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AMD: Threadripper Outperforms Intel Chips

AMD: ThreadRipper Outperforms Intel Chips

Summary OF AMD ThreadRipper

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  • AMD's high-end desktop Threadripper CPUs are a cut above Intel's Skylake-X.
  • Benchmarks demonstrate that Threadripper offers much better multi-thread performance than Intel's comparably-priced offerings.
  • While Intel's processors are superior in instructions-per-clock, AMD's Threadripper offers the more attractive overall deal.

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) launched its Threadripper high-end desktop CPUs Thursday and reviews so far have been extremely positive. Benchmarks have borne out Threadripper's competitive performance versus comparable Intel (INTC) Skylake-X offerings, giving AMD the opportunity to capture some market share in the all-important high-end space. I wrote an article on Threadripper on August 2nd, before reviews were in, and argued that available performance and price information indicated the processors would offer much more attractive value to customers than Intel's Skylake-X, which has now been confirmed by many review sites.

 AMD Threadripper CPU

AMD Threadripper CPU

Most reviews coming out are positive about Threadripper's overall performance with the consensus being that the 1950X and 1920X, the two chips launched Thursday, offer an attractive value proposition due to their affordable pricing and outstanding performance on tasks that require multiple threads. My favorite review is from Ars Technica, which can be read here.

I'll just provide a quick recap of information from my previous article on Threadripper and then go into the performance details reviews have uncovered. The 1950X is a $999 16-core, 32-thread processor and the 1920X is a $799 12-core, 24-thread processor, which will stack up against Intel's $999 10-core, 20-thread Core i9-7900X and the $599 8-core, 16-thread Core i7-7820X, respectively. While these appear to be the match-ups to watch, there will of course also be cross-competition between Intel's entire Core X lineup which includes processors with 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18 (!) cores.

Threadripper appears to offer the better value in terms of core/price and thread/price with AMD's 16-core, 32-thread 1950X retailing for $700 cheaper than Intel's 16-core variant and at the same price as Intel's 10-core variant, and the 12-core, 24-thread 1920X retailing for $400 cheaper than Intel's 12-core variant and $200 cheaper than the 10-core variant. AMD's strategy here is to boost performance by adding cores in order to compensate for Intel's superior instructions-per-clock ("IPC").

And it looks like it worked.

Because of this approach AMD's processors offer much greater multi-thread performance over Intel's offerings despite having lower IPC. In other words, because Threadripper offers more cores and threads for an Intel processor comparable in price, Threadripper's multi-thread performance blows Skylake-X out of the water. In addition, all Threadripper CPUs, even the upcoming 8-core, 16-thread 1900X, support 64 lanes of PCIe while Skylake-X supports a maximum of 44 PCIe lanes.

Overall Performance

How about actual performance though? This where we've received new information as tons of benchmarking has been done to gauge how Threadripper's performance matches up with Skylake-X's. The overall takeaway is that, as I will show, Threadripper is much more effective and efficient at performing tasks that benefit from multi-threading while Intel's processors, as expected, do better on single-core and single-thread work.

Cinebench R15 scores demonstrate this discrepancy well:

In the single-thread benchmark, even a base i9-7900X crushes an overclocked 1950X while the overclocked 7900X blows Threadripper away. This is the predictable consequence of Intel's far superior IPC performance. It is important to keep in mind that most customers buying a $1,000 CPU aren't buying multiple cores and threads so that they can use one at a time, so this benchmark isn't too important. Of course some tasks won't benefit from multi-threading so Intel will have the edge there, but AMD's target market for Threadripper is consumers who can utilize the multiple cores and threads to potential.

In my opinion, the more important battleground is the one for multi-threaded performance, which AMD has quite clearly won with Threadripper:

As you can see, the difference between single-thread and multi-thread performance is enormous. A max-overclocked i9-7900X gets absolutely crushed by even the base 1950X and yields a similar score to the $799 1920X. Multi-threading offers substantial benefits for tasks such as content creation and production, video encoding, 3D rendering, and software compilation, while also being able to handle various tasks quickly and simultaneously.

While these are just two benchmarks (one can read about a bunch of others by checking out one of the Threadripper reviews) the main takeaway from the majority of reviews and benchmarks appears to be that, although Intel boasts higher raw IPC, Threadripper offers significantly better multi-threaded performance than comparable Skylake-X processors.

Threadripper's success in multi-thread applications, which are very likely the primary use cases for consumers buying high-end CPUs, is its main advantage and one that I think will lead to strong sales of the processors. However, while overall performance in multi-thread applications is promising, Threadripper's performance in gaming applications appears relatively lackluster in comparison.

Gaming With AMD RX Vega

As we've established, Threadripper is at its most effective when working on multi-threaded tasks. Unfortunately, while gaming applications could benefit from the full slate of cores and threads on a CPU, most titles simply do not utilize system resources optimally. The following benchmarks don't include the 1920X, but I want to use them anyway because they differentiate between performance at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K.

While Threadripper's gaming performance is by no means bad, it can still have trouble matching up against Intel's comparable offerings. Most reviews have described gaming performance for the Threadripper as "good enough" rather than as a major selling point of the processors. With that said, there are two important points I should note:

1) No one is buying a $1,000 CPU to game at 1080p, and the benchmarks show that as one approaches 4K, the differences between Threadripper and comparable Skylake-X processors drop off. Though gaming at 4K will likely rely much more heavily on the GPU, some games do require a powerful CPU to function optimally so the comparison is still valid.

2) Threadripper CPUs are not meant to be gaming processors. They excel when asked to perform tasks that utilize multiple cores and threads, so the most likely gaming customer will be one who wants to simultaneously play games and perform other tasks like streaming. In this case, Threadripper doesn't have to be the best at gaming specifically, it just has to do the best overall job for all the tasks it's given. In this situation, Threadripper has the advantage due to its better multi-thread performance.

While gaming might not be Threadripper's killer app, I think performance in this area is adequate for what is likely to be the most common use cases for the CPUs.

Investor Takeaway

I think the value proposition offered by Threadripper is best summed up by this comparison from the conclusion of the Ars Technica review:

Indeed, for the same price as a single Core i9-7980XE, you can buy a 1950X Threadripper CPU, a monster motherboard, graphics card, RAM, and NVMe storage.

The 7980XE is the monster 18-core, 36-thread CPU that Intel is selling for an eye-watering $2,000, and for the same price one could buy a 16-core Threadripper 1950X along with most of the other components needed to build a complete desktop computer. How's that for value?

Threadripper's significant performance advantage in multi-thread applications when matched up against comparably-priced Skylake-X processors seems likely to be the primary selling point for the CPUs and one that I think will lead to strong sales for these high-margin products. For years since its decline AMD has been almost exclusively a low-cost player in the CPU and GPU markets, leaving Intel and Nvidia (NVDA), respectively, as the dominant names in the high-end. The high-end space is where the real money is made and the success of a high-margin product like Threadripper will be a significant boon to AMD as the company attempts to challenge its bigger, wealthier rivals. Threadripper appears to be an important, and potentially lucrative, step in the right direction.

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Thanks for reading!