If you live by the workstation, you die by the performance. When it comes to processing data, throughput is key: the more a user can do, the more projects are accomplished, and the more contracts can be completed. This means that workstation users are often compute bound, and like to throw resources at the problem, be it cores, memory, storage, or graphics acceleration. AMD’s latest foray into the mix is its second generation Threadripper product, also known as Threadripper 2, which breaks the old limit on cores and pricing: the 2990WX gives 32 cores and 64 threads for only $1799. There is also the 2950X, with 16 cores and 32 threads, for a new low of $899. We tested them both.

The AMD Threadripper 2990WX 32-Core and 2950X 16-Core Review

Ever since AMD launched its first generation Ryzen product, with eight cores up against Intel’s four cores in the mainstream, the discussion has been all about how many cores makes sense. The answer to this question is entirely workload dependent – how many users have a single workload in mind, or how many will use a variety of tools simultaneously. The workstation market encompasses a wide range of distinct power users, and despite the need for speed, there is rarely a one-size fits all solution.

AMD’s first generation of Threadripper, launched in 2017, introduced 16-core processors to the masses. Previously only available on the server platforms, these new parts were priced very competitively against 10-core offerings. AMD had ultimately used its server platform, with a few tweaks, to attack a competitive landscape where Halo products are seen as king-of-the-hill.

Intel’s own workstation products, previously named E5-2687W and relied on dual socket servers, were literally that – servers. After launching its latest high-end desktop platform, with up to 18 cores, Intel then subsequently launched the Xeon W-series, which replaced the E5-W parts from the previous generation. Again, these were up to 18-cores for ~$2500, but required special chipsets and motherboards.

Today AMD is officially putting out for sale its second generation of Threadripper. These new parts attack the market two-fold: firstly by using the improved Zen+ microarchitecture, giving for a 3% IPC increase in core performance, but also using 12nm, driving up frequencies and reducing power. The second attack on the market is core count: while AMD will be replacing the 12 and 16 core processors with new Zen+ models at higher frequencies, AMD also has 24 and 32 core processors for up to $1799.  When comparing 32 cores at $1799 against 18 cores at $2500, it seems like a slam dunk, right?

How AMD Enabled 32 Cores

The first generation server processor line from AMD, called EPYC, uses four silicon dies of eight cores each to hit a the full 32 core product. These parts also had eight memory channels and 128 lanes of PCIe 3.0 to play with. In order to make the first generation Threadripper processors, AMD disabled two of those silicon dies, giving only 16 cores, four memory channels, and 60 lanes of PCIe. The end product was sold focused at consumers, not server customers.

For 32 cores, AMD takes the same 32-core EPYC silicon, but upgrades it to Zen+ on 12nm for a higher frequency and lower power. However, to make it socket compatible with the first generation, it is slightly neutered: we have to go back to four memory channels and 60 lanes of PCIe. AMD wants users to think of this as an upgraded first generation product, with more cores, rather than a cut enterprise part. The easy explanation is to do with product segmentation, a tactic both companies have used over time to offer a range of products.

As a result, one way of visioning the new second generation 32-core and 24-core products is bi-modal: half the chip has access to the full resources, similar to the first generation product, while the other half of the chip doubles the same compute resources but has additional memory and PCIe latency compared to the first half. For any user that is entirely compute bound, and not memory or PCIe bound, then AMD has the product for you.

In our review, we’ll see that this bi-modal performance difference can have a significant effect, both good and bad, and is very workload dependent.

AMD’s New Product Stack

The official announcement last week showed that AMD is coming to market with four second generation Threadripper processors. Two of these will directly replace the first generation product: the 16-core 2950X will replace the 16-core 1950X, and the 12-core 2920X will replace the 12-core 1920X. These two new processors will not be bi-modal as explained above, with only two of the four silicon die on the package being active (the 16-core will be a 8+0+8+0 configuration, the 12-core is a 6+0+6+0). Sitting at the bottom of the stack will be the first generation 8-core (4+0+4+0) 1900X that also offers quad-channel memory and 60 PCIe lanes.

2017   2018
-     $1799 TR 2990WX
-     $1299 TR 2970WX
TR 1950X $999   $899 TR 2950X
TR 1920X $799   $649 TR 2920X
TR 1900X $549      

The two new processors are the 32-core 2990WX and the 24-core 2970WX. They will enable four cores per complex (8+8+8+8) and three cores per complex (6+6+6+6) respectively, and are under the bi-modal nature of the memory and PCIe. The naming changes up to WX, presumably for ‘Workstation eXtreme’, but this puts the product in the same marketing line as the Radeon Pro WX family.

AMD SKUs
  Cores/
Threads
Base/
Turbo
L3 DRAM
1DPC
PCIe TDP SRP
TR 2990WX 32/64 3.0/4.2 64 MB 4x2933 60 250 W $1799
TR 2970WX 24/48 3.0/4.2 64 MB 4x2933 60 250 W $1299
TR 2950X 16/32 3.5/4.4 32 MB 4x2933 60 180 W $899
TR 2920X 12/24 3.5/4.3 32 MB 4x2933 60 180 W $649
Ryzen 7 2700X 8/16 3.7/4.3 16 MB 2x2933 16 105 W $329

The AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX is the new halo product, with 32 cores and 64 threads coming in with a base frequency of 3.0 GHz and a top turbo frequency of 4.2 GHz. The idle frequency of this processor is 2.0 GHz, and when installed we saw 2.0 GHz on any core without work – it almost becomes the dominating frequency if the CPU isn’t constantly loaded. The 2990WX will be available from today and retail for $1799.

The other member of the WX series is the 2970WX, which disables one core per complex for a total of 24 cores. With similar frequencies as the 2990WX, and the same TDP, PCIe lanes, and memory support, this processor will be launched in October at the $1299 price point. With fewer cores being loaded, one might expect this processor to turbo more often than the bigger 32-core part.

For the X-series, the TR 2950X is our 16-core replacement, taking full advantage of the better frequencies that the new 12nm process can give: a base frequency of 3.5 GHz and a turbo of 4.4 GHz puts the previous generation processor to shame. In fact, the 2950X is set to be the joint highest clocked AMD Ryzen product. With that bump also comes a price drop: instead of $999 users can now get a 16-core processor for $899. The 2950X is due out at the end of the month, on August 31st.

Bringing up the rear is the 2920X, sitting in to replace the 1920X and with a similar trade-off to the other parts. As with the 2950X, the frequencies are nice and high compared to last year, with a base frequency of 3.5 GHz and a turbo of 4.3 GHz. This is all in a thermal design package of 180W. AMD told us that the TDP ratings for Threadripper 2, in general, were fairly conservative, so it will be interesting to see how they hold up. The 2920X is also out in October, going for $649 retail.

In This Review

  1. AMD’s New Product Stack [this page]
  2. Core to Core to Core: Design Trade Offs
  3. Precision Boost 2, Precision Boost Overdrive
  4. Feed Me: Infinity Fabric Requires 6x Power
  5. Test Setup and Comparison Points
  6. Our New Testing Suite for 2018 and 2019
  7. HEDT Benchmarks: System Tests
  8. HEDT Benchmarks: Rendering Tests
  9. HEDT Benchmarks: Office Tests
  10. HEDT Benchmarks: Encoding Tests
  11. HEDT Benchmarks: Web and Legacy Tests
  12. Overclocking: 4.0 GHz for 500W
  13. Thermal Comparisons: Remember to Remove the CPU Cooler Plastic!
  14. Going Up Against EPYC: Frequency vs Memory Channels
  15. Conclusions: Not All Cores Are Made Equal
Core to Core to Core: Design Trade Offs
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  • ibnmadhi - Monday, August 13, 2018 - link

    It's over, Intel is finished. Reply
  • milkod2001 - Monday, August 13, 2018 - link

    Unfortunately not even close. Intel was dominating for last decade or so. Now when AMD is back in game, many will consider AMD but most will still get Intel instead. Damage was done.It took forever to AMD to recover from being useless and will take at least 5 years till it will get some serious market share. Better late than never though... Reply
  • tipoo - Monday, August 13, 2018 - link

    It's not imminent, but Intel sure seems set for a gradual decline. It's hard to eke out IPC wins these days so it'll be hard to shake AMD off per-core, they no longer have a massive process lead to lead on core count with their margins either, and ARM is also chipping away at the bottom.

    Intel will probably be a vampire that lives another hundred years, but it'll go from the 900lb gorilla to one on a decent diet.
    Reply
  • ACE76 - Monday, August 13, 2018 - link

    AMD retail sales are equal to Intel now...and they are starting to make a noticeable dent in the server market as well...it won't take 5 years for them to be on top...if Ryzen 2 delivers a 25% increase in performance, they will topple Intel in 2019/2020 Reply
  • HStewart - Monday, August 13, 2018 - link

    "AMD retail sales are equal to Intel now"

    Desktop maybe - but that is minimal market.
    Reply
  • monglerbongler - Monday, August 13, 2018 - link

    Pretty much this.

    No one really cares about workstation/prosumer/gaming PC market. Its almost certainly the smallest measurable segment of the industry.

    As far as these companies' business models are concerned:

    Data center/server/cluster > OEM consumer (dell, hp, microsoft, apple, asus, toshiba, etc.) > random categories like industrial or compact PCs used in hospitals and places like that > Workstation/prosumer/gaming

    AMD's entire strategy is to desperately push as hard as they can into the bulwark of Intel's cloud/server/data center dominance.

    Though, to be completely honest, for that segment they really only offer pure core count and PCIe as benefits. Sure they have lots of memory channels, but server/data center and cluster are already moving toward the future of storage/memory fusion (eg Optane), so that entire traditional design may start to change radically soon.

    All important: Performance per unit of area inside of a box, and performance per watt? Not the greatest.

    That is exceptionally important for small companies that buy cooling from the power grid (air conditioning). If you are a big company in Washington and buy your cooling via river water, you might have to invest in upgrades to your cooling system.

    Beyond all that the Epyc chips are so freaking massive that they can literally restrict the ability to design 2 slot server configuration motherboards that also have to house additional compute hardware (eg GPGPU or FPGA boards). I laugh at the prospect of a 4 slot epyc motherboard. The thing will be the size of a goddamn desk. Literally a "desktop" sized motherboard.

    If you cant figure it out, its obvious:

    Everything except for the last category involves massive years-spanning contracts for massive orders of hundreds of thousands or millions of individual components.

    You can't bet hundreds of millions or billions in R&D, plus the years-spanning billion dollar contracts with Global Foundries (AMD) or the tooling required to upgrade and maintain equipment (Intel) on the vagaries of consumers, small businesses that make workstations to order, that small fraction of people who buy workstations from OEMs, etc.

    Even if you go to a place like Pixar studios or a game developer, most of the actual physical computers inside are regular, bone standard, consumer-level hardware PCs, not workstation level equipment. There certainly ARE workstations, but they are a minority of the capital equipment inside such places.

    Ultimately that is why, despite all the press, despite sending out expensive test samples to Anandtech, despite flashy powerpoint presentations given by arbitrary VPs of engineering or CEOs, all of the workstation/Prosumer/gaming stuff is just low-binned server equipment.

    because those are really the only 2 categories of products they make;

    pure consumer, pure workstation. Everything else is just partially enabled/disabled variations on those 2 flavors.
    Reply
  • Icehawk - Monday, August 13, 2018 - link

    I was looking at some new boxes for work and our main vendors offer little if anything AMD either for server roles or desktop. Even if they did it's an uphill battle to push a "2nd tier" vendor (AMD is not but are perceived that way by some) to management. Reply
  • PixyMisa - Tuesday, August 14, 2018 - link

    There aren't any 4-socket EPYC servers because the interconnect only allows for two sockets. The fact that it might be difficult to build such servers is irrelevant because it's impossible. Reply
  • leexgx - Thursday, August 16, 2018 - link

    is more then 2 sockets needed when you have so many cores to play with Reply
  • Relic74 - Wednesday, August 29, 2018 - link

    Actually there are, kind of, supermicro for example has created a 4 node server for the Epyc. Basically it's 4 computers in one server case but the performance is equal to that if not better than that of a hardware 4 socket server. Cool stuff, you should check it out. In fact, I think this is the way of the future and multi socket systems are on their way out as this solution provides more control over what CPU. As well as what the individual cores are doing and provides better power management as you can shut down individual nodes or put them in stand by where as server with 4 sockets/CPU's is basically always on.

    There is a really great white paper on the subject that came out of AMD, where the stated that they looked into creating a 4 socket CPU and motherboard capable of handling all of the PCI lanes needed, however it didn't make any sense for them to do so as there weren't any performance gains over the node solution.

    In fact I believe we will see a resurrection of blade systems using AMD CPU's, especially now with all of the improvements that have been made with multi node cluster computing over the last few years.
    Reply

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