In the early 2000s, we had the battle to high frequencies. The company that could force the most cycles through a processor could get a base performance advantage over the other, and it led to some rather hot chips, with the certain architectures being dropped for something that scaled better. Move on 10-15 years and we are now at the heart of the Core Wars: how many CPU cores with high IPC can you fit into a consumer processor? Up to today, the answer was 10, but now AMD is pushing the barrier to 16 with its new Threadripper processors. We got both of the launch CPUs for review and put them on the grill.

The New World Order

Earlier in the year, AMD launched their new CPU microarchitecture, Zen. This was implemented into the Ryzen series of CPUs, aiming squarely at Intel’s high-end desktop market first. The three members of the Ryzen 7 family all had eight cores with hyperthreading, and scored highly in performance per dollar, achieving performance near comparable Intel processors at half the price (or better). Next came four Ryzen 5 CPUs, competing in price against the quad core i5 parts, and for that price Ryzen 5 had twelve threads, triple that of Core i5. Finally Ryzen 3 hit the ~$120 market against the Core i3s, with double the cores over Intel. We also saw AMD’s EPYC family officially launch into the enterprise space, offering up to 32 cores, and is being rolled out over the next few months as OEMs and customers test and scale their performance.

Out of the gate today is AMD’s Ryzen Threadripper family, or Threadripper for short. These CPUs take a similar design as the AMD EPYC processors, but for a consumer platform. The first two CPUs are the 1950X and 1920X, with 16 and 12 cores respectively, to be then followed by the 8 core 1900X on August 31st, and the 1920 at sometime unknown. These parts will fit into the LGA-style TR4 socket, containing 4094-pins. This socket is identical (but not interchangeable) to the SP3 socket used for EPYC, and a large step over the 1331-pin PGA-style AM4 socket for the Ryzen 7/5/3 processors.

AMD Ryzen SKUs
  Cores/
Threads
Base/
Turbo
XFR L3 DRAM
1DPC
PCIe TDP SRP Cooler
TR 1950X 16/32 3.4/4.0 +200* 32 MB 4x2666 60 180W $999 -
TR 1920X 12/24 3.5/4.0 +200* 32 MB 4x2666 60 180W $799 -
TR 1920** 12/24 3.2/3.8 ? 32 MB 4-Ch? 60 140W ? -
TR 1900X 8/16 3.8/4.0 +200 16 MB* 4x2666* 60 180W* $549 -
Ryzen 7 1800X 8/16 3.6/4.0 +100 16 MB 2x2666 16 95 W $499 -
Ryzen 7 1700X 8/16 3.4/3.8 +100 16 MB 2x2666 16 95 W $399 -
Ryzen 7 1700 8/16 3.0/3.7 +50 16 MB 2x2666 16 65 W $329 Spire
Ryzen 5 1600X 6/12 3.6/4.0 +100 16 MB 2x2666 16 95 W $249 -
Ryzen 5 1600 6/12 3.2/3.6 +100 16 MB 2x2666 16 65 W $219 Spire
Ryzen 5 1500X 4/8 3.5/3.7 +200 16 MB 2x2666 16 65 W $189 Spire
Ryzen 5 1400 4/8 3.2/3.4 +50 8 MB 2x2666 16 65 W $169 Stealth
Ryzen 3 1300X 4/4 3.5/3.7 +200 8 MB 2x2666 16 65 W $129 Stealth
Ryzen 3 1200 4/4 3.1/3.4 +50 8 MB 2x2666 16 65 W $109 Stealth

* New information from AMD from our last piece
** Unannounced product, specifications subject to change

Where Ryzen 7 was aiming for Intel’s high-end desktop (HEDT) market share, Threadripper is designed to go above and beyond this, into a ‘super high-end desktop’ market (SHED). The core counts that AMD are releasing with Threadripper were only traditionally seen on Intel’s server line, which features up to 28 cores for a $10000 outlay. By bringing higher-core count parts, with reasonable IPC, frequency, and power numbers, AMD is fudging the line between consumer, prosumer, and enterprise. To compete, Intel announced that their Skylake-X platform will be coming out with 12, 14, 16 and 18 core parts over the next few months.

Similar to Intel’s biggest chips, AMD is aiming Threadripper into the hands of users who want to do everything all the time. For home users, that might mean gaming while streaming (transcoding and uploading in real-time) while also hosting a game server and all other things besides. For prosumers it means video production or compute throughput using several GPUs/FPGAs mixed in with fast storage and networking. The idea is that if the user has something that needs doing, they can also use their system to do other things at the same time and have sufficient CPU grunt, PCIe slots, storage, and DRAM to power it all. Threadripper is, after all, derrived from a design for a server CPU, and accordingly it never strays too far from the high performance-density aspects that have defined servers over the last decade.

New Socket, New Motherboards

Again, similar to Intel’s HEDT platform, AMD is launching the X399 platform alongside Threadripper to provide the necessary tools. The large TR4 socket and all of its pins gives quad-channel memory with two DIMMs per channel, along with up to 60 PCIe lanes for add-in cards (Video cards, NICs, SSDs, etc). These motherboards currently support the two Threadripper CPUs launched today, one more CPU to be launched at the end of the month, and another CPU that has been leaked but not announced (with an unknown release date).

The socket is different to previous AMD sockets, showcasing how much of a step up this is. Rather than a PGA socket with a simple latch system to provide enough force between the pads and pins, the LGA TR4 socket has three Torx screws that should be removed in order – one on the left of the picture above and two on the right. The socket bracket immediately flips open, with a small tray – this tray takes the CPU. All of the Threadripper CPUs will come in this little tray, and there’s no need to take it out of the tray.

Because of the design of the socket and the size of the CPUs, the screw holes for CPU coolers are different as well. As each CPU is currently geared for 180W, AMD recommends liquid cooling at a bare minimum, and will bundle an Asetek CPU bracket with every CPU sold (a Torx screwdriver is also supplied).

The bracket is narrower on one end, which indicates the ‘top’ of the socket in a traditional motherboard shot.

A total of six motherboards from the four main manufacturers should be available on day one, with at least one or two more coming down the pipe. Our own Joe Shields has written an extensive preview of each motherboard to accompany this article.

The crux of the motherboard design will be down to how each of the available IO functions is routed. AMD’s base block diagram is as follows:

AMD's suggested configuration gives 48 lanes from the CPU to the PCIe slots for 4-way SLI/CFX action (16/16/8/8), 12 lanes from the CPU to M.2 slots for 3-way x4 NVMe, and 4 lanes to the chipset. The chipset then would have two gigabit Ethernet ports, a PCIe x4 slot, a PCIe x1 slot, a PCIe x1 for WiFi, SATA ports, USB 3.1 Gen 1 and USB 3.1 Gen 2, and USB 2.0 ports.

At present we expect the X399 motherboards to vary between $249 and $599, depending on their feature set. The motherboard we were sampled for the launch review was ASUS’ X399 ROG Zenith Extreme, which has an MSRP of $549.

Competition

We asked both Intel and AMD to list what they consider would be the ideal competition for the Threadripper processors. Given that Threadripper is a consumer focused product – and interestingly, not really a workstation focused product – AMD expectantly stated that Intel’s current Core i9-7900X, a 10-core processor, is the product available today that best fits that role. A Xeon would be an workstation/enterprise product, which would not be sold in many prebuilt systems that Threadripper customers might want.

Intel surprised me, in saying exactly the same thing. They stated that the Core i9-7900X would be the best fit at the time of Threadripper’s launch. I half-expected them to suggest some form of cheaper 2P option, although when I followed them up as to why they didn’t suggest such a thing, it became obvious for two reasons: firstly, Intel’s Consumer and Intel’s Enterprise divisions are almost different companies with little crossover or insight into the other’s business. There are no unified press relations on this front: ask the consumer team, get the consumer answer. Ask the Enterprise team and they’re more focused on EPYC, not Threadripper. The second reason is that a ‘cheap 2P’ system doesn’t exist when you buy new – most online discussions about cheaper Intel 2P systems revolve around finding CPU bargains from the gray market or resellers.

So the competition is essentially Skylake-X (and a nod to Broadwell-E at a discount). The AMD Threadripper 1950X with 16-cores and 1920X with 12-cores are put up against the Core i9-7900X with 10-cores and the Core i7-7820X with 8 cores. Broadwell’s Core i7-6950X also makes an appearance due to the different microarchitecture. We’ll add in AMD’s Ryzen 7 1800X as a contender as well, and Ryzen 7 1700 as a performance per dollar competitor.

The Battle
  Cores/
Threads
Base/
Turbo
XFR L3 DRAM
1DPC
PCIe TDP Cost
(8/10)
AMD TR 1950X 16/32 3.4/4.0 +200 32 MB 4x2666 60 180W $999
Intel i9-7900X 10/20 3.3/4.3 +200 13.75 4x2666 44 140W $980
Intel i7-6950X 10/20 3.0/3.5 +500 25 MB 4x2400 40 140W $1499
AMD TR 1920X 12/24 3.5/4.0 +200 32 MB 4x2666 60 180W $799
Intel i7-7820X 8/16 3.6/4.3 +200 11 MB 4x2666 28 140W $593
AMD TR 1900X 8/16 3.8/4.0 +200 16 MB 4x2666 60 180W $549
AMD R7 1800X 8/16 3.6/4.0 +100 16 MB 2x2666 16 95 W $419
AMD R7 1700X 8/16 3.4/3.8 +100 16 MB 2x2666 16 95 W $350
AMD R7 1700 8/16 3.0/3.7 +50 16 MB 2x2666 16 65 W $291

The key here is that Threadripper has more cores and more PCIe lanes at the same price, with a lower turbo but a higher base frequency, at slightly more power for similar platform costs. It’s going to be an interesting battle.

Pages In This Review

Additional Review Notes

Due to circumstances beyond our control, this review has no Skylake-X gaming data. At the time of our SKL-X review, it was throwing up some issues and so we aimed to test at a later date. We ran some more data using the latest BIOS and a more stringent cooling setup, then when Threadripper arrived we packed the SKL-X away and Threadripper took the phsyical place of SKL-X in the lab. Having had time to look back at our SKL-X results and now process them, we had one CPU+GPU combo that seemed to perform as expected but the rest were still erroneous. Once this review is out of the way and a couple of mini-projects, we're going to update the X299 motherboard with a new one and knuckle down to find this issue, as it appears to be BIOS/firmware related.

Feeding the Beast and CPU Top Trumps
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  • RoboJ1M - Friday, August 11, 2017 - link

    Specifically, the 360 had 3 general purpose CPU cores
    And the PS3 had one general purpose CPU core and 7 short pipeline coprocessors that could only read and write to their caches. They had to be fed by the CPU core.
    The 360 had unified program and graphics ram (still not common on PC!)
    As well as it's large high speed cache.
    The PS3 had septate program and video ram.
    The Xbox one and PS4 were super boring pcs in boxes. But they did have 8 core CPUs. The x1x is interesting. It's got unified ram that runs at ludicrous speed. Sadly it will only be used for running games in 1800p to 2160p at 30 to 60 FPS :(
    Reply
  • mlambert890 - Saturday, August 12, 2017 - link

    Why do people constantly assume this is purely time/market economics?

    Not everything can *be* parallelized. Do people really not get that? It isn't just developers targeting a market. There are tasks that *can't be parallelized* because of the practical reality of dependencies. Executing ahead and out of order can only go so far before you have an inverse effect. Everyone could have 40 core CPUs... It doesn't mean that *gaming workloads* will be able to scale out that well.

    The work that lends itself best to parallelization is the rendering pipeline and that's already entirely on the GPU (which is already massively parallel)
    Reply
  • Magichands8 - Thursday, August 10, 2017 - link

    I think what AMD did here though is fantastic. In my mind, creating a switch to change modes vastly adds to the value of the chip. I can now maximize performance based upon workload and software profile and that brings me closer to having the best of both worlds from one CPU. Reply
  • Notmyusualid - Sunday, August 13, 2017 - link

    @ rtho782

    I agree it is a mess, and also, it is not AMDs fault.

    I've have a 14c/28t Broadwell chip for over a year now, and I cannot launch Tomb Raider with HT on, nor GTA5. But most s/w is indifferent to the amount of cores presented to them, it would seem to me.
    Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Thursday, August 10, 2017 - link

    Great review but the word "traditional" is used heavily. Given the short lifespan of computer parts and the nature of consumer electronics, I'd suggest that there isn't enough time or emotional attachment to establish a tradition of any sort. Motherboards sockets and market segments, for instance, might be better described in other ways unless it's becoming traditional in the review business to call older product designs traditional. :) Reply
  • mkozakewich - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    Oh man, but we'll still gnash our teeth at our broken tech traditions! Reply
  • lefty2 - Thursday, August 10, 2017 - link

    It's pretty useless measuring power alone. You need to measure efficiency (performance /watt).
    So yeah, a 16 core CPU draws more power than a 10 core, but it also probably doing a lot more work.
    Reply
  • Diji1 - Thursday, August 10, 2017 - link

    Er why don't you just do it yourself, they've already given you the numbers. Reply
  • lefty2 - Thursday, August 10, 2017 - link

    except that they haven't Reply
  • Dr. Swag - Thursday, August 10, 2017 - link

    How so? You have the performance numbers, and they gave you power draw numbers... Reply

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