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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  • Diji1 - Thursday, August 10, 2017 - link

    Agreed! Reply
  • Zstream - Thursday, August 10, 2017 - link

    For me, it isn't about "scientific benchmarking", it's about what benchmarks are used and what story is being told. I think, along with many others, would never buy a threadripper to open a single .pdf. I could be wrong, but I don't think that's the target audience Intel or AMD is aiming for.

    I mean, why not forgo the .pdf and other benchmarks that are really useless for this product and add multi-threaded use cases. For instance, why not test how many VM's and I/O is received, or launching a couple VM's, running a SQL DB benchmark, and gaming at the same time?

    It could just be me, but I'm not going to buy a 7900x or 1950x for opening up .pdf files, or test SunSpider/Kraken lol. Hopefully we didn't include those benchmarks to tell a story, as mentioned above.

    We're goingto be compiling, 3d rendering with multi-gpu's, running multiple VM's, all while multi-tasking with other apps.

    My 2 cents.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Thursday, August 10, 2017 - link

    Single threaded use cases aren't why people buy really wide CPUs. But performing badly in them, since they represent a lot of ordinary basic usage, can be a reason not to buy one. Also running the same benches on all products allows for them all to be compared readily vs having to hunt for benches covering the specific pair you're interested in.

    VM type benchmarks are more Johan's area since that's a traditional server workload. OTOH there's a decent amount of overlap with developer workloads there too so adding it now that we've got a compile test might not be a bad idea. On the gripping hand, any new benchmarks need to be fully automated so Ian can push an easy button to collect data while he works on analysis of results. Also the value of any new benchmark needs to be weighed against how much it slows the entire benching run down, and how much time rerunning it on a large number of existing platforms will take to generate a comparison set.
    Reply
  • iwod - Thursday, August 10, 2017 - link

    It really depends on use case. 20% slower on PDF opening? I dont care, because the time has reached diminishing returns and Intel needs to be MUCH faster for this to be a UX problem.

    But I think at $999 Intel has a strong case for its i9. But factoring in the MB AMD is still cheaper. Not sure if that is mentioned in the article.

    Also note Intel is on their third iteration of 14nm, against a new 14nm from AMD GloFlo.

    I am very excited for 7nm Zen 2 coming next year. I hope all the software and compiler as well as optimisation has time to catch up for Zen.
    Reply
  • Zstream - Thursday, August 10, 2017 - link

    I won't get into an argument, but I and many of my friends, who are on the developer side of the house have been waiting for this review, and it doesn't provide me with any useful information. I understand it might be Johan's wheelhouse, but come on... opening a damn .pdf file, and testing SunSpider/Kraken/gaming benchmarks? That won't provide anyone interested in either CPU any validation of purchase. I'm not trying to be salty, I just want some more damn details vs. trying to put both vendors in a good light. Reply
  • Ian Cutress - Thursday, August 10, 2017 - link

    Rather than have 20 different tests for each set of different CPUs and very minimal overlap, we have a giant glove that has all the tests for every CPU in a single script. So 80 test points, rather than 4x20. The idea is that there are benchmarks for everyone, so you can ignore the ones that don't matter, rather than expect 100% of the benchmarks to matter (e.g. if you care about five tests, does it matter to you if the tests are published alongside 75 other tests, or do they have to be the only five tests in the review?). It's not a case of trying to put both vendors in a good light, it's a case of this is a universal test suite. Reply
  • Zstream - Thursday, August 10, 2017 - link

    Well, show me a database benchmark, virtual machine benchmark, 3dmax benchmark, blender benchmark and I'll shutty ;)

    It's hard for me to look at this review outside of a gamers perspective, which I'm not. Sorry, just the way I see it. I'll wait for more pro-consumer benchmarks?
    Reply
  • Johan Steyn - Thursday, August 10, 2017 - link

    This is exactly my point as well. Why on earth so much focus on single threaded tests and games, since we all knew from way back TR was not going to be a winner here. Where are all the other benches as you mention. Oh, no, this will have Intel look bad!!!!! Reply
  • Vorl - Thursday, August 10, 2017 - link

    the answer to both of you is that "this is a High end PC processor, not a workstation CPU, and not a server CPU. That was clearly covered at the start of the article.

    If you want raw number crunching info, there will be other sites that are going to have those reviews, and really, maybe anandtech will review it in that light since it really is such a powerful CPU in another review for server stuff.

    Also, there is a LOT of value in having a standardized set of tests. Even if a few tests here and there are no longer valuable like PDF opening, the same tests being used across the board are important for BENCH. you can't compare products if you aren't using the same tools.

    Unfortunately AMD is ahead of the curve currently with massive SMP being given to normal consumers now at a reasonable price. It will take a little time for dev's to catch up and really make use of this amazing CPU.

    With the processing power in a CPU like this imagine the game mechanics that can be created and used, For those of us that are more interested in making this a reasonably priced workstation/server build for VMs etc, cool for us, but that isn't where this is being marketed, and it's not really fair to jump all over the reviewer for it.
    Reply
  • Zstream - Thursday, August 10, 2017 - link

    Utter rubbish. This CPU is designed for a workstation build. Some a product labeled Xeon is a workstation CPU, but this isn't? Reply

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