I’ve been spending the weekend in sunny Los Angeles with AMD to learn about two of the company’s most important product launches this year. Ryzen Threadripper is that launch for AMD’s CPU engineers, but the company has also been sharing details of its Vega architecture and products with us over the past couple days. If you’d rather read about what’s happening with Vega first, feel free to go check out my separate article discussing AMD’s plans for its Radeon RX Vega 56 and RX Vega 64 graphics cards.
All Threadripper chips start with an Epyc-esque multi-chip module that uses two of AMD’s eight-core Zen dies connected over the company’s Infinity Fabric. To achieve its quad-channel memory architecture, Threadripper yokes the dual-channel memory controller on each die into the fabric, and it also enables all 32 of the PCIe lanes available from each die to create the 64 PCIe lanes available to all Threadrippers. All Threadripper CPUs will have support for ECC RAM, as well, and AMD said its motherboard partners have all included support for the feature in their accompanying motherboards.
|PCIe 3.0 lanes
|16||32||3.4 GHz||4.0 GHz||200 MHz||64||4||$999|
Four of those lanes are dedicated to the X399 chipset, leaving 60 PCIe lanes available to motherboard makers for PCIe or M.2 slots. The two active dies on a Threadripper MCM are arranged diagonally on the package, and they’re flanked by two dummy dies that provide stability to the large integrated heat spreader that caps off the whole affair. That integrated heat spreader is soldered to the dies beneath for effective heat transfer.
AMD has already disclosed clock speeds and core counts for its two highest-end Threadrippers, but we now have more details about them. The Ryzen Threadripper 1950X will offer the full 16 cores and 32 threads of compute power that Threadripper promises. AMD says it’s selecting the best 2% of dies for use in Threadrippers. That means the 1950X will offer 200 MHz of XFR headroom for operation at speeds of up to 4.2 GHz in lightly-threaded workloads. The chip will also be able to boost up to 4 GHz on two cores of each eight-core die.
Overclockers may also find plenty of potential to be tapped within reasonable voltages as a result of that binning. AMD testing guru James Prior noted that he was able to overclock his own Threadripper 1950X to 4 GHz across all cores using just 1.325V, as opposed to 1.4V for his personal Ryzen 7 1800X.
AMD’s in-house team of extreme overclockers tried their hand at putting a Threadripper 1950X under liquid nitrogen last night, and the net result was a roughly 5.2 GHz all-core overclock. With 16 cores and 32 threads churning away at those speeds, the chip produced a Cinebench all-core score of 4188. For perspective, that’s 2000 points more than the Core i9-7900X turned in during our review.
The Ryzen Threadripper 1920X will offer 12 cores and 24 threads of compute power for $799, as well. This chip will run with the same 4.0 GHz four-core boost as the Threadripper 1950X, and it’ll have a slightly higher 3.5 GHz base clock than its 16-core sibling. Like the 1950X, the Threadripper 1920X will offer 200 MHz of XFR headroom in lightly-threaded workloads.
For those who’d rather have four channels of memory to pair with eight Ryzen cores—something Ryzen 7 chips can’t boast—AMD will offer the previously-undisclosed Threadripper 1900X. This chip will have a 3.8 GHz base clock, a 4 GHz boost clock, and the same 200 MHz of XFR headroom as its brethren. Compared to the Ryzen 7 1800X, the Threadripper 1900X will offer a 200-MHz-higher base clock and 100 MHz more XFR headroom to go with what will surely be much higher memory bandwidth. Like its counterparts, the Threadripper 1900X will still offer all 64 lanes of the platform’s PCIe 3.0 connectivity to host motherboards.
For users who want even higher stock-clocked performance or overclocking potential than the Ryzen 7 1800X, the Threadripper 1900X could prove an appealing point of entry to the X399 platform (unlike the bemusing Kaby Lake-X CPUs for Intel’s X299 motherboards), and it’ll start at $549—just $50 more than the nominal price of the Ryzen 7 1800X.
AMD didn’t officially disclose the cache amounts and core configurations for Threadripper dies at its tech day, so that information will need to wait until our full review. Each full eight-core Zen die offers 4MB of L2 cache and 16MB of L3 cache, though, so the numbers should be prodigious. I’m especially curious to know how AMD is configuring the eight-core Ryzen 7 1900X, but the company is remaining tight-lipped for now.
Laying claim to the high-end desktop performance crown
We’re always skeptical of manufacturer-provided performance numbers, but it’s hard to argue with AMD’s proclamations of dominance for Threadripper performance against the Intel competition. The only Core i9 CPU available so far is the 10-core Core i9-7900X, and it sells for the same $999 suggested price as the Ryzen Threadripper 1950X. Given that the AMD part boasts a whopping six more cores and 12 more threads, even the single-threaded performance advantage and AVX-512 support the i9-7900X offers isn’t likely to be enough to let it overcome the Threadripper 1950X.
AMD’s numbers for the Threadripper 1950X handily beat the i9-7900X. At least in heavily-multithreaded workloads, the chip seems ready to lay claim to the title of highest-performing chip around for its price. Intel’s Core i9-7980XE promises 18 cores and 36 threads of Skylake-X, but that chip will sell for $2000, last we heard. For the moment, AMD seems ready to claim the absolute performance crown.
The Ryzen Threadripper 1920X, on the other hand, promises near-parity with the $999 i9-7900X across the same range of workloads. Presuming one’s workload doesn’t involve heavy use of AVX instructions, the 1920X’s $799 price tag could prove quite compelling for an entry-level workstation or heavy-duty streaming machine.
Threadripper could also offer impressive performance-per-watt figures to go with its raw performance. AMD claims that even though the Threadripper 1950X is 24% faster than the i9-7900X in its Blender testing, the AMD CPU requires 2% less power at the wall to get there—a claimed 29% performance-per-watt advantage. I’m eager to see how that potential plays out in my own testing, but it does suggest Threadripper will be quite efficient.
AMD also showed (but didn’t provide us with) gaming performance numbers for Threadripper CPUs that promise near-parity with Core i9 CPUs in both 1920×1080 and 2560×1440 scenarios. I’d question the wisdom of building around any of these high-end desktop chips for gaming and gaming alone, given their high price tags and likely platform costs. Still, if one needs to game and do the many other things that Threadripper promises to be capable of, the 1920X and 1950X should be willing companions.
Packaging and platform considerations
Each Threadripper chip will come in a massive box without a cooler. Instead, Threadrippers will come with a bracket for any recent Asetek-powered liquid cooler. That bracket will allow Threadripper builders to take advantage of a wide range of compatible liquid coolers from the word go. The Threadripper package will also include a torque wrench that builders will need to unlock and secure the CPU retention mechanism in the massive TR4 socket.
AMD expects that most builders will want to liquid-cool such a large and high-octane chip, but some of its partners will offer air coolers for those who want them. The company says options from Arctic Cooling and Cooler Master will be available at Threadripper’s launch, and options from Noctua will follow later this year.
AMD will have X399 motherboards from all of the big four motherboard makers at launch: Asus, Gigabyte, ASRock, and MSI. We don’t have full details of the X399 chipset and its resources yet, but we’ll know soon enough.
The Threadripper 1950X and Threadripper 1920X will be available August 10, followed by the Threadripper 1900X on August 31. We expect to have review hardware soon, and we’ll have as thorough a performance picture as we can get for those parts by the August 10 launch. Stay tuned.