AMD Threadripper 2

AMD 2ND GEN RYZEN

PC & Tech Authority - - REVIEWS INTRO - BEN MAN­SILL

AMD is on a roll that started with the Zen-core Ryzen, and now we have what is po­ten­tially the most pow­er­ful con­sumer/pro­sumer CPU you can buy.

I say po­ten­tially, be­cause while the new Threadripper 2 (‘TR2’) now stands as the record holder in the core depart­ment with up to 32 of them plus an­other 32 threads, it still isn’t a clean-sweep win­ner be­cause in gam­ing in sin­gle core per­for­mance it still lags just be­hind Intel’s 8th-gen, though we’re talk­ing vir­tu­ally in­signi cant sin­gle-digit per­cent­age mar­gins, and this isn’t a CPU in­tended for gam­ing, strictly speak­ing. Get­ting that slightly tire­some and mostly ir­rel­e­vant point out of the way, for peo­ple that do run apps that can lever­age this abun­dance of pro­cess­ing power, Threadripper 2 is true won­der of the com­put­ing world.

It’s pleas­ing to see AMD’s con­tin­ued con dence in the Zen core, and with that, its drive to keep push­ing. It’s only been just over a year since Ryzen launched, though it feels like longer. AMD has just re­ported a 50% rev­enue growth so this ag­gres­sive en­gi­neer­ing and mar­ket­ing push is clearly work­ing for the com­pany and all this keeps us glued with in­ter­est at the con­tin­u­ally in­vig­o­rated CPU mar­ket, and of course, Intel’s obli­ga­tion to re­spond in kind with bet­ter prod­ucts at lower prices. As AMD’s Jim Anderson, the SVP and GM for AMD’s Com­put­ing and Graph­ics di­vi­sion told us “Threadripper 2 is the ab­so­lute top end for high per­for­mance and has raised the com­pet­i­tive en­ergy in the in­dus­try”. He’s not wrong.

It’s a cool to re­mem­ber, too, that Threadripper was never orig­i­nally part of the Zen roadmap, and was a pas­sion project put to­gether by AMD’s en­gi­neers on the side that when pre­sented to man­age­ment, was so com­pelling that the com­pany got be­hind it and made it a re­al­ity. Or so the story AMD likes to have us be­lieve goes, any­way.

WHAT YOU CAN HAVE

Ar­chi­tec­turally, AMD has dou­bled the Threadripper’s core count, with­out sacri cing fre­quen­cies, and it’s still cheaper than the Intel i9 near­est equiv­a­lent. Fun fact: it’s also the heav­i­est con­sumer CPU ever.

AMD has split TR2 into the ‘en­try level’ X se­ries, and those are the rst chips off the block launch­ing right now. In Oc­to­ber we’ll see the bee er WX se­ries TR2s.

There are two SKUs in each se­ries. The base­level 2920X is a 12 core/24 thread part run­ning at 3.5GHz base and up to 4.3GHz boosted. It’s US$649. Next up is the 2950X, with 16/32 cores also with a base clock of 3.5GHz and an ever so slightly faster 4.4GHz boost. That one’s US$899. At the time of writ­ing only US prices had been an­nounced for these two CPUs.

Oc­to­ber’s WX se­ries starts with the $1,349 2970WX, with 24 cores and 48 threads, and at the top step is the $2,699 2990WX with the record-break­ing 32 threads / 64 cores, run­ning at the same fre­quen­cies as the lower WX CPU.

All are built us­ing a 12nm process. They’re power hun­gry lit­tle mon­sters, which isn’t in the least bit sur­pris­ing or dis­ap­point­ing, at 180W for the X se­ries and 250W for WX chips. The cores them­selves are Zen+, which we rst saw with Ryzen 2. Lit­tle has changed with the cores them­selves. AMD talked of im­proved al­go­rithms for bet­ter boost per­for­mance, but the big­ger deal has been the tweaks (which Ryzen has also seen) which smooth out per­for­mance for those few odd apps that didn’t play well with Zen when it rst launched.

TR2 re­tains the com­mon In nity Fab­ric ar­chi­tec­ture that un­der­lies all AMD CPU and GPU de­sign. That means no new mother­board is needed if you’re run­ning a TR4 board. That’s a huge win and sticks it to Intel and its forced mother­board up­grades with ev­ery new gen­er­a­tion over the last few years. On the

ip­side, it means AMD couldn’t tweak In nity Fab­ric to link all four chan­nels of mem­ory to the CPU, just two banks link di­rectly, but in al­most ev­ery us­age sce­nario there’s band­width to spare on the bus to keep all four chan­nels well fed, AMD tell us, though test­ing will bear that out.

All three lev­els of CPU cache have also been sped up a bit, by around 15% on av­er­age.

THE BIG DEALS

TR2 comes out of the gates with sev­eral com­pelling as­pects in its fa­vor. First there’s the mother­board com­mon­al­ity, so for ex­ist­ing TR1 own­ers all that’s needed is a BIOS up­date. That’s a sweet prospect for both home users and com­mer­cial op­er­a­tions al­ready sold on the bene ts of Threadripper’s many core con­cept.

Dol­lar for dol­lar, once again it sits well against Intel’s i9 range, of­fer­ing more po­ten­tial per­for­mance for a lower cost. As the bech­marks show, for those spe­cialised apps that can eat up all this power it’s a killer, and there’s an ever-grow­ing base of in­dus­tries and pro­fes­sions that can in­deed lever­age such a high core count.

You still get up to 64 PCIe lanes so there’s re­ally no practical lim­i­ta­tion on build­ing an out­ra­geously specced ma­chine, one with, per­haps, four GPUs and a nasty ar­ray or RAIDed NVMe stor­age, and all the USB band­width you’ll need too.

It’s a practical CPU. TR4 will run per­fectly well on air cool­ing, and with its launch comes a new Wraith HSF de­vel­oped by Cooler Mas­ter.

SO WHO’S IT FOR?

Threadripper 2 is for en­thu­si­asts that want some­thing ex­treme. It’s also a very ca­pa­ble gam­ing CPU, but that’s not the pri­mary mar­ket for this one. Mainly, this is a mas­sively pow­er­ful data crunching ma­chine for creators and in­no­va­tors. Those that do 3D mod­el­ling, ren­der­ing, 4k video edit­ing or large scale vir­tu­al­i­sa­tion. It’s for soft­ware de­vel­op­ers, for those do­ing com­pute in­ten­sive tasks like ray­trac­ing,

3D VR an­i­ma­tion and sim­u­la­tion, char­ac­ter mod­el­ling... and all that. In other words, a very large slice of the pro­fes­sional mar­ket.

And even while it’s still frac­tion­ally still be­hind Intel for pure gam­ing frames – what TR2 DOES bring to that party is hav­ing cores to spare for stream­ers. Tech­ni­cally that’s a very speci c and le­git­i­mate use, as any­one knows that has seen a stream where frames drop off or the stream it­self is jerky. This is not a small mar­ket eas­ily dis­missed, ei­ther, and let’s not for­get the halo ef­fect of hav­ing your favourite streamer ‘pow­ered by Threadripper’ and the ow on sales that will gen­er­ate.

AMD has, of course, been work­ing hard with game de­vel­op­ers on two fronts – to get them cod­ing more ef ciently for the Zen core, while also try­ing to move for­ward wider use of beyond-four-core util­i­sa­tion. AMD re­ally didn’t want to re­veal speci cs about what’s work­ing best right now but did tell me that the Ox­ide and Frost­bite en­gines were the ones to watch for lead­ing the way here.

There re­main rare games that don’t play well with many cores, so as with Threadripper 1 there’s a user en­abled com­pat­i­bil­ity mode that runs TR2 as an eight-core ma­chine.

Still, bring­ing true mas­sive-core bene ts to gam­ing is still a process that will take sev­eral years to fully even­tu­ate, in part be­cause there are many en­gines that are old and have a wide user base that doesn’t want to or need to up­grade.

This is why sin­gle core per­for­mance and IPC is of cur­rent and pre­dom­i­nant im­por­tance. While a four-core CPU is enough for al­most any cur­rent game, you will in­creas­ingly be run­ning close to the limit as game en­gines evolve up­wards, along­side your own po­ten­tially chang­ing needs over the next year or three that you’ll likely run the same CPU.

“AMD has dou­bled the Threadripper’s core count, with­out sac­ri­fic­ing fre­quen­cies”

TWEAK­ING THE BEAST

Im­por­tantly, TR2 runs with re­spectable base clocks so it’s still a re­li­able gam­ing CPU work­horse, and the big win is not only for peo­ple that DO cur­rently want ex­tra cores above what they need for gam­ing NOW, but also those who will likely sit with this CPU for a cou­ple of years or longer and don’t know what the fu­ture holds, but want to be ready. You’re get­ting ex­tremely high end mul­ti­thread per­for­mance in a scal­able pack­age.

AMD has im­proved its XFR 2 boost mode with bet­ter al­go­rithms to re­duce the sud­den per­for­mance drop offs oc­ca­sion­ally seen with TR1 and Ryzen when they throt­tled up or down with steep gra­di­ents, it now smoothes things out more. It also re­sponds far bet­ter when am­bi­ent tem­per­a­tures are on your side and re­ally bene ts from good cool­ing, with a boost gain of around 5% if am­bi­ent temps drop from 30c to 20c, for ex­am­ple.

Worth re­mem­ber­ing too, is that Threadripper uses AMD’s best binned cores, be­ing the top 5% AMD told me dur­ing the Threadripper 2 launch.

As men­tioned ear­lier, the only po­ten­tial weak­ness in the ar­chi­tec­ture is hav­ing only two of the four chan­nels of mem­ory di­rectly linked to CPU cores. It shouldn’t be a prob­lem, though, servers like all mem­ory linked but this isn’t a server chip, and AMD will sell you an Epyc if you want one of those. Any con­sumer apps that DO use close to 64 cores will likely also be tol­er­ant to any mem­ory la­tency is­sues. There’s 50GB/s of mem­ory band­width (as 25GB/s die to die band­width (bi-di­rec­tional)) to en­sure it’s a “big pool of mem­ory slosh­ing around” and TR2 spreads data in a highly sym­met­ri­cal way, ac­cord­ing to AMD.

Op­er­a­tionally in the real world much is de­pen­dent on the OS. Win­dows al­lo­cates mem­ory rst to threads di­rectly linked to the dies and lls up the re­main­ing cores as they’re utilised. When CPU dies with no mem­ory link are utilised, there’s an in­crease in par­al­lel work go­ing on and these can cre­ate longer la­ten­cies. It will be case by case if this has a real world ef­fect, but all this al­lows AMD to con­tinue its com­mon ar­chi­tec­ture, and that means no need for a new mother­board so for the vast ma­jor­ity of users it’s a net win.

BUSI­NESS TIME

AMD ex­pects to make gains in the work­sta­tion mar­ket with TR2. Its ren­der­ing speed rep­re­sents signi cant pro­duc­tiv­ity gains. As it spends less time work­ing on a speci c task, it can thus can more quickly move onto a new task. By virtue of the sheer num­ber of cores avail­able, a TR2 ma­chine can also al­low a user to per­form com­pu­ta­tion­ally in­ten­sive tasks – while leav­ing cores to spare for the op­er­a­tor to si­mul­ta­ne­ously get on with other work on the same ma­chine. That high level of pro­duc­tiv­ity means a quicker ROI.

Ad­di­tion­ally for com­mer­cial users, typ­i­cally the more cores you can get be­hind a sin­gle soft­ware li­cense the bet­ter, be­cause it saves money as fewer li­censes are needed rel­a­tive to the num­ber of CPU cores that are utilised. Most soft­ware li­censes work on a cost per PC ba­sis, so be­ing able to drop in a TR2 in an ex­ist­ing TR1 ma­chine rep­re­sents an im­me­di­ate in­crease in com­pute power with no ad­di­tional li­cense cost, in most cases.

On top of that com­pa­nies with high core count ma­chines po­ten­tially need less rack space and a re­duced net­work­ing in­fra­struc­ture, as well as re­duced power con­sump­tion over­all if you com­pare oth­er­wise iden­ti­cal TR1 to TR2 PCs.

For a com­pany that CAN max out all 64 cores it’s a clear win, and there’s no bet­ter ex­am­ple than the spe­cialised but wide­spread con­tent cre­ation eld. Look at Net ix and its mas­sive spend on orig­i­nal con­tent. In­creas­ingly that’s Ul­tra HD and HDR com­ing out of the gate and cre­at­ing that cost ef­fec­tively is an area that makes TR2 so com­pelling for those types of busi­nesses.

THE EX­TRAS

With TR2’s launch came a new air cooler. The new Wraith was de­vel­oped with part­ner Cooler Mas­ter and has RGB ac­cents, the logo is also in RGB. Apart from be­ing what looks like a wellde­signed HSF, it’s an im­por­tant state­ment for AMD to have val­i­dated part­ner cooler at launch, let­ting the world know that this high per­for­mance in­sanely-cored CPU runs per­fectly well on air. I asked AMD if there could be a part­nered closed loop liq­uid cooler but that’s not likely, AMD view this as af­ter­mar­ket ter­ri­tory where con­sumers mostly make their own choices.

AMD’s Ryzen Mas­ter desk­top man­age­ment app is also up­graded. More in­ter­est­ingly AMD’s StoreMI now avail­able to ALL 399 mother­board users. It works some magic by fus­ing all mem­ory, SSD, HDD into one pool. Al­go­rithms man­age it, al­lo­cat­ing blocks as needed de­pend­ing on what’s most of­ten used and how quickly they’re needed. That in­cludes games and OS les, and the stuff you do most of can go to DRAM too for a tan­gi­ble per­for­mance gain de­liv­er­ing sim­i­lar re­sults to Intel’s Op­tane, though us­ing a dif­fer­ent ap­proach.

OVER­CLOCK­ING

There’s a new Pre­ci­sion Boost Over­drive (PBO) that al­lows more ag­gres­sive boost­ing via more gran­u­lar fre­quency volt­age and core man­age­ment. It still voids war­ranty but you’ve got some con dence this wil be man­aged within sen­si­ble con­straints be­cause the over­rid­ing SenseMI man­ager stays in con­trol. All this up­grade re­ally does is ex­pand the boost en­ve­lope (your in­di­vid­ual re­sults will vary based on core qual­ity and am­bi­ent temps and work­load im­pacts).

IN THE END

For a rel­a­tively rea­son­able cost AMD has once again ex­panded the CPU per­for­mance en­ve­lope. It is a tech­ni­cal tri­umph that shows the com­pany isn’t about to rest on its lau­rels in ei­ther the mar­ket­place of its en­gi­neer­ing labs.

For those who do in­vest in Threadripper 2 the eco­nom­ics of the per­for­mance add up well. For the rest of us it is still truly ex­cit­ing to see the CPU scene thriv­ing, test­ing Intel, and giv­ing us hard­ware en­thu­si­asts a fun and fas­ci­nat­ing game to watch along with tech­ni­cal achieve­ment to ap­pre­ci­ate.

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