If you live by the workstation, you die by the performance. When it comes to processing data, throughput is key: the more a user can do, the more projects are accomplished, and the more contracts can be completed. This means that workstation users are often compute bound, and like to throw resources at the problem, be it cores, memory, storage, or graphics acceleration. AMD’s latest foray into the mix is its second generation Threadripper product, also known as Threadripper 2, which breaks the old limit on cores and pricing: the 2990WX gives 32 cores and 64 threads for only $1799. There is also the 2950X, with 16 cores and 32 threads, for a new low of $899. We tested them both.

The AMD Threadripper 2990WX 32-Core and 2950X 16-Core Review

Ever since AMD launched its first generation Ryzen product, with eight cores up against Intel’s four cores in the mainstream, the discussion has been all about how many cores makes sense. The answer to this question is entirely workload dependent – how many users have a single workload in mind, or how many will use a variety of tools simultaneously. The workstation market encompasses a wide range of distinct power users, and despite the need for speed, there is rarely a one-size fits all solution.

AMD’s first generation of Threadripper, launched in 2017, introduced 16-core processors to the masses. Previously only available on the server platforms, these new parts were priced very competitively against 10-core offerings. AMD had ultimately used its server platform, with a few tweaks, to attack a competitive landscape where Halo products are seen as king-of-the-hill.

Intel’s own workstation products, previously named E5-2687W and relied on dual socket servers, were literally that – servers. After launching its latest high-end desktop platform, with up to 18 cores, Intel then subsequently launched the Xeon W-series, which replaced the E5-W parts from the previous generation. Again, these were up to 18-cores for ~$2500, but required special chipsets and motherboards.

Today AMD is officially putting out for sale its second generation of Threadripper. These new parts attack the market two-fold: firstly by using the improved Zen+ microarchitecture, giving for a 3% IPC increase in core performance, but also using 12nm, driving up frequencies and reducing power. The second attack on the market is core count: while AMD will be replacing the 12 and 16 core processors with new Zen+ models at higher frequencies, AMD also has 24 and 32 core processors for up to $1799.  When comparing 32 cores at $1799 against 18 cores at $2500, it seems like a slam dunk, right?

How AMD Enabled 32 Cores

The first generation server processor line from AMD, called EPYC, uses four silicon dies of eight cores each to hit a the full 32 core product. These parts also had eight memory channels and 128 lanes of PCIe 3.0 to play with. In order to make the first generation Threadripper processors, AMD disabled two of those silicon dies, giving only 16 cores, four memory channels, and 60 lanes of PCIe. The end product was sold focused at consumers, not server customers.

For 32 cores, AMD takes the same 32-core EPYC silicon, but upgrades it to Zen+ on 12nm for a higher frequency and lower power. However, to make it socket compatible with the first generation, it is slightly neutered: we have to go back to four memory channels and 60 lanes of PCIe. AMD wants users to think of this as an upgraded first generation product, with more cores, rather than a cut enterprise part. The easy explanation is to do with product segmentation, a tactic both companies have used over time to offer a range of products.

As a result, one way of visioning the new second generation 32-core and 24-core products is bi-modal: half the chip has access to the full resources, similar to the first generation product, while the other half of the chip doubles the same compute resources but has additional memory and PCIe latency compared to the first half. For any user that is entirely compute bound, and not memory or PCIe bound, then AMD has the product for you.

In our review, we’ll see that this bi-modal performance difference can have a significant effect, both good and bad, and is very workload dependent.

AMD’s New Product Stack

The official announcement last week showed that AMD is coming to market with four second generation Threadripper processors. Two of these will directly replace the first generation product: the 16-core 2950X will replace the 16-core 1950X, and the 12-core 2920X will replace the 12-core 1920X. These two new processors will not be bi-modal as explained above, with only two of the four silicon die on the package being active (the 16-core will be a 8+0+8+0 configuration, the 12-core is a 6+0+6+0). Sitting at the bottom of the stack will be the first generation 8-core (4+0+4+0) 1900X that also offers quad-channel memory and 60 PCIe lanes.

2017   2018
-     $1799 TR 2990WX
-     $1299 TR 2970WX
TR 1950X $999   $899 TR 2950X
TR 1920X $799   $649 TR 2920X
TR 1900X $549      

The two new processors are the 32-core 2990WX and the 24-core 2970WX. They will enable four cores per complex (8+8+8+8) and three cores per complex (6+6+6+6) respectively, and are under the bi-modal nature of the memory and PCIe. The naming changes up to WX, presumably for ‘Workstation eXtreme’, but this puts the product in the same marketing line as the Radeon Pro WX family.

AMD SKUs
  Cores/
Threads
Base/
Turbo
L3 DRAM
1DPC
PCIe TDP SRP
TR 2990WX 32/64 3.0/4.2 64 MB 4x2933 60 250 W $1799
TR 2970WX 24/48 3.0/4.2 64 MB 4x2933 60 250 W $1299
TR 2950X 16/32 3.5/4.4 32 MB 4x2933 60 180 W $899
TR 2920X 12/24 3.5/4.3 32 MB 4x2933 60 180 W $649
Ryzen 7 2700X 8/16 3.7/4.3 16 MB 2x2933 16 105 W $329

The AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX is the new halo product, with 32 cores and 64 threads coming in with a base frequency of 3.0 GHz and a top turbo frequency of 4.2 GHz. The idle frequency of this processor is 2.0 GHz, and when installed we saw 2.0 GHz on any core without work – it almost becomes the dominating frequency if the CPU isn’t constantly loaded. The 2990WX will be available from today and retail for $1799.

The other member of the WX series is the 2970WX, which disables one core per complex for a total of 24 cores. With similar frequencies as the 2990WX, and the same TDP, PCIe lanes, and memory support, this processor will be launched in October at the $1299 price point. With fewer cores being loaded, one might expect this processor to turbo more often than the bigger 32-core part.

For the X-series, the TR 2950X is our 16-core replacement, taking full advantage of the better frequencies that the new 12nm process can give: a base frequency of 3.5 GHz and a turbo of 4.4 GHz puts the previous generation processor to shame. In fact, the 2950X is set to be the joint highest clocked AMD Ryzen product. With that bump also comes a price drop: instead of $999 users can now get a 16-core processor for $899. The 2950X is due out at the end of the month, on August 31st.

Bringing up the rear is the 2920X, sitting in to replace the 1920X and with a similar trade-off to the other parts. As with the 2950X, the frequencies are nice and high compared to last year, with a base frequency of 3.5 GHz and a turbo of 4.3 GHz. This is all in a thermal design package of 180W. AMD told us that the TDP ratings for Threadripper 2, in general, were fairly conservative, so it will be interesting to see how they hold up. The 2920X is also out in October, going for $649 retail.

In This Review

  1. AMD’s New Product Stack [this page]
  2. Core to Core to Core: Design Trade Offs
  3. Precision Boost 2, Precision Boost Overdrive
  4. Feed Me: Infinity Fabric Requires 6x Power
  5. Test Setup and Comparison Points
  6. Our New Testing Suite for 2018 and 2019
  7. HEDT Benchmarks: System Tests
  8. HEDT Benchmarks: Rendering Tests
  9. HEDT Benchmarks: Office Tests
  10. HEDT Benchmarks: Encoding Tests
  11. HEDT Benchmarks: Web and Legacy Tests
  12. Overclocking: 4.0 GHz for 500W
  13. Thermal Comparisons: Remember to Remove the CPU Cooler Plastic!
  14. Going Up Against EPYC: Frequency vs Memory Channels
  15. Conclusions: Not All Cores Are Made Equal
Core to Core to Core: Design Trade Offs
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  • plonk420 - Tuesday, August 14, 2018 - link

    worse for efficiency?

    https://techreport.com/r.x/2018_08_13_AMD_s_Ryzen_...
    Reply
  • Railgun - Monday, August 13, 2018 - link

    How can you tell? The article isn’t even finished. Reply
  • mapesdhs - Monday, August 13, 2018 - link

    People will argue a lot here about performance per watt and suchlike, but in the real world the cost of the software and the annual license renewal is often far more than the base hw cost, resulting in a long term TCO that dwarfs any differences in some CPU cost. I'm referring here to the kind of user that would find the 32c option relevant.

    Also missing from the article is the notion of being able to run multiple medium scale tasks on the same system, eg. 3 or 4 tasks each of which is using 8 to 10 cores. This is quite common practice. An article can only test so much though, at this level of hw the number of different parameters to consider can be very large.

    Most people on tech forums of this kind will default to tasks like 3D rendering and video conversion when thinking about compute loads that can use a lot of cores, but those are very different to QCD, FEA and dozens of other tasks in research and data crunching. Some will match the arch AMD is using, others won't; some could be tweaked to run better, others will be fine with 6 to 10 cores and just run 4 instances testing different things. It varies.

    Talking to an admin at COSMOS years ago, I was told that even coders with seemingly unlimited cores to play with found it quite hard to scale relevant code beyond about 512 cores, so instead for the sort of work they were doing, the centre would run multilple simulations at the same time, which on the hw platform in question worked very nicely indeed (1856 cores of the SandyBridge-EP era, 14.5TB of globally shared memory, used primarily for research in cosmology, astrophysics and particle physics; squish it all into a laptop and I'm sure Sheldon would be happy. :D) That was back in 2012, but the same concepts apply today.

    For TR2, the tricky part is getting the OS to play nice, along with the BIOS, and optimised sw. It'll be interesting to see how 2990WX performance evolves over time as BIOS updates come out and AMD gets feedback on how best to exploit the design, new optimisations from sw vendors (activate TR2 mode!) and so on.

    SGI dealt with a lot of these same issues when evolving its Origin design 20 years ago. For some tasks it absolutely obliterated the competition (eg. weather modelling and QCD), while for others in an unoptimised state it was terrible (animation rendering, not something that needs shared memory, but ILM wrote custom sw to reuse bits of a frame already calculated for future frame, the data able to fly between CPUs very fast, increasing throughput by 80% and making the 32-CPU systems very competitive, but in the long run it was easier to brute force on x86 and save the coder salary costs).

    There are so many different tasks in the professional space, the variety is vast. It's too easy to think cores are all that matter, but sometimes having oodles of RAM is more important, or massive I/O (defense imaging, medical and GIS are good examples).

    I'm just delighted to see this kind of tech finally filter down to the prosumer/consumer, but alas much of the nuance will be lost, and sadly some will undoubtedly buy based on the marketing, as opposed to the golden rule of any tech at this level: ignore the publish benchmarks, the ony test that actually matters is your specific intended task and data, so try and test it with that before making a purchasing decision.

    Ian.
    Reply
  • AbRASiON - Monday, August 13, 2018 - link

    Really? I can't tell if posts like these are facetious or kidding or what?

    I want AMD to compete so badly long term for all of us, but Intel have such immense resources, such huge infrastructure, they have ties to so many big business for high end server solutions. They have the bottom end of the low power market sealed up.

    Even if their 10nm is delayed another 3 years, AMD will only just begin to start to really make a genuine long term dent in Intel.

    I'd love to see us at a 50/50 situation here, heck I'd be happy with a 25/75 situation. As it stands, Intel isn't finished, not even close.
    Reply
  • imaheadcase - Monday, August 13, 2018 - link

    Are you looking at same benchmarks as everyone else? I mean AMD ass was handed to it in Encoding tests and even went neck to neck against some 6c intel products. If AMD got one of these out every 6 months with better improvements sure, but they never do. Reply
  • imaheadcase - Monday, August 13, 2018 - link

    Especially when you consider they are using double the core count to get the numbers they do have, its not very efficient way to get better performance. Reply
  • crotach - Tuesday, August 14, 2018 - link

    It's happened before. AMD trashes Intel. Intel takes it on the chin. AMD leads for 1-2 years and celebrates. Then Intel releases a new platform and AMD plays catch-up for 10 years and tries hard not to go bankrupt.

    I dearly hope they've learned a lesson the last time, but I have my doubts. I will support them and my next machine will be AMD, which makes perfect sense, but I won't be investing heavily in the platform, so no X399 for me.
    Reply
  • boozed - Tuesday, August 14, 2018 - link

    We're talking about CPUs that cost more than most complete PCs. Willy-waving aside, they are irrelevant to the market. Reply
  • Ian Cutress - Monday, August 13, 2018 - link

    Hey everyone, sorry for leaving a few pages blank right now. Jet lag hit me hard over the weekend from Flash Memory Summit. Will be filling in the blanks and the analysis throughout today.

    But here's what there is to look forward to:

    - Our new test suite
    - Analysis of Overclocking Results at 4G
    - Direct Comparison to EPYC
    - Me being an idiot and leaving the plastic cover on my cooler, but it completed a set of benchmarks. I pick through the data to see if it was as bad as I expected

    The benchmark data should now be in Bench, under the CPU 2019 section, as our new suite will go into next year as well.

    Thoughts and commentary welcome!
    Reply
  • Tamz_msc - Monday, August 13, 2018 - link

    Are the numbers for test LuxMark C++ test correct? Seems they've been swapped(2900WX and 2950X). Reply

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