AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1920X & 1950X Review
I’m going to start this article off with a simple number: five. Not only is that the number of months it has taken AMD to effectively turn the x86 processor world on its ear, but that’s also the number of distinct model families that they’ve introduced over a relatively short time. The rapid staccato of desktop market releases with Ryzen 7, Ryzen 5, Ryzen 3, the new Athlon X4’s and Bristol Ridge-based A-9000 APUs have left Intel scrambling to find answers. People who perennially root for the underdog have seen their dreams of a balanced competitive landscape come true. Now the sixth piece and literal cornerstone of AMD’s burgeoning foundation is finally being lifted into place; Ryzen Threadripper has arrived.
With Threadripper, AMD hopes to recapture at least a portion of the key high-end desktop market, a space where they haven’t been able to compete since the K8 microarchitecture back in 2003. For those keeping track at home, that was more than a decade ago, but during that time AMD hasn't just been sitting on their laurels. Quite the opposite actually. There were promising architectures like Phenom and Bulldozer, but their actual performance metrics fell short of promises.
After the successes of previous Zen-based CPUs in the Ryzen lineup, there’s plenty of high hopes riding on Threadripper since its siblings are already proving their worth. But going toe-to-toe against Intel in the entry to mid-level market is one thing, stepping foot into Intel's heavily guarded high-end desktop monopoly is something else altogether. Remember, Intel just recently staked their claim with a whole top-to-bottom lineup renewal with Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X processors.
The opening (and surely not the last) salvo in AMD’s new HEDT barrage consists of three CPUs: the 1950X and 1920X - both of which are launching with availability today - and the 1900X that will be available sometime closer to the month’s end. We are expecting this lineup to expand both upwards and outwards as new products are launched to align better with Intel’s offerings.
Sitting at the top of AMD’s Ryzen Threadripper stack is the 1950X, which has a pretty lofty price of $999 and aligns perfectly (from a cost perspective at least) with the Core i9-7900X. Performance-wise, AMD might actually have a pretty significant edge since they are once again endeavoring to capitalize upon their core and thread count superiority. Whereas Intel’s current flagship features 10 cores and 20 threads, the 1950X takes things to obscene levels by featuring 16 cores and 32 threads operating at a base clock of 3.4GHz and a 4-core boost speed of up to 4.0GHz or higher with AMD’s Extended Frequency Range technology (XFR).
Stepping back a little bit brings us to the Ryzen Threadripper 1920X, which is another relatively expensive processor at $799, but it slots perfectly into a bracket where Intel doesn’t have a clear-cut alternative. The i9-7900X costs $200 more and the i9-7820’s 8/16 core/thread layout seems woefully underpowered in comparison to the mid-level Threadripper model's 12 cores and 24 threads. According to AMD, they are hoping the 1920X proves to be the 7900X’s equal in all things. If that proves to be the case, then Intel better look long and hard at their possible responses.
The Ryzen Threadripper 1900X’s full set of specifications may be a bit nebulous at this point, but what we do know about it is quite promising. With eight cores and sixteen threads, this is the point of entry into AMD’s new TR4 / X399 platform. Priced at $549 it is actually quite well positioned both as a step up from the Ryzen 7 lineup and as a competitor to several of Intel’s key CPUs. Basically, the 1900X’s price causes it to land smack in between the $599 i9-7820X - which also supports up to 16 threads - and the less expensive 12-thread $399 i9-7800X. This battle will certainly be an interesting one, I’ll tell you that.
There are of course a few common threads that run throughout AMD’s HEDT product stack, some of which are basic carryovers from the other Zen-based products. While I’ll be discussing this ad nauseam on Page 3, even though Threadripper handles its quad-channel memory allocation in a very different way, its memory speed limitations remain identical to those on Ryzen 7, 5 and 3. That means a DDR4-2400 memory speed for optimal compatibility (which also happens to be the platform’s reference spec), whereas DDR4-2666 and DDR4-3200 are considered “overclock” frequencies. Anything over DDR4-2666 will be challenging for higher density 64GB kits, and all but impossible for the time being if all eight DIMM slots are occupied.
Threadripper is also a great example of how there’s no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to the way physical cores impact overall power consumption. While AMD’s performance-per-watt ratio looks to be extremely good, cramming 16 Zen cores and their associated I/O connections onto a single package pushes the TDP to 180W.
As with all of the other Ryzen processors, there’s a bit more to Threadripper clock speeds than what first meets the eye. Both of these CPUs have identical frequencies, other than a slight 100MHz uptick in the 1920X’s base clock. However, it’s what happens below that number and in real-life which really counts. The numbers you see above are AMD’s specifications versus the actual speeds I observed in each scenario during testing.
These differences are likely due to a combination of temperatures, power consumption and other internal factors which are taken into account by the onboard microcontrollers. Our 1950X sample never did reach its maximum All Core Boost or XFR frequencies. This is normal according to AMD since the specifications are simply guidelines that the chip strives to achieve rather than law written into stone saying “your processor WILL reach these speeds”. Also remember that these can fluctuate by 25MHz increments in any application as the Precision Boost algorithms strive to maximize performance.
The last distinguishing factor here is PCI-E lane allocation. Unlike Intel, AMD has decided to not lock out any of their chips’ interconnect bandwidth so every one of these Threadripper processors comes with 60 PCI-E 3.0 lanes and an additional four lanes for communication between the CPU and chipset. Compare and contrast this with Intel’s flaccid 28-lane i9-7800 / i7-7820X, along with the 44-lane i9-7900X and you can see why AMD believes lane allocation could allow them to win big. This is what also allows AMD to justifiably charge more for the 1900X compared with the 20-lane Ryzen 7 1800X.
So there you have Threadripper in a nutshell. Now I know many of you will simply want to skip ahead and check out those juicy benchmarks, but I’m also going to encourage you to check out the other pages of this review as well. There’s some key information about things like the architecture, new memory modes, installation procedures, and the X399 chipset that are worth a read. On we go!
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