AMD’s powerful Threadripper chip makes its fiery debut
AMD’s Threadripper carries on the Ryzen charge; it’s yet more tough competition for Intel at the premium end
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AMD made quite a splash with the release of the Ryzen 7. It may not have quite trounced the Intel competition outright for performance, but in terms of value it has proven formidable. The AMD Threadripper takes the fight further up Intel’s range. If the Ryzen 7 was priced to compete with quad-core Intel processors, the AMD Ryzen Threadripper is aimed at the recently released Core i9 ( see issue 276, p50).
At launch, there are two versions of the AMD Threadripper available: the 1950X we received in our Armari system ( see p56), and the lesser 1920X. The former has 16 cores and the latter 12; there’s an eight-core 1900X in the pipeline, too. To put this in perspective, Intel has only just released the 12-core Core i9-7920X.
When it comes to pricing, AMD is performing a similar trick as the Ryzen 7. Where you can buy a ten-core Intel Core i9-7900X for a little under £900 inc VAT, the 12-core AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1920X costs under £800 inc VAT – although the 16-core 1950X we review here is nearly £1,000. The Core i9-7920X is likely to be a similar price, while the forthcoming 14-, 16- and 18-core Core i9s will be considerably more expensive.
In other words, AMD is giving you a lot more cores for your money. The clock speeds are competitive too. The Ryzen Threadripper 1920X runs at a base clock of 3.5GHz, with a 4GHz Turbo mode, while the 1950X has a base clock of 3.4GHz with the same Turbo mode. The Intel Core i9-7900X has a nominal frequency of 3.3GHz, and the higher-end Core i9s go down from there, although Intel processors can generally be run at a much higher clock than their nominal rating.
The Threadripper has an innovative architecture. For a start, it’s a huge processor that requires a new socket called the TR4. This is AMD’s first land grid array (LGA) socket for
“If the Ryzen 7 was priced to compete with quad-core Intel processors, the AMD Ryzen Threadripper is aimed at the Core i9”
consumers, which means the pins are on the socket not the CPU. Intel has been using LGA for its processors since the Pentium 4, and AMD used this format for its server and workstation Opterons. Since pins are easily damaged, it’s sensible to put these on the cheaper component (the motherboard), rather than a processor costing close to a grand.
One of the reasons why AMD has managed to pull of such a pricing coup, and bring Ryzen Threadripper out so soon after Ryzen 7, is that inside the CPU packaging is essentially two Ryzen 7s bundled together. This is also why TR4 is so huge, with 4,094 contacts compared to the 1,331 contacts on the Socket AM4 used by the Ryzen 3, 5 and 7 processors, and the 2,066 contacts in Intel’s LGA 2066 for the Core i9.
One of the downsides of the Ryzen 7 when compared to Intel processors is that its memory controller is merely dual-channel, whereas Intel’s CPUs with six cores and above use a quad-channel configuration for double the bandwidth. The Ryzen Threadripper also boasts a quad-channel memory controller, so it’s on par with Intel’s top Core i7 and i9, and supports the same 2,666MHz DDR4 memory.
Equally significant is how many PCI Express lanes are provided by the Ryzen Threadripper processor. The Intel Core i9-7900X has 44 PCI Express lanes, and Core i7 processors have 40 or fewer. But all three AMD Ryzen Threadripper CPUs boast 64 PCI Express lanes, which has some notable implications for systems built around them: you can have more graphics cards, and more NVMe SSDs, at the same time. The ASRock X399
Taichi in our Armari system supports four graphics cards in parallel, with two in x16 mode and two in x8 mode, while still offering three M.2 slots capable of running in x4 PCI Express mode. So immensely quick NVMe storage arrays are a possibility, which they aren’t with most Intel setups. Finally, we get to the benchmarks, and as you might have hoped they’re nothing short of phenomenal. In Cinebench R15’s rendering test, the
1950X’s score was 3,346 – way ahead of any other single-socket system we’ve tested. Only dual-CPU systems costing twice as much could beat it. Similarly, its video-encoding score of 385 and multitasking score of 521 could only be beaten by a dual-CPU workstation. The only performance chink is the image-editing score of 153. AMD still lags slightly behind Intel for tasks that call for brute clock speed rather than core count.
While you would hardly call the Ryzen Threadripper 1950X cheap, it’s a stunning piece of hardware for the money, particularly for workstation applications. Even though Intel has released its Skylake-X processors with a much keener price, AMD has a great alternative platform here, and if your software can make use of multiple cores, it’s a better choice.
54 LEFT You’ll need a new motherboard for your Ryzen Threadripper CPU, such as the great ASRock X399 Taichi chosen by Armari
ABOVE The 1950X is a huge processor – but then again it effectively contains two Ryzen 7 chips
LEFT Not content with a fancy new architecture, AMD has designed fancy new packaging too
SPECIFICATIONS 16 physical cores, 32 threads 3.4GHz base clock with 4GHz in boost mode (4.2GHz XFR)
40MB Level 2 and Level 3 cache quad-channel memory controller with support for DDR4-2667 unlocked multiplier
64 PCI Express lanes 180W TDP Socket TR4 X399 chipset required ABOVE The Armari system doesn’t just debut Threadripper but AMD’s new GPU, Vega, as well