One of the constant themes of 2019 has been to ask AMD employees about the future of its Threadripper line of products. Since the start of the year we’ve seen AMD advertise for a new head of workstation products, we’ve seen AMD accidentally use an old roadmap slide which didn’t have Threadripper listed (leading to speculation it was canceled), and during August I was promised that we would hear more this year. Today that time has come, with AMD launching its 3rd Generation Threadripper platform for the high-end desktop market. With two processors and 12+ motherboards available, AMD is going above and beyond the previous definition of high-end desktop.

Threadripper: Redefining HEDT Yet Again

AMD’s march on the high-end desktop market since the launch of the first generation of Ryzen has been somewhat brutal. In a market where we were barely moving up by an average of less than 2 cores a generation, in the last three years AMD has slapped 8-cores in the mainstream and 16 for HEDT, swiftly followed up by 32 in HEDT then moving mainstream up to 16, all while the competition rushed to get something up to 18 cores available. The first generations of products, on the Zen and Zen+ microarchitecture, were about AMD being aggressive in pricing and core counts in order to provide high parallel throughput machines. With the launch of Zen 2 for the Threadripper series today, AMD is now going after raw throughput, and combining that with almost double the number of cores that Intel can offer.

When Threadripper as a brand came to market, AMD promoted it as a product that could tackle any high-parallel throughput tasks. Thread + Ripper was a clever play on words: anything that had plenty of threads, the hardware was designed to ‘rip’ through the workload. The only downsides to this hardware was the lack of true AVX2 support (a key addition for some of these workloads), that the per-MHz performance was still a little behind, and that the way the hardware was arranged led to memory access variances that didn’t work great in all scenarios. With the third generation Threadripper being launched today, all of those issues go away: we get AVX2, we get better per-MHz performance, and a more unified memory solution. That’s on top of PCIe 4.0 support, more PCIe lanes, and faster DRAM. On paper alone, one has to ask what the flaws are.

Today’s launch covers two products: the 24-core TR 3960X and the 32-core TR 3970X. Both of these processors are built from four Zen 2 chiplets paired with a single I/O die, with each chiplet having 6 cores or 8 cores respectively. Both CPUs support 64 PCIe 4.0 lanes, four DDR4-3200 memory channels, and are built on a new sTRX4 socket with a new all-AMD TRX40 chipset.

 
AMD Threadripper 3960X and AMD Threadripper 3970X

AMD has also lifted the lid on an upcoming 64-core variant, called the TR 3990X. We’re covering that news in a separate post, but in a nutshell AMD is bringing its high-frequency variant of the 280 W EPYC 7H12 to the mass market in 2020, with potential room for a 48-core version as well. Just don’t ask how much that one will cost: the ‘slow’ 225W version of the 7H12 has an MSRP of $6950, so the Threadripper version is going to be at least 2x the 32-core $1999 price.

AMD HEDT SKUs
AnandTech Cores/
Threads
Base/
Turbo
L3 DRAM
1DPC
PCIe TDP SRP
Third Generation Threadripper
TR 3970X 32 / 64 3.7 / 4.5 128 MB 4x3200 64 280 W $1999
TR 3960X 24 / 48 3.8 / 4.5 128 MB 4x3200 64 280 W $1399
Second Generation Threadripper
TR 2990WX 32 / 64 3.0 / 4.2 64 MB 4x2933 64 250 W $1799
TR 2970WX 24 / 48 3.0 / 4.2 64 MB 4x2933 64 250 W $1299
TR 2950X 16 / 32 3.5 / 4.4 32 MB 4x2933 64 180 W $899
TR 2920X 12 / 24 3.5 / 4.3 32 MB 4x2933 64 180 W $649
Ryzen 3000
Ryzen 9 3950X 16 / 32 3.5 / 4.7 32 MB 2x3200 24 105 W $749

Both of our new TR CPUs have a 280W TDP, which means they will require substantial cooling regardless of the system they are in. This is a step higher than the peak 250W TDP we saw with previous generation Threadripper processors, as we are probably approaching a realistic limit as to how high consumer processor power numbers should go without sticking them into a server. This means that the new TRX40 motherboards are built to be hard and tough, and also support overclocking.

AMD is pricing these two processors at $1399 and $1999, which also means that AMD’s high-end desktop processors start at a price (and a core count) above where Intel’s HEDT market finishes. Intel’s best chip in this market is the Core i9-10980XE, which has 18 cores and an OEM price of $979, which is a way below the TR 3960X with 24 cores and a retail price of $1399. For the first time in living memory, AMD and Intel are launching their CPUs on the same day, and you can catch our separate Core i9-10980XE review at AnandTech today.

New Socket: sTRX4

One of the key messaging when AMD launched its first Ryzen processors was set to be the longevity of its consumer platforms. Technically the mainstream Ryzen AM4 socket has now gone through four generations of products, and if it weren’t for some poor BIOS choices in the early days, every AM4 motherboard should have been able to support the oldest to the newest AM4 processor. But it does mean a single socket has scaled from a peak of 4 cores when it was first launched all the way to 16 cores.

With Threadripper, it has been a little different. The transition from PCIe 3.0 to PCIe 4.0 has been a tough one to manage, especially when trying to keep parity with sockets and chipset compatibility. The main issue has been PCIe 4.0 validation: supporting PCIe 4.0 with the traces on a motherboard is difficult to the point that the board has to be built with PCIe 4.0 in mind in order to adequately qualify. On top of that, AMD has seen an opportunity to usurp the competition, and has changed the CPU-to-chipset bandwidth link from PCIe 3.0 x4 to PCIe 4.0 x8, quadrupling the total amount of CPU-to-chipset bandwidth available. This is ultimately what breaks compatibility between the previous Threadripper motherboards and the new Threadripper motherboards.

In order to cater for Zen 2, there are also some pin-out changes, however AMD stated that they kept the physical socket the same. What was surprising is that AMD stated that they kept the keying, the little notches that make it easier to see if a CPU is/isn’t supported, the same as well. This means that you can physically fit a new TR CPU in an old motherboard and vice versa. When asked what would happen if you did, AMD said that the system will just refuse to boot. I won’t be the first one to try that, in case the magic smoke appears.

From our pre-briefings, we’ve identified 12 new sTRX4 motherboards bearing the TRX40 name for new TR3 users to get hold of. These are all pretty expensive, in order to both support the CPUs and have the latest technology, and we will have our overview report on these out later this week. Stay tuned for that.

Competition for 3rd Generation Threadripper

In each of these reviews, we try and take a look at what CPUs our new hardware is going to compete against. In this instance, AMD has zero competition from Intel without going into Intel’s enterprise range of hardware. When AMD starts at 24-cores and $1399, while Intel finishes at 18-cores and $979, there is no overlap here – the price difference is substantial enough for each side of the equation not to be involved with each other. If we started looking into the Xeon range from Intel, we’re adding in RDIMM support which TR3 doesn’t have, and the added cost of RAS features and vPro etc.

Intel vs AMD
HEDT
Core
i9-10980XE
AnandTech TR
3960X
TR
3970X
18 / 36 Cores / Threads 24 / 48 32 / 64
3.0 GHz Base Frequency 3.8 GHz 3.5 GHz
4.6 / 4.8 GHz Turbo Frequency 4.5 GHz 4.7 GHz
18 MB L2 Cache 12 MB 16 MB
24.75 MB L3 Cache 128 MB 128 MB
256 GB DRAM Capacity 512 GB 512 GB
DDR4-2933 DRAM Frequency DDR4-3200 DDR4-3200
48 PCIe Lanes 64 64
165 W TDP 280 W 280 W
$979 (1ku) Price $1399 $1999

Technically I’m going to pull one CPU out here, the Xeon W-3175X. This is a 28-core unlocked processor that Intel launched last year to much fanfare, but with four less cores than the 3970X and another +50% in cost, well, the benchmarks speak for themselves.

CPU Pricing
AMD
(MSRP Pricing)
Cores AnandTech Cores Intel*
(OEM Pricing)
    $2000+ 28/56 Xeon W-3175X ($2999)
TR 3970X ($1999) 32/64 $1750-$1999    
    $1500-$1749    
TR 3960X ($1399) 24/48 $1250-$1499    
    $1000-$1249    
    $900-$999 18/36 Core i9-10980XE ($979)
    $800-$899    
Ryzen 9 3950X ($749) 16/32 $700-$799 14/28 Core i9-10940X ($784)
    $600-$699 12/24 Core i9-10920X ($689)
    $550-$599 10/20 Core i9-10900X ($590)
    $500-$549 8/16 Core i9-9900KS ($513)
Ryzen 9 3900X ($499) 12/24 $450-$499 8/16 Core i9-9900K/F ($488)
    $400-$449    
Ryzen 7 3800X ($399) 8/16 $350-$399 8/8 Core i7-9700K/F ($374)
Ryzen 7 3700X ($329) 8/16 $300-$349    
    $250-$299 6/6 Core i5-9600K ($262)
Ryzen 5 3600X ($249) 6/12 $200-$249    
Ryzen 5 3600 ($199) 6/12 Below $200 4/4 Core i3-9350K ($173)
*Intel quotes OEM/tray pricing. Retail pricing will sometimes be $20-$50 higher.

Ultimately AMD’s competition for the new Threadripper processors are the old Threadripper processors: the 32-core 3970X can compete against the 32-core 2990WX. But this isn’t so much of a competition as an evolution: the 3970X has a newer Zen 2 core for more IPC, a higher frequency, a unified memory system, and supports PCIe 4.0. On paper, you’d say that previous Threadripper processors pale in comparison. There’s going to be a lot of that in our following benchmarks.

Power Consumption: 6-13W Per Core
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  • melgross - Monday, November 25, 2019 - link

    Very small. The more cores, the smaller the market. What are so many cores good for? Video editing, huge databases. Financial transactions, which the chips are not likely to be used for.

    For most everyone else, 8 cores is still the sweet spot.
    Reply
  • ShowsOn - Monday, November 25, 2019 - link

    The review literally discusses this point:

    "...Intel has reported that the workstation market has a potential $10B a year addressable market, so it is still worth pursuing. While I have no direct quotes or data, I remember being told for several generations that Intel’s best-selling HEDT processors were always the highest core count, highest performance parts that money could buy. These users wanted off-the-shelf hardware, and were willing to pay for it – they just weren’t willing to pay for enterprise features...Now that we can get better performance at $1999 with 32 cores, assuming AMD can keep stock of the hardware, it stands to reason that this market will pick up interest again."
    Reply
  • twtech - Monday, November 25, 2019 - link

    They need to partner with a workstation vendor such as Dell, HP, etc. - or pick/create a company to partner with. Big businesses like to have a reliable single vendor they can deal with for all their server and workstation hardware, including support. Reply
  • eek2121 - Monday, November 25, 2019 - link

    They really need Dell. Reply
  • xrror - Tuesday, November 26, 2019 - link

    Sadly Dell always seems anti-AMD - or I guess more accurately they absolutely will not do anything that could jeopardize receiving Intel's contrarevenue. Reply
  • eek2121 - Monday, November 25, 2019 - link

    Pretty much anybody that does graphics, video, etc. has a need for these CPUs. A large portion of professional Youtubers use blender or similar applications (that scale perfectly) to render things like 3d animations and the like. On the contrary. The market for these types of CPUs is larger than the gaming market. AMD's biggest obstacle here is getting prebuilt OEM systems built with sufficient cooling. Not many folks in that audience are going to build their own PC. Reply
  • melgross - Monday, November 25, 2019 - link

    Nope. Graphics apps don’t use all these cores. I run that stuff. Neither do apps like Photoshop. If sometimes they use most cores, the usage ore core I’d down around 20% in spurts. Fewer cores simply have higher per core usage.

    As I said, video rendering is about the only thing that most users will find using a lot of cores. Even multasking doesn’t use 16 or more cores efficiently.

    It’s also interesting that years ago, the argument was too much power. 150 Watters was considered to be on the high side, and not in a good way. Now these cores are moving to 300 watts, and nobody is saying anything.
    Reply
  • Jimbo Jones - Tuesday, November 26, 2019 - link

    Video rendering
    3D rendering
    3D animation where physics calculation is need (cloth, particles, etc)
    Particle simulations for 3D animation / work / science
    Game creation / compiling / baking
    Progamming (compiling)
    VFX -- after effects, etc
    Gaming while rendering out any of the above at the same time
    Doing more than one thing at a time (Intel users close all their apps to game, lol)
    Gaming while streaming
    Youtube content creation (requires video rendering and encoding)
    Digital audio workstations

    To name a couple ...

    I actually read someone on another comment feed defending Intel by saying "CPU's aren't even important these days anyway!" -- the desperation of fanbois to grasp at straws to defend the indefensible is hilarious ... right Mel?
    Reply
  • melgross - Tuesday, November 26, 2019 - link

    What you’re missing is that I’m talking about most users. The ones you mention are in very small numbers. There’s about a billion Windows machines out there, well under 1% need 16 or more cores. That still millions, but it’s not enough to move the market.

    What been one of the biggest problems involving pc sales the past year? Intel not producing enough chips. Not AMD. AMD is almost an afterthought. Most vendors and customers don’t want AND. Most pc users have never even heard of and. It’s why the are cheaper, and make little profit. They sell on price. And they’re trying to move in a market Intel isn’t very interested in—yet.
    Reply
  • Xyler94 - Tuesday, November 26, 2019 - link

    Most people just need their ARM powered cell phones these days, if you really want to get down to reality. light web browsing, posting on Facebook, sending an IM on messenger, potentially watching YouTube. All things that can be done off a cellphone. For those who need a bigger display, laptops are a good choice, but see little use outside of a few instances where a bigger screen is necessary. Reply

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