AMD has launched a new teaser trailer video for Threadripper 2 that feels like something you’d get if you ran Duke Nukem and Doom through a PR generator for a CPU launch. Whether that’s good or not depends on your tolerance for this sort of thing, but the company is right about one thing — the fact that we’re sitting here talking about 32 cores on a desktop platform — or any platform — is more than a little nuts.
Let’s assume, for the sake of our discussion, that AMD’s 32-core Threadripper 2 will target a price point between $2,000 and $2,500, as seems likely given the Threadripper 1950X’s pricing. Two years ago, the closest you could’ve come to the Threadripper 2’s core counts, clock speeds, and cost would’ve been a pair of Intel Xeon E7-4850V4 CPUs. Based on Broadwell, these chips support multi-socket operation, have a maximum clock of 2.8GHz, a base clock of 2.1GHz, and cost just $3,003 apiece for a $6,000 total. And those are the cheaper cores — the single 24-core SKU from the same product family was a $9,000 part.
AMD’s Ryzen architecture has done an excellent job of competing with Intel across the larger company’s entire product stack, but it’s the top end of the market where those comparisons are the friendliest to AMD. Intel has, for reasons known to itself, chosen to prioritize keeping a steady product stack over slugging it out with AMD on price at the top of the CPU market. The end result is that the Threadripper 1950X is a 16-core chip at $1,000 taking on Intel’s 10-core Core i9-7900X at the same price point. Needless to say, the overall results tend to favor AMD. Intel’s Core i9-7980XE at ~$2,000 outpaces Threadripper, at double the price.
If AMD brings in Threadripper 2’s 32-cores at $2,000 to $2,500, Intel will almost certainly cut its own pricing again to follow suit. And make no mistake — Intel can theoretically make a real fight of this. AMD has 32 CPU cores to Intel’s maximum 28 cores, but that four-core gap isn’t particularly large — just a 1.14x advantage for AMD. A 1.15x gap in core count can be closed thanks to architectural efficiency and higher clock counts, and Intel CPUs still tend to be more efficient and higher-clocked than their AMD counterparts. The question, therefore, is whether Intel is willing to whack its product pricing as hard as it would need to in order to bring 28-core Intel CPUs into striking range of a likely $2,000 to $2500 AMD counterpart.
Right now, all of Intel’s 28-core chips are Xeon Scalable Platinum Processors with prices that start at $8,700 and go up from there. Intel can hit lower price points by trimming the QPI links and support for features like ECC to prevent the chip from cannibalizing its server market, but it’s unlikely that Intel will want to slash pricing deep enough to completely counter AMD. What seems more likely is something more like what the company did last year, when it launched the Core X family to begin with. Prior to Core X, Intel’s top-end 10-core chip was a $2,000 CPU. This effectively got slashed in half by the Core X introduction. Here, Intel could cut price on its midrange core counts, dropping the Core i7-7980XE to between $1,200 and $1,400, where it would still command a premium over AMD’s 1950X, but be better positioned against that competitor. A straight head-to-head match at the $1,000 price point would favor Intel outright. But since the company has avoided these kinds of match-ups I’m not assuming it’ll use them in the near future.
This clears room for Intel to bring other chips down the stack. It’s not clear if there are higher core counts that can be pulled down into the LGA2066 socket or not, so any updates Intel makes to counter Threadripper 2 may also require motherboards with new sockets.
We expect Threadripper 2, unlike Threadripper, to be positioned as an absolutely focused workstation product. With TR, AMD could still argue that it had some limited utility as a gaming platform thanks to relatively high clocks with minimal thread counts. Of course, that’ll still technically be true for TR2, but nobody is going to drop $2K for a CPU they can play games on when chips that’ll do that job are so much less expensive. That said, these new core launches could still shake up the workstation space, so it’ll be interesting to see what Intel and AMD roll out as the summer progresses.