AMD’s new chip re­de­fines the high end

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RIGHT NOW, In­tel ought to be ask­ing AMD what the hell it’s mak­ing that glue out of, be­cause this thing is amaz­ing. A vast swathe of the tech com­mu­nity has long had a hunch that some­thing big­ger was creep­ing over the hori­zon from the plucky red un­der­dog, and it hasn’t been dis­ap­pointed. Ryzen hit a very im­pres­sive mark with its launch, but lacked a lot of the high-end fea­tures that In­tel’s X99 plat­form brought to the ta­ble. Its lack of PCIe lanes, no quad-chan­nel mem­ory sup­port, and a slightly un­der­whelm­ing chipset made the plat­form more akin to main­stream, while the num­ber of cores ce­mented the 7 se­ries at the very top of our PC ren­der­ing wish list.

Fast-for­ward five months, and we’ve been graced with what can only de­scribed as a mon­ster. Es­pe­cially if you’re in the mar­ket for a pro­fes­sional grade work­sta­tion setup. In short, Threadripper is in­cred­i­ble. The 16 cores har­bored in­side its CPU die are un­like any­thing we’ve ever seen. Think of this as two Ryzen 7 1800Xs, work­ing in tan­dem in­side a sin­gle CPU. AMD wasn’t jok­ing when it an­nounced its in­fin­ity fab­ric, and the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween that top-end main­stream core and this mighty mon­ster are more than just in name.

But be­fore we delve into the heady heights of per­for­mance, let’s talk about the socket in­stal­la­tion process, be­cause it’s a doozy. This is the first con­sumer AMD pro­ces­sor we’ve seen that doesn’t run off the pin grid ar­ray stan­dard. Based on EPYC server chips, we’re greeted with a sight we usu­ally as­so­ciate with In­tel: pins, lots of them—4,094, in fact. Be­cause it’s so large, each chip needs to be held se­curely in place. To in­stall your Threadripper, you un­screw three Torx screws, which re­lease a spring-loaded re­ten­tion bracket. Once past that, you lift up an­other bracket, with a pro­tec­tive socket cover in­side. You slide that cover up and out of the in­ter­nal bracket, and slip your shiny new Threadripper CPU (on its in­cluded or­ange tray) into the bracket, be­fore gen­tly low­er­ing the in­ter­nal bracket back down into po­si­tion, and rese­cur­ing the top bracket.

Right, OK, per­for­mance. Let’s get to the good stuff. So, by de­fault, Threadripper runs at a max turbo of 3.7GHz across all 16 of its cores. What that equates to in the real world is stock scores of 3,000 points in Cinebench R15, with 167 in sin­gle-core mode. Fry Ren­der wrapped up its ray­trac­ing in 84 sec­onds, and Tech Arp’s X264 pulled in a stag­ger­ing 63.44fps. Gam­ing was a mixed bag. By de­fault, Threadripper, with AMD’s Mas­ter Util­ity in­stalled on desk­top, has two modes: your stan­dard cre­ative mode, with all 16 cores ac­tive, and mem­ory set in UMA (Uni­form Mem­ory Ac­cess) mode, or “gam­ing mode,” with eight cores ac­tive (over­clocked to 4.1GHz), and with the mem­ory run­ning in NUMA (non-UMA). In cre­ative mode, all our tests per­formed as we ex­pected. Atilla came in at 35fps, FarCryPri­malat 75fps, Tom­bRaider ac­tu­ally bested all of our other pro­ces­sor tests at 44fps, and DeusEx, well, that’s still mur­der­ously slow at 13fps—same across both In­tel and AMD.

What re­ally blew us away, though, was how easy it was to over­clock. We did some se­ri­ously vig­or­ous test­ing us­ing our usual method­ol­ogy, and tried some­thing a lit­tle more ba­sic, too: Set the CPU Ra­tio to 40 in the BIOS, dis­abled “Spread Spec­trum,” tweaked the VRMs to operate at “Ex­treme,” headed to desk­top, ig­nored volt­age, and boom! 4.0GHz across all 16 cores. We saw a Cinebench R15 score of 3,448 points, and X264 smashed in at 73.4fps—a 15 per­cent in­crease in per­for­mance. Stun­ning.

How can we sum up Threadripper? It’s a tough one. It’s in­cred­i­ble, no doubt, its pric­ing is phe­nom­e­nal, and it can game just as well as any of the other Ryzen parts we’ve tested. Cou­ple that with its as­tro­nom­i­cal com­pu­ta­tional per­for­mance, and stun­ning over­clock­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and it’s un­like any other.

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