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.

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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  • MattZN - Monday, August 20, 2018 - link

    If its idling at 80-85W that implies you are running the memory fabric at 2800 or 3000MHz or higher. Try running the fabric at 2666MHz.

    Also keep in mind that a 2990WX running all 64 threads with a memory-heavy workload is almost guaranteed to be capped out by available memory bandwidth, so there's no point overclocking the CPU for those sorts of tests. In fact, you could try setting a lower PPT limit for the CPU core along with running the memory at 2666... you can probably chop 50-100W off the power consumption without changing the test results much (beyond the difference between 3000 and 2666).

    It's a bit unclear what you are loading the threads with. A computation-intensive workload will not load down the fabric much, meaning power will shift to the CPU cores and away from the fabric. A memory-intensive workload, on the otherhand, will stall-out the CPU cores (due to hitting the memory bandwidth cap that 4 memory channels gives you), and yet run the fabric at full speed. This is probably why you are seeing the results you are seeing. The CPU cores are likely hitting so many stalls they might as well be running at 2.8GHz instead of 3.4GHz, so they won't be using nearly as much power as you might expect.

  • XEDX - Monday, August 20, 2018 - link

    What happened to the Chromium compile rate for the 7980XE? On it's own review posted on Sep 25th 2017, it achieved 36.35 compiles per day, but in this review it dropped all the way down to 21.1.
  • jcc5169 - Saturday, August 25, 2018 - link

    Intel Will Struggle For Years And AMD Will Reap The Benefits-- SegmentNext https://segmentnext.com/
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  • Relic74 - Wednesday, August 29, 2018 - link

    Regardless of the outcome, I went ahead and bought the 32 Core version. As I run SmartOS, an OS designed to run and manage Virtual Machines, I decided to go this route over the Epyc 24. My setup includes the new MSI MEG X399, 32 Core TR, 128GB DDR4 RAM, 3x Vega Frontier (used, $1000 for all three, no one wants them but I love them), 1 X Nvidia Titan Z (used for only $700, an amazing find from a pawn shop, did not know what he had, had it marked as an XP). Storage is 2 x 1TB Samsung 970 Pro in Raid 0 and 5x 8TB SATA in Raid 5 with 8GB of cache on card.

    The system is amazing and cost me much, much less than the iMac Pro I was about to buy. Now though, I can run any OS in VM, including OSX, with a designated GPU per VM and cores allocated to them. This setup is amazing, SmartOS is amazing, I have stopped running OS's with every application installed, Instead I create single purpose VM's and just install one or maybe two applications per. So for instance when I'm playing a game like DCS, a fantastic flight simulator, only has DCS and Steam installed on the VM. Allowing for the best performance possible, no, the lost of any performance by running things in VM are so minuscule that it's a none issue. DCS with the Titan V runs at over 200 FPS at 4K with everything turned to their max values. I have to actually cap games to my gaming monitors 144Hz refresh rate. Not only that but I can be playing the most demanding game their is, even in VR, while encoding a media file, while rendering something in Blender, while compiling an application, all tasks running under their own VM like a orchestra of perfection.

    Seriously, I will never go back to a one OS at a time machine again, not when SmartOS exists and especially not when 32 Cores are available at your command. In fact, anyone who buys this CPU and just runs one single OS at a time is an idiot as you will never, ever harness it's full intention as no one single application really can at the moment or at least not to the point where it's worth doing it.

    Most games dont need more than 4 cores, most design applications can't even use more than 2 cores, rendering applications use more of the GPU than CPU, in fact the only thing that really tasks my CPU is SmartOS that is controlling everything but even that doesn't need more than 6 cores to function perfectly, heck, I even had it at 12 cores but it didn't utilize it. So I have cores coming out of the yin-yang and more GPU's than I know what to do with. Aaaaahhhh poor, poor me.

    This computer will be with me for at least 10 years without ever feeling that I need an upgrade, which is why I spent the money, get it right the first time and than leave it alone I say.

    Oh and the memory management for SmartOS is incredible, I have set it up where if a VM needs more RAM, it will just grab it from another that isn't using it at the moment, it's all dynamic. Man, I am in love.

  • Phaedra - Sunday, March 3, 2019 - link

    Hi Relic74,

    I enjoyed reading your lengthy post on the technical marvel that is SmartOS and the 32 Core TR.

    I am very much interested in the technical details of how you got SmartOS to work with AMD hardware. Which version of SmartOS, Windows, KVM (or BHYVE) with PCI passthrough etc?

    I am in the process of preparing my own threadripper hyper computer and would love some advice regarding the KVM + PCI passthrough process.

    You mention gaming in a VM so I assume that you used a Windows 10 guest via KVM with PCI passthrough?

    The following says SmartOS doesn't support KVM on AMD hardware: https://wiki.smartos.org/display/DOC/SmartOS+Techn...

    Did you build the special module with amd-kvm support:

    I would appreciate any insight or links to documentation you could provide. I am familiar with Windows/Linux/BSD so you can let me have the nitty-gritty details, thanks
  • gbolcer - Wednesday, September 19, 2018 - link

    Curious why virtualization disabled?
  • Ozymankos - Sunday, January 27, 2019 - link

    Your tests are typical for a single core machine which is laughable
    please try to download a game with steam,play some music,watch tv on a tvtuner card,play a game on 6 monitors or 8 or 4 ,do some work like computing something in the background(not virus scanners,something intelligent like life on other planets)
    then you shall see the truth
  • intel352 - Thursday, July 18, 2019 - link

    Old article obviously, but wth, numerous benchmark graphics are excluding 2950x in the results. Pretty bad quality control.
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