AMD reveals 2nd-gen Ryzen Threadripper 2

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AMD reveals 2nd-gen Ryzen Threadripper 2

Thirty-two cores; no waiting; all the power. But it's not for everyone...

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. While this isn't a CPU intended for gaming, strictly speaking, it can game within single digit percentage points of Intel’s best when you look at single core performance, AND stream effortlessly at the same time. The number of people doing that is increasing by the day, and, 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 confidence 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 sacrificing 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 first chips off the block launching right now. In October we'll see the beefier WX series TR2s.

There are two SKUs in each series. The base-level 2920X is a 12 core/24 thread part running at 3.5GHz base and up to 4.3GHz boosted. It's $US649. 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 $US899.

October's WX series starts with the $US1,299 2970WX, with 24 cores and 48 threads, and at the top step is the $US1,999 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 first 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 first launched.

TR2 maintains the common Infinity 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 flipside, it means AMD couldn't tweak Infinity 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.

2nd Gen Ryzen Threadripper Desktop Processors Line-up:

MODEL

CORES/
THREADS

BOOST/ BASE FREQUENCY (GHZ)

L3$ (MB)

TDP (WATTS)

PCIe® Gen 3.0 LANES

RRP

EXPECTED AVAILABILITY

AMD Ryzen™ Threadripper™ 2990WX

32/64

4.2/3.0

64

250W

64

AU$2,699/NZ$3069

Aug. 13, 2018

AMD Ryzen™ Threadripper™ 2970WX

24/48

4.2/3.0

64

250W

64

AU$1,349/NZ$1529

October 2018

AMD Ryzen™ Threadripper™ 2950X

16/32

4.4/3.5

32

180W

64

US$899

Aug. 31, 2018

AMD Ryzen™ Threadripper™ 2920X

12/24

4.3/3.5

32

180W

64

US$649

October 2018

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 benefits 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 specific 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 flow on sales that will generate.

AMD has, of course, been working hard with game developers on two fronts -- to get them coding more efficiently for the Zen core, while also trying to move forward wider use of beyond-four-core utilisation. AMD really didn't want to reveal specifics 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 benefits 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 (Instructions Per Cycle) 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.

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 multi-thread 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 benefits 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, the top 5% AMD told me.

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 confidence 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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