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

PC Pro - - November 2017 Issue 277 - JAMES MOR­RIS

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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.

Ace ar­chi­tec­ture

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.

Per­for­mance pros

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

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