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AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X CPU Review

Back in March the CPU world was turned on its head with the release of Ryzen: The CPU family that brought AMD back to relevance in the PC market. AMD brought four, six and eight core processors to all new price points, effectively ending Intel’s years of monopoly power with stagnated multiple generations of the same core count CPUs at their respective price levels.

Not content with fighting in the mainstream market with the Ryzen series, the release of the X399 platform and Threadripper CPU’s brings AMD right back into a market it has been noncompetitive in for over a decade, the high end desktop.

Today we are proud to bring you our review of the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X, a 16 core/32 thread monster of a CPU, and we mean that quite literally. This thing is huge!

AMD is back throwing punches in the HEDT market

Back in March, we declared that AMD was back as a serious competitor in the x86 CPU market. Desktop Ryzen is only a part of the picture of course. We have yet to see mobile Ryzen, but there’s always the enterprise market. That’s where the real earnings come from. AMD knows this perfectly well, and have their Zen based EPYC range available for that purpose.

Desktop CPUs have relatively low core counts and small die sizes, so they are easier to design and manufacture. Enterprise and server level CPUs have ever expanding core counts, and this means larger and larger dies. Improved manufacturing processes that fit more transistors into a given area provide ongoing generational benefits, but there is a limit to how much you can pack onto one monolithic die before running into issues or diminishing yields and returns.

This key consideration goes right to the heart of the AMD EPYC and Threadripper design. From the outset, AMD designed Ryzen to be modular, with basic building blocks able to be joined together to create higher core count models. AMD calls this building block ‘Zeppelin’ and it is this block makes up the desktop Ryzen series. Join two together like we have here with the 1950X, and we have up to 16c/32t when fully enabled. AMD have high end EPYC models with up to four of these dies linked together with what AMD calls ‘Infinity Fabric’, making a 32 core/64 thread CPU. This means AMD could relatively easily release 24 or 32 core Threadripper CPU in the future if they chose to do so.

All of this means that desktop users now have access to high core counts that were previously restricted to the enterprise realm. Anyone doing serious content creation will marvel at the parallelism on offer, particularly with modern codecs able to make use of as many threads as you can realistically throw at them. Multitasking will be laughed off. You can game, stream, record all at the same time, you can render faster than ever, run complex data sets faster, run virtual machines and anything else that can make use of serious multi threading.

Note that this series isn’t really aimed at gamers. Even AMD themselves make this point. Gamers will likely see no benefit at all from the likes of a Ryzen 1700 or 1800x. Software developers are somewhat restricted though. They need to make their games playable with dual and quad cores that make up the vast majority of gamers machines, and probably will do for several years to come.

At $999 USD, the Ryzen Threadripper leads the range with its amazing 16 cores and 32 threads. It is joined by the 12C/24T 1920X and  the 8C/16T 1900X. These prices are very strategically set by AMD  in order to offer superior core counts relative to the Intel opposition. Of course Intel will ultimately offer the 18 core i9 7980 XE , but this CPU is not yet available.

Unlike Intel which cripples the PCIe lane count on its lower level SKU’s, AMD is offering the full complement of 64 PCIe lanes across the entire range. Having 64 lanes to allocate means that there should be no compromise when it comes to multiple GPU’s, multiple M.2 drives and dedicated expansion cards. With Kaby Lake X CPU’s; even with a single graphics card, you need to pay attention to the motherboard manual to make sure your storage and expansion solutions will actually work. This is a big plus for AMD. This is what the HEDT is all about: running high end systems with all the trimmings without having to compromise.

AMD offers unlocked multipliers for all Threadripper models, as do Intel with their X299 range. AMD also say they are using the top 5% of binned Zeppelin dies. In theory this should mean improved overclocking and better power efficiency when at idle. It should also be easier to hold its maximum boost, and do so for longer.

Threadripper and the X399 Platform Overview

Most of the fundamental features from the Zen architecture found in the regular Ryzen series carry over to the Threadripper series. One of the most interesting of these technologies come under the umbrella name of ‘SenseMI’ Essentially this is a grid of interconnected sensors that poll various parameters including amperage, voltage, wattage, temperature and clock frequency with a very fine degree of precision at a polling rate of 1000 times per second. The CPU then uses this data for fine tuning performance, including the Extended Frequency Range (XFR) which is essentially a super turbo. It allows the frequency to increase beyond the standard 4.0Ghz limit when power and thermal conditions allow. Other key SenseMI technologies include advanced power management which constantly adjusts CPU frequencies and some interesting prefetch and branch prediction functionality.

One of the key features AMD is introducing is its Infinity Fabric interconnect technology. This is what AMD uses to connect the multiple dies found inside Threadripper CPU’s, but is also found in the new Vega GPUs and will be introduced into other AMD product designs. It is essentially a high speed interlink and can be thought of as the ultimate successor to older Hypertransport or Front Side Bus interconnects. Given that Threadripper features excellent parallelism and scaling, it does seem that this interconnect is working very well. It may well be a window into the future where ASIC designs could move away from complex and low yielding monolithic designs towards multi chip modules. Nvidia is known to be working on a similar design philosophy that will likely make its way into future GPU designs.

For the first time we have quad channel memory available for a desktop AMD platform. This is a key advantage that Intel has had for a few generations now. In fact until the launch of Ryzen earlier in the year, AMD was still stuck on DDR3. Most motherboards will be equipped with eight DIMM slots, with a maximum officially supported speed of DDR4-2667, though you will be able to achieve much better than this, particularly as the platforms’ BIOS’ matures.

AMD are doing some interesting things with their memory implementation. They’ve introduced two memory modes designed to allow memory bandwidth sensitive applications to have optimal access to the memory subsystem. There’s the UMA (distributed) mode and NUMA (local) mode. This is illustrated in the slide below. We plan to test this in our upcoming motherboard articles.

Lets move onto the physical product. The ‘box’ the 1950X comes in is as big as we’ve ever seen. It’s very creative and adds to the premium feel of the platform.

Stripping away the outer shell reveals the goodies inside. We have the processor inside its own inner case, then we have a use guide, a screwdriver that fits the threaded screws holding the CPU socket retention mechanism in place, and finally there’s a bracket that adds compatibility for many water coolers on the market (made by Asetek) including All in One coolers from Corsair and Thermaltake among others.

And here is the CPU itself. CPUs are usually not sexy so to speak, but the Threadripper CPU really looks the part. Its a serious bit of kit. Compare the picture below where we see a i7 7820X and i7 7700K processors. They look positively tiny in comparison.

In order to accommodate a CPU such as this, of course there has to be a new socket and chipset. The socket is known as TR4 and boasts an impressive 4094 pins. Compare this to the 1151 found on the mainstream Intel platform and its clear we are dealing with a much more complicated design, both on the motherboard and CPU side. TR4 is of course a LGA socket with the pins located on the motherboard, rather than on the CPU like we see with the regular Ryzen series.

X399 motherboards are complex. With over 4000 pins, quad channel memory and 64 PCIe lanes, there just aren’t going to be cheap motherboards. The cost of the platform will always be quite high.

Test Setup & Benchmarks

Given the very large CPU and socket, AMD had to go back to the drawing board and design an all new retention mechanism.

The new mechanism consists of three Torx screws that you need to unscrew (with the included screwdriver) in a pre-defined order after which the latch swings open. There is another assembly underneath that you also swing open. Once the CPU is in place, you screw them back in reverse.

Given the very large surface area, many pre existing heatsinks will not be compatible with socket TR4. As we mentioned, AMD does include a heat sink mounting bracket designed for Asetek made water cooling kits. Thankfully, one of the coolers we have in the lab is a Thermaltake Water 3.0 Ultimate which means we can use it without any issue.

For our CPU test platforms, we try to keep things on a level playing field with relatively low memory settings and all CPU parameters set to default, including all turbo modes in order to best reflect out of the box performance.

Lets start of with Cinebench. It supports up to 256 threads, so it will be a standard test of ours for some time to come. Cinebench really shows the strength of Threadripper. Just look at that multithreaded score! Intel retains the single threaded advantage, but in a rendering task, that’s not really important to be honest.

SuperPi is still a darling of the OC community despite its age. It doesn’t have too much relevance to day to day performance, but it is still a good indicator of single thread performance. The Intel CPUs are much faster here.

File compression is an application that makes significant use of available memory performance and tends to scale well with more cores. AMD is very strong here, obliterating everything in sight, at least until the higher core count Intel CPU’s make their appearance. The R7 1800X is also strong despite losing out with its dual channel vs quad.

Threadripper was made for video work. One of the prime reasons for owning a PC in 2017 is video capability. Smartphones and tablets will just never cut it. It’s the era of 4K, Netflix and millions of twitch streamers and youtubers all relying heavily on compute capability for video encoding and decoding. In this bench we think there could be something here that’s preventing the 1950X from really pulling away further. perhaps the software isn’t quite optimized.

This is more where we’d expect to be, with almost linear increases in performance with increasing core counts. What a massacre!

This kind of result bodes well for intensive graphics with lots of particles and objects being rendered.

Now for a couple of quick gaming tests, starting off with Shadow Of Mordor. At 1080p our results are still in line with what we’ve been seeing from other Ryzen processors. Threadripper really isn’t a gaming chip but it’s good enough. Are you really going to notice 140fps vs 160? In any graphics limited scenario, the results will come right back to the GPU. Gaming isn’t everything, though if you are a streamer or multitasking, using it for work and play then you will be well placed, with plenty of performance on hand.

As we can see here when we move to 4K, once the graphics become the limiting factor, the CPU becomes much less relevant. So while there have been some headlines criticizing 1080p gaming performance, its really a non issue once you move to a powerful GPU and higher settings.

Lets have a look at power consumption and temperatures. With our Thermaltake Water 3.0 cooler, we saw maximums at about 85c after about 10 minutes of prime95. Given that we’re dealing with 16 cores, this would be an acceptable result, however, the true situation is actually not that bad. AMD forces its temperature sensor to report temperatures quite a bit higher than they actually are, up to 27c actually, so we’re actually closer to 60 degrees. The reason for this is to keep fan profiles from spiking up and down and to provide some protective headroom if one die is warmer than another. It should also be said that AMD are using solder between the dies and heatspreader. This significantly contributes to cooler temperatures. Are you listening Intel? we don’t want pigeon poop TIM.. bring back solder please!

To measure power consumption we use software to look at the various package parameters and states. Idle power consumption sits around 40-45w, which is a LOT, but remember we are dealing with a 16 core CPU. Still, we’d like to see it lower than this. Under full load, the CPU is around 175 to 180w, which is bang on what AMD says they will use. We’ll have a look at how power consumption goes up when we have some more time with the CPU, and test some of the other X399 motherboards we have here in the lab.

Conclusion

Drawing a final conclusion on a product like this is somewhat difficult. For some users, it doesn’t make any sense at all, but for others, it is simply magnificent. You’ll know which category you fall in.

AMD’s mainstream Ryzen CPUs have reinvigorated the desktop CPU space. Now even entry level systems have quad cores, and that trend will continue with Intel’s upcoming Coffee Lake series. We’re seeing a core arms race, and AMD has fired its shots first. Now that we have the Zen architecture available for the high-end desktop, we have real choice and a strong reaction from Intel, which was no doubt caught with its pants down, rushing to one up AMD with an 18 core option pulled reluctantly from its cash cow Xeon line. A CPU arms race benefits the consumer, and we love it.

AMD squarely positions Threadripper for content creators and multi tasking. It really isn’t a gaming oriented CPU, though it will serve you well if you are gaming, streaming, downloading a torrent, having a Skype chat and about a million other things at the same time. If you’re this sort of user, then you will adore Threadripper and the 1950X. But if you’re more interested in pure gaming, or limit yourself to more everyday tasks, then this is major overkill, and a AM4 or Intel 1151 CPU will do the job just as well, if not better, for cheaper. Single threaded performance still matters, and Intel is still ahead there.

The Ryzen Threadripper 1950X is a tour de force from AMD. It really is great to have an option such as this if you can make use of it. There are users that will love it, along with the feature rich X399 platform and all the goodies it brings, along with those 64 PCIe lanes for the best available expansion capabilities. Though the 1950x isn’t exactly cheap at $999 USD, compare that to the price of the last generation 6950X, and in that light, its a bargain.

Pros:

Outstanding multithreaded performance

All those PCIe lanes

Soldered heatspreader

Affordability (relative)

Feature rich HEDT platform

 

Cons:

Low res gaming performance isn’t fantastic

Intel leads still in single threaded performance

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