AMD Threadripper - More Details, But Still No Release Date.
It was AMD's turn to take centre stage at Computex2017 yesterday, hot on the heels of Intel's public unveiling of their Core X processor family. With so much ground to cover - EPYC enterprise products, Threadripper HEDT CPUs and Vega graphics technology at least - there was a lot to squeeze into a hour long livestream (which you can relive yourself below). Sadly anyone hoping for a concrete Threadripper release date were left wanting, but we'll get to that.
First up, lets talk PCI-Express Lanes. The number of lanes available from the CPU has been something of a bone of contention for the past few Intel generations. Beginning with Haswell-E they began to restrict the PCI-E 3.0 lanes available on low-end SKUs, adding value to their higher-end chips; that's now never more apparent than today, where the Core X processor family with start with 16 lanes and slowly unlock up to 44 on their premium $1000 parts. Of course relatively few users feel the restriction - it tends to become apparent when you populate the system with multiple GPUs, high-speed storage and add-in cards (such as high-speed Ethernet).
It appears that AMD have identified provision of PCI-E as a key angle of attack and are trumping Intel by offering 64 PCI-E 3.0 lanes, across the entire Threadripper range. Those for whom high-bandwidth PCI-E is critical may well be perking up a bit right about now, especially as they won't need to spend a premium just for that feature. Even though multi-GPU configurations have fallen out of fashion over the years other applications, as well as software development, may well be lining up to take advantage on a more affordable platform.
Then we come to AMD's quad-channel memory, which will also be available from top to bottom in contrast to Intel's HEDT platform. This benefit might be a little overblown however. The dual-channel DDR4 Intel KabyLake-X chips are new entry-level parts, allowing entrance to Intel's HEDT platform at a relatively low cost; unless AMD can offer Threadripper at a comparable price and performance level, direct comparison is something of a false equivalency. Frankly that seems unlikely, it would substantially undercut the >£400 Ryzen 7 1800X.
Additionally, all Threadripper CPUs will feature 16MB of shared L3 cache. If computing were a pure numbers game then AMD would have this sewn up - Intel's HEDT platform offers much less L3 cache per CPU until you exceed ten cores - but the architectural differences between AMD Zen and Intel Skylake-X make a direct comparison unwise. What is interesting however is that unlike the Ryzen 5 and 7 lineup shared L3 Cache isn't being fused off as a differentiating feature in the range.
Two major, nay critical, sticking points remain after today though: price and release date. We know the price of the Intel Core X CPUs, and can reasonably anticipate that they will be available in June; we cannot say the same about Threadripper, which only has a nebulous Summer release. Until we know both these facts and can start to put some performance expectations together everything is somewhat meaningless.
For now the focus will shift to AMD's motherboard partners, which are in the process of putting the finishing touches to their lineup of X399-chipset motherboards. For them and AMD however it's going to be rare against time to get the platform as a whole ready before Intel renews their stranglehold on the market once again.