Last year, AMD’s Threadripper blew the doors off Intel’s HEDT business by offering far more CPU cores at a much lower overall price. The Threadripper 1950X proved far more effective at the $ 1,000 price point than the Core i9-7900X, though Intel was able to retain overall performance leadership with its Core i9-7980XE — an 18-core chip at $ 1,999, though we’ve seen the chip for a bit lower than this retail. But now AMD is positioning itself to claim overall leadership again with the Threadripper 2, a new CPU family with up to 32 cores per CPU.
When AMD first demoed Threadripper last year, keen-eyed enthusiasts soon realized the chip packed two “real” Zen die, with eight cores each, but also two “dummy” die that were simply intended to stabilize the overall package. But given that Threadripper is a modular design, there was never a reason why AMD couldn’t simply slap down real die and activate a 32-core CPU analogous to what they’ve used for Epyc. Turns out, that’s exactly what they did.
According to AMD, Threadripper 2 is based on the Zen+ architecture and will be available in two flavors — a 24-core / 48-thread CPU and a 32-core / 64-thread CPU. Both will have a base frequency of 3GHz with a boost of 3.4GHz, though this last is a work-in-progress figure and could change before launch. That’s significantly lower than the Threadripper 1950X, which launched with a peak clock of 4GHz, and it implies that Threadripper 2, like TR itself, will really only be attractive for those users who can truly load the CPU cores with enormous amounts of work.
TDP on both chips will be 250W, but the demos AMD showed were air-cooled. New motherboard designs are expected to be available due to the higher power requirements, though older X399 boards should work. These older boards may not offer as much overclocking potential as users want, though overclocking chips like TR or TR2 is largely a fool’s errand in any case. You might squeeze out another few hundred MHz, but core-to-core variability and the intrinsic difficulty of tuning an overclock for high frequencies across 24-32 cores will limit maximum frequencies.
The Impact On Intel
It’s only been a few days since Intel announced its own 28-core 5GHz CPU, albeit one that relies on special cooling (more on this shortly). AMD tossing its hat into the ring with a 32-core chip seems to set up an almost inevitable clash-of-the-titans situation. In fact, just how much these two chips interact will depend a great deal on pricing as well as overall market positioning. A 14 percent core count advantage for AMD (32 cores versus 28) is enough to be outmatched by clock frequencies, while finding tests that scale up to 28-32 cores in the first place will be increasingly difficult.
We’ve said this before in our high-core CPU reviews, but it bears repeating: The higher the core count, the more difficult it is to load the full CPU or to find applications that won’t struggle to find meaningful differences. Chips like this can certainly game, but they aren’t really intended as gaming CPUs, at least not more than incidentally. But again — with the Threadripper 1950X at $ 1,000 while the 18-core Core i9-7980XE is a $ 2,000 chip, the competitive field between the two CPUs is limited. If AMD positions its 32-core Threadripper 2 at $ 2,000 and Intel brings in its own 28-core workstation chip at $ 4,000, the gap between the two solutions will again be broad.
AMD’s decision to push harder on Threadripper configurations is a little surprising, given how few workloads scale up this well, but it would imply that Threadripper’s overall sales and response have been strong enough to justify bringing out a new version of the product. Price and availability information should follow soon, with rumors of an August launch.