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Over the last 6 months, both Intel and AMD have been making sweeping changes to their CPU lineups. Starting in March, AMD launched their Ryzen 8 core CPUs that for the first time in years made them competitive in the workstation market. In June, Intel fired back with their 6-10 core Skylake-X CPUs which in most cases re-cemented Intel as the top choice largely due to a massive price drop. A few months later in mid-August, AMD responded with their 12 and 16 core Threadripper CPUs with a 8 core model quickly following a few weeks later. Then after that, Intel launched a single 12 core Skylake-X CPU (Core i9 7920X) on August 28th. And today, we have another three CPUs from Intel: the Core i9 7940X 14 Core, Core i9 7960X 16 Core, and Core i9 7980XE 18 Core.
If all these CPU launches within such a short time period makes your head spin, you aren't alone. Just keeping up with all these new CPUs is pretty much a full time job! To kick off our latest series of hardware testing, we are going to benchmark the new Intel 14, 16, and 18 core CPUs in Premiere Pro to see how they compare to the existing Intel Skylake-X CPUs as well as AMD's Threadripper CPUs. If you wish to view all of our Skylake-X CPU testing, you can find a full list here.
There are a wide variety of tasks we could test in Premiere Pro to see how these CPUs perform, but in this article we will specifically be looking at:
- Rendering previews
- Performing a Warp Stabilization
- Live playback performance
Our testing includes test footage with resolutions of 4K, 6K, and 8K using six different codecs (more information in the test setup section). In total, we ran nearly 90 unique tests on 9 different CPUs resulting in more than 800 data points. If you would rather skip over our analysis of the individual benchmarks, feel free to jump right to the conclusion section.
Our test platforms for the Skylake-X and Threadripper CPUs are listed below, but we did want to point out that the RAM configuration changed a little bit depending on the CPU. For the majority of the CPUs we used DDR4-2666 RAM but since the Core i7 7800X only natively supports DDR4-2400 we tested with that RAM instead.
|Skylake-X (X299) & Threadripper (X399) Test Platforms|
|Motherboard:||Gigabyte X299 AORUS Gaming 7
|Gigabyte X399 AORUS Gaming 7
Intel Core i7 7820X 3.6GHz
|AMD Threadripper 1920X 3.5GHz
(4.0GHz Turbo) 12 Core
AMD Threadripper 1950X 3.4GHz
(4.0GHz Turbo) 16 Core
|RAM:||8x DDR4-2400 16GB
|8x DDR4-2666 16GB
|8x DDR4-2666 16GB
|GPU:||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti 11GB|
|Hard Drive:||Samsung 960 Pro 1TB M.2 PCI-E x4 NVMe SSD|
|OS:||Windows 10 Pro 64-bit|
|Software:||Premiere Pro CC 2017.1.2|
Before getting into our testing, we want to point out is that while our test platforms are using a single hard drive, that is not actually what we would typically recommend to our customers. We have found in our testing that using at least a two drive configuration with the media cache and scratch files on a secondary drive can make a big impact when it comes to importing footage and tasks like conforming audio. However, since we will not be testing any of these actions in this article we opted to use a single drive simply to cut down on the number of variables.
Most of the media we will be using is available from the Sample R3D Files and transcoded to the various codecs we wanted to test.
To test exporting and rendering previews we used a moderately complex timeline involving multiple clips, Lumetri Color, multicam footage, and some other effects like a logo overlay, Gaussian Blur and Cross Dissolves. If you want a more in-depth look at what our timelines look like, we recorded a short video explaining our test process:
Our 4K VR testing was performed using the "Sample 1 – Ring road motorbike ride" footage from the Autopano Video Benchmarking page. We tested using both some built-in Premiere Pro effects (Lumetri Color, text overlay, and cross dissolve) as well as using the Mettle Skybox 360 VR Tools and Skybox 360/VR Transitions plug-ins to apply a number of effects such as Denoise, Rotate Sphere, Sharpen, and Iris Wipe. We typically try to avoid using plug-ins in our testing, but since Premiere Pro only has basic support for VR at the moment we felt it made sense to also look at the popular Mettle plug-in for VR projects. In addition, Adobe recently acquired Mettle Skybox which means all Creative Cloud customers will be able to use this plugin for free by the end of the year.
The first task in Premiere Pro we want to look at is rendering previews. This is something you never really want to have to do since it interrupts your workflow, but if you do complex editing it is sometimes unavoidable. Because of this, being able to render previews as quickly as possible is often an important part of a Premiere Pro workstation.
Since we are comparing 9 different CPUs across 16 different projects that include a range of resolutions and source codecs, it would take us a long time to go through the results one by one. Because of this, we decided to compile all the results into an overall average for each CPU compared to the Intel Core i7 7800X. As the lowest cost CPU in both the Skylake-X and Threadripper lines, it should be a great comparison point to judge the other CPUs against. If you wish to examine the raw results yourself, you can do so by clicking on the "Show Raw Results" link under the chart.
Overall, the new 14, 16, and 18 core Intel CPUs are a bit faster than the CPUs that are already available, but it is a pretty minor improvement. In fact, compared to the Core i9 7900X 10 core or Threadripper 1950X 16 core, you are only looking at about a 3-5% gain in performance. Interestingly, we actually saw a small performance drop with the Core i9 7980XE 18 core which, as you will see in the following sections, is an unfortunate trend across all our testing when using that CPU.
Exporting is one of the biggest time sinks for a Premiere Pro user and is often the go-to metric for measuring performance. For this test, we looked at 35 different combinations of source footage and export settings. This includes 4K, 6K, and 8K resolutions along with H.264, DNxHR HQ, ProRes 422 HQ, ProRes 4444, RED, and H.265 codecs. In addition, we will also be looking at VR projects using both built-in effects as well as with the popular Mettle plugin.
Just like in the previous section, since we are comparing 9 different CPUs across 35 different projects that use a range of resolutions, source codecs, and export settings, we decided to compile all the results into an overall average for each CPU compared to the Intel Core i7 7800X. If you have the time and will, feel free to examine the raw results yourself by clicking on the "Show Raw Results" link below the chart.
Once again, the Core i9 7940X, 7960X, and 7980XE show some performance improvement, but not anything drastic compared to the existing Intel and AMD CPUs. The Core i9 7940X is a decent 7% faster than the Core i9 7900X but only 3% faster than the Core i9 7920X. The Core i9 7960X is technically another percent faster on top of this, but a single percent is well within the margin of error for this test. At the top end, the Core i9 7980XE actually had a small performance drop, coming in a hair slower than the Core i9 7940X.
While exporting and rendering previews may be the easiest and most common thing to benchmark in Premiere Pro, we have received a lot of feedback that performing a warp stabilize is another task where high performance is important for some users. We have found that the time it takes to complete a warp stabilize analysis does not vary much on the source codec, but the resolution does make a big difference so we will be testing with a 4K H.264 clip as well as an 8K ProRes 4444 clip.
Since warp stabilize is not well threaded (meaning that it does not take great advantage of multiple CPU cores), we also opted to split our test clip into multiple parts and analyze all of them at the same time to force Premiere into making more effective use of all the CPU cores. This is a trick some people use to speed up the time it takes to analyze a single clip, but it is also a great indicator of performance when you have multiple clips that need to be stabilized. With this in mind, we not only timed how long it takes to apply a warp stabilization effect to a single 10 second clip, but also how long it takes if the clip is split into 2, 4, 8, and 16 "sub-clips" that are all analyzed at the same time.
While we were able to get away with an overall average in the last two sections, the results for warp stabilize depends so heavily on the number of clips you are analyzing that we decided to show both the average result with a single clip and with 16 clips. Feel free to examine the raw results if you would like to see the results for 2, 4, and 8 clips, but the results for those fell between the single and 16 clip results about as you would expect so we opted to not muddy the chart with even more data.
Starting with a single clip, the Core i9 7940X and 7960X both performed about on par with the other Skylake-X CPUs which is to be expected as they have similar Turbo Boost 3.0 frequencies. Interestingly, even though the Core i9 7980XE has the same Turbo Boost 3.0 frequency (which allows two cores to run at 4.4GHz), the Core i9 7980XE was significantly slower at stabilizing a single clip. We're not quite sure why this is, but it is possible that the Turbo Boost 3.0 software simply isn't working properly and is not assigning one of the two "strong" cores to Premiere Pro during these tests.
Stabilizing 16 clips at once allows the new CPUs to show some decent performance gains of around 10% over the existing CPUs. What is odd, however, is that the Core i9 7940X was actually the fastest for this, beating the Core i9 7960X by 4% and the Core i9 7980XE by 2%.
Live playback performance is a challenge for us to accurately test since whether you can play a timeline at full, half, quarter, etc. resolution is highly dependent not only on your source footage but also what effects you have applied to the timeline. To try to keep things universally applicable, we opted to test 10 different projects using 4K, 6K, and 8K footage with multiple codecs across three relatively simple timelines. What we wanted to see is if we would be able to play the timeline at either full or half resolution without dropping any frames – even if it was just one or two at the very start of playback.
- 4 clips in series
- No effects
- No transitions
- 4 clips via multicam sequence
- Lumetri Color Correction
- No transitions
Lumetri & Cross Dissolve
- 4 clips via multicam sequence
- Lumetri Color Correction
- Cross dissolve
For a general overview of how each CPU performed for live playback, we created a scoring system based on how many timelines each CPU was able to run at either full or half resolution. Every successful playback without dropping any frames at full resolution is 1 point while every playback at half resolution is .5 points. However, if there is a codec you typically use that we happened to include in our testing, we highly recommend looking at the raw results to see how each CPU performed for that specific codec.
Using our score-based system, you can get a pretty decent idea of how each CPU might affect live playback performance. Overall, the Core i9 7940X did extremely well and is now the top CPU for live playback from an overall score perspective. The Core i9 7980XE 18 core also did fairly well in this test as it was able to match the previous top score of 21.5 from the Core i9 7900X.
Based on our testing, one thing is very clear: we are definitely hitting a wall when it comes to how many CPU cores the current version of Premiere Pro can take advantage of. We saw evidence of this not long ago when we looked at whether you should use a Dual Xeon workstation for Premiere Pro (hint: don't) but until these high core count CPUs became available it was unclear whether that was a high core count issue or simply an issue caused by the complexity of dual CPU setups..
Technically, these new CPUs are faster in Premiere Pro, but what is surprising is how minor the performance improvements tended to be:
What it comes down to is that at the very top end, the Core i9 7980XE 18 core simply isn't a great choice for Premiere Pro. In a vacuum, the performance is great, but it is slightly out-performed by both the 14 and 16 core models which means there is little reason to pay the extra money for it. Even the Core i9 7960X 16 core you would have a tough time arguing for as it was at most 1% faster than the Core i9 7940X 14 core, but much worse at live playback. There are certainly some use-cases where these CPUs would make sense – such as if you also do a lot of 3D rendering – but Premiere Pro simply can't take advantage of the extra CPU cores.
Overall, we would say that the Core i9 7940X 14 core is the only new CPU that might actually have a place in a typical Premiere Pro workstation. It isn't significantly faster for exporting and rendering previews than the Core i9 7900X or Core i9 7920X, but the improved live playback performance alone will make it a great choice for some users.
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