Introduction, Design Features
How many computing threads do you actually need?
This year, first there was the eight-core, 16-thread Ryzen 7 chips that made their debut in March. Then came Intel’s Core X-Series/Core i9 response at Computex 2017 in June. And most recently, AMD’s high-end Ryzen Threadripper platform has topped out at 32-thread capability with the $999 AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X. With all of this action in high-end CPUs, 2017 may go down (in the minds of PC enthusiasts, at least) as the year of “more cores for the masses.” And that’s to say nothing of the rumored upcoming six-core laptop processors from Intel. (For more on that, see the chatter about Intel “Coffee Lake” at sister site ExtremeTech.)
But as much as all of us might want access to all the computing cores and threads we can get, if only for bragging rights, how many of us can actually make any substantive use of the Threadripper 1950X’s 16 cores, or the upcoming Intel Core i9-7980XE‘s 18 cores and 36 threads? If you aren’t a professional video creator and/or very, very serious about running a game-streaming empire on your platform of choice (where you might be playing a game and streaming it at a high bit rate, while also encoding a previous match so you can upload an edited video), you probably don’t need quite that much CPU muscle.
Enter the Ryzen Threadripper 1920X. Its 12 cores and 24 threads are still mighty capable (and capably mighty), and its 3.5GHz base clock is actually a tick higher than the 3.4GHz base of the higher-end Ryzen Threadripper 1950X. Stock boost clocks between the two chips are the same, at 4GHz. And unlike with Intel’s competing Core X-Series platform, you get the same 64 lanes of PCI Express with Threadripper, no matter which compatible chip you choose to drop into your motherboard.
So in effect, you lose 12.5 percent of your cores if you opt for the Threadripper 1920X over the higher-end Threadripper chip, but not a whole lot else. You will save $200, though, because the Threadripper 1920X is priced at $799, while the 1950X rings up at $999. Does that make the Ryzen Threadripper 1920X the better buy between it and its higher-end AMD silicon sibling or, for that matter, a better one than the competing 10-core Intel Core i9-7900X, which is also about $1,000?
The short answer is probably, although the same caveats about Threadripper remain with this chip. The install process is a little complex, to the point where if you aren’t a veteran builder, you may want to buy a pre-built Ryzen system, or at least a bare-bones kit where the CPU comes pre-installed. And you’ll need a robust cooler (preferably a self-contained liquid model, though an air cooler is an option) to keep Threadripper chilled—especially if you intend to overclock.
Also, there’s no denying that 12 cores is still wanton excess for many PC users. If video crunching or similar tasks aren’t something you do all the time, or if you have the need but $799 is still a bit rich for you, you may want to wait a bit. AMD says an eight-core, 16-thread Ryzen Threadripper 1900X will arrive at the very end of August 2017 (launch date: August 31) for a more affordable $549.
Threadripper: Meet the Platform
As noted up top, Threadripper as a platform is powerful and complex, but the actual chip-install process is unlike anything we’ve seen before in the consumer-desktop realm. That’s at least in part because Threadripper is pretty much a straight-up consumer-focused clone of the AMD’s (also new) Epyc server line.
The physical characteristics of the Epyc and Threadripper chips are either identical or nearly so. (We don’t have an Epyc chip on hand to say for sure.) The underlying architecture of Threadripper, Epyc, and the mainstream Ryzen chips is the same “Zen” design found in the initial Ryzen 7 chips. Ryzen 7 houses one eight-core, 16-thread module, Threadripper connects two on one chip, and Epyc makes room for four. Additionally, Epyc includes a two-socket option, making possible systems with a crazy-to-imagine 128 threads in a single system. But the underlying silicon in the individual modules is essentially the same, whether we’re talking about mainstream Ryzen chips, Threadripper, or Epyc. This is, in some ways, similar to the lineage of Intel’s enthusiast chips, such as the new Core X-Series, which are effectively retooled versions of its Xeon server and enterprise processors.
But it’s fair to say that, in part because Epyc is itself brand-new (the company just launched Epyc in June 2017), the Threadripper chips and platform aren’t quite as refined as Intel’s competing offerings are. Intel has been churning out high-end desktop (HEDT) chips on the regular for years now. (See, for instance, our review of the Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition…from 2011.)
AMD has been long out of this league of enthusiast-class CPUs, and it shows in some obvious and not-so-obvious ways. For starters, the Threadripper chips are positively huge by CPU standards, at about 3.75 inches on the diagonal (or roughly 3 inches long by 2.25 inches across). Not that physical chip size really matters in a desktop PC, but Intel’s competing Core X-Series chips measure about 2 inches by 1.75 inches, and the Ryzen chips are even smaller. Here’s a look at Threadripper bracketed by an ordinary Ryzen (to the left) and a Core X-Series (in the box at right).
It’s also fairly obvious that Threadripper chips are the result of effectively bolting a pair of Ryzen modules together at a silicon level. The Threadripper package even has two separate sets of contacts and components on the bottom, with a visible line running between them. Not that this is a major issue, but it’s tough to ignore in a brand-new platform when Intel’s competing chips are far smaller and aren’t as obviously separate modules paired together.
One of Threadripper’s larger quirks is also down to physicality, of a different sort: its complex installation process. And on the plus side (albeit superficially), the retail packaging is unusually interesting. But before we jump to that, let’s talk about the three Ryzen Threadripper processors that AMD has announced so far.
AMD Ryzen 7 1800X, in which we delved into it in some detail.
AMD also launched the top-end Ryzen Threadripper 1950X alongside the 1920X, and we’ve already reviewed that higher-end chip at the link. It has a base clock of 3.4GHz and tops out at the same 4GHz. Here’s a detailed look at the specs of the the two chips that are available today, direct from AMD…
As noted earlier, the company also has in the pipeline an eight-core “entry-level” Ryzen Threadripper 1900X that will list for $549, with a high 3.8GHz base clock and the same 4GHz top clock as the other two chips. The 1900X has been promised to launch at the end of August 2017.
A couple of things are impressive here from the specs alone. First, AMD is able to keep its base and boost clock speeds quite high, even on the chips with the highest core counts. Compare this with the upcoming 18-core Intel Core i9-7980XE, which Intel has revealed will have a low 2.6GHz base clock. That Core i9’s top Turbo clock speed, 4.2GHz, will be higher than AMD’s 4GHz, but lower than that of the mainstream Core i7-7700K, which can ramp as high as 4.5GHz without overclocking.
One other thing of possible concern is cooling. The 180-watt TDP (thermal design power, a measurement of required heat dissipation) of the Threadripper chips is quite high, higher even than the 165-watt TDP of Intel’s promised 18-core Core i9 chip. And, as we saw in testing the 1950X, it wasn’t easy for even a 360mm liquid cooler to keep the Threadripper chip all that cool, especially when overclocking. It may be worth waiting for new coolers that do a better job of covering a larger portion of the CPU’s heat spreader. Several existing liquid coolers have been cleared by AMD to work with these chips. But as this is physically, by far, the biggest consumer processor in the last several years, existing coolers cover only the central portion of the chip. (More on this later.)
The X399 Platform in Brief
Rather than detail the specifics of the Ryzen Threadripper’s X399 chipset and the complicated CPU install process here, we’re going to point you again to our review of the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X, where we already covered both in great detail. If you just want a general sense of how the platform shapes up in terms of modern features, you can get a pretty good sense by studying the diagram below, provided by AMD…
One thing we will point out here is the fact that AMD provides 64 PCI Express lanes with all of its Ryzen Threadripper chips. This should make the upcoming Threadripper 1900X far more appealing as a lower-cost entry point to AMD’s enthusiast platform than, say, Intel’s own “entry-level” Core X-Series silicon, the so-called “Kaby Lake X” chips. The lowest-end of those, the Intel Core i5-7640XAMD Radeon RX Vega 64 cards into your new X399 build. Don’t let us stop you now.)
The other issue with X399 motherboards is their cost. With the Ryzen 3, 5, and 7 chips, motherboard pricing has been another part of the value proposition, with X370, B350, and A320 boards generally coming in at either a lower price than Intel-based ones, or with more premium features (M.2 slots, LEDs, metal-wrapped PCIe x16 slots) than similarly priced Intel boards. But at least at this early stage, that’s not the case with Threadripper. When we wrote this in the days just after the chips’ launch, there were just six X399 motherboards available from Newegg, the same six we saw at a Threadripper briefing a couple of weeks before the launch. And they were all priced at $339 and up. The Asus ROG Zenith Extreme we used for testing was priced at $549. Motherboards on the competing Intel Core X-Series platform (using the Intel X299 chipset) started at about $100 less than the lowest-cost X399 Threadripper boards at the time we wrote this in mid-August 2017.
All that said, a couple of the X399 motherboards already have mail-in rebates, indicating that pricing may fall soon after launch.
Ryzen Architecture Our Test-Bed PC
As for the architecture in Ryzen Threadripper, it’s essentially the same as what’s found in the Ryzen 3, 5, and 7 chips. There are just more modules here, providing more cores and threads. And the modules are connected via the same “Infinity Fabric” that AMD uses to connect the modules inside lesser Ryzen chips.
AMD does say, though, that it uses only “the very best” Ryzen dies for Threadripper chips. That likely, in part, accounts for the fact that all the Threadripper chips have high stock clock speeds. They are culled from the manufacturing process and set aside. (For more about the Ryzen architecture and features like XFR and Infinity Fabric, again, please see our review of the AMD Ryzen 7 1800X.)
As for our test-bed, we built a Threadripper benchmarking PC based on an install kit that AMD supplied us. We’ve listed the parts below (along with some sources) and below that is a blow-by-blow video of the build process (done using the 1950X).
Now, how did the Ryzen Threadripper 1920X shake out versus the 1950X and the Intel competition? Let’s dig in.