPU performance. Rendering in Arnold is a heavily threaded application, so there is a clear spread between the different processors based on core count. As shown in our last round of testing, AMD's 12-core 1920X ties Intel's 10-core i9 7900X. This time around, though, the 16-core 1950X is bested by the three new models from Intel - with the fastest 7980XE leading the AMD chip by over 20%. It also costs twice as much, but if you look at that additional $1000 in the scope of the whole system price (rather than focusing on the price of the CPUs themselves) it may be worthwhile for the increased performance.

It is also worth noting that AMD and Intel both have server-class processors with even more cores as well: up to 32 on AMD's EPYC and up to 28 from Intel's latest Xeon Platinum line. With their focus on the multi-CPU server segment those may not come into play for Arnold, or other CPU-based renderers, but if a manufacturer puts out a single-socket workstation motherboard that is compatible with either of those platforms then they may be worth a look.


As shown above, the tables have turned since our last Arnold rendering test. Intel took back the lead, but their new Core X processors are also substantially more expensive than AMD's Threadripper. If you want the absolute fastest single-CPU rendering speeds then go for the i9 7980XE - but if you want a great value, the 1950X has very strong performance while costing $1000 less.

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Tags: CPU, Rendering, Arnold, Maya, 2017, MtoA, Solid, Angle, Performance, Processor, Intel, Core, i9, Skylake, AMD, Threadripper