AMD has had a great 2019, but the year isn’t over yet. Team Red will deliver a pair of upgrades for the desktop CPU market in a few weeks with the launch of its 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X (first teased last summer) and the upcoming 32-core Threadripper 3970X and 24-core Threadripper 3960X. There’s also a brand-new platform for the new Threadripper CPUs, and a low-cost Athlon part for $50.
Let’s round it all up.
Ryzen Hits 16 Cores
First up, the Ryzen 9 3950X, arriving for review on November 14 with retail availability on November 25. This CPU was advertised in June for fall availability, only to be delayed as AMD struggled to keep Ryzen on store shelves. The new chip will price at $750, a significant increase over AMD’s 12-core family. It’s clear that 12-core is meant to be the sweet spot at $500 and below. The jump from 12 to 16 cores is a 1.5x price increase for a 1.33x core count improvement. This isn’t bad by the standards of top-end parts, but it’s definitely a halo part. AMD may honestly have positioned the chip like this to keep demand tamped down. Both the Ryzen 9 3900X and the Ryzen 9 3950X use two 7nm die, but the 3950X requires that both dies be fully functional. With the 3900X, AMD can use die recovery to fuse off bad CPU cores and still sell the processor.
AMD’s proposed price stack and product mix for the future. We should note that this chart is only valid until Cascade Lake hits the market, which is when Intel’s Core i9-10980XE will drop to a $999 price point and offer better price/performance ratios against the Ryzen 9 3950X than the current Core i9-9920X. AMD is claiming some decisive wins against the competition.
The Ryzen 9 3950X may only have a 105W TDP, but AMD is recommending heavy-hitting cooler. The CPU will not ship with one, but customers are recommended to use a 280mm AIO liquid cooler, if not something even larger. The company is also introducing a new “Eco Mode,” which will allow CPUs to operate as if they were one TDP bracket lower than otherwise.
Athlon 3000G: AMD’s New Low-Cost APU
AMD is also announcing a new APU today, at the low cost of $49. The new 2C/4T CPU is still based on 12nm Zen+ silicon (no luck for those hoping this was a stealth Zen 2 chip). The new CPU picks up +300MHz compared to the Athlon 2000GE with the GPU grabbing another 100MHz. Both gains should be significant — a 2C/4T core can use the boost, and the modest Vega 3 GPU is still going to scale from clock speed.
AMD claims the 3000GE is a very solid comparison against the Pentium G5400 at $73, with substantial performance improvements in multiple applications. As a low-end APU it should be a solid part for customers with very light computing needs. The chip is also overclocked for anyone who wants to try and pick up a bit more performance on the cheap.
Ryzen Threadripper 3970X: Killer Performance, New Platform
Finally, there’s Threadripper. The Threadripper 3960X is a 24C/48T part, with a 3.8GHz base clock, 4.5GHz boost clock, 140MB of onboard cache, and a $1400 price tag. The 3970X is a 32C/64T part with a 3.7GHz base clock, 4.5GHz boost, 144MB of cache, and a $2000 price tag. The claims AMD is making for performance are substantial, to say the least.
Last year, AMD launched the 32-core Threadripper 2990WX, but the chip’s Windows 10 performance was throttled by deficiencies baked into the Windows 10 scheduler and how it assigned workloads to the core. The architectural and structural changes made in the shift from TR2 to TR3 should obviate these problems and allow the CPU to hit its full potential, performance-wise. AMD’s $1400 price point on the 24-core chip is a 1.5x increase in cores for a 2x increase in price, while the 32-core CPU is a 2x increase in cores for a 2.67x increase in price. Intel’s Cascade Lake being priced at $999 makes it a well-positioned upgrade relative to the 9900KS (roughly a 2x increase in cores for a 2x increase in price), but this is highly unusual for Intel. The Core i9-9980XE, for example, is still a $1900 – $2000 CPU — 2.25x more cores than the 9900K, for 4x more money.
The 7nm chips inside Threadripper use symmetrical configurations without dummy die in either a 6+6+6+6 or 8+8+8+8 configuration. The unified I/O die and memory controller design avoid the NUMA issues that plagued the 2990WX and should neutralize the core contention problems that limited performance on that CPU under Windows 10 (the 2990WX was a much better chip under Linux than in Windows, even with Core Prio). Mem
AMD is moving to position Threadripper in a leadership position to maximize its CPU revenue and drive greater adoption of its chips in high-end and boutique workstations that use these sorts of chips. At the same time, it’s brought a 16-core to desktop to extend the core count of its mainstream CPUs. If you bought a first-generation Ryzen in 2017 on an X370 motherboard, you likely now have the option to step up to as many as 16 CPU cores and a significant uplift in CPU IPC after less than three years.
All of that performance requires a new platform, and AMD’s TRX40 is here to foot the bill. TRX40 supports up to 256GB of RAM using 32GB DIMMs and it significantly expands overall platform bandwidth. There are 64 lanes of PCIe 4.0 bandwidth in total, divided up as follows: 48 lanes for general chipset use (GPUs, accelerators), 8 lanes for chipset downlink (fixed), and then a pair of options for the eight lanes remaining.
Think of those last eight ports as being divided into two quads of four ports each. Motherboard vendors can wire up a PCIe 4.0 x4 slot, an NVMe PCIe 4.0 x4 slot (for SSDs), or attach four SATA ports. This “Pick One” option is available for both quads, meaning that a board vendor could choose to have four additional SATA ports attached to one set of four PCIe 4.0 lanes while using the other quad for an NVMe x4 slot. In this case, those extra SATA ports would be hanging off the CPU directly rather than through the chipset.
One of the reasons why AMD has a new socket on TRX40 is because it wanted to increase platform chipset bandwidth. Up until now, the northbridge and southbridge have been linked by a PCIe x4 3.0 link. With TRX40, AMD is adopting a PCIe 4.0 x8 link, effectively quadrupling bandwidth. This is the equivalent of a full-sized x16 GPU slot being used for communication between the CPU and its chipset.
TRX40 is not forwards or backwards compatible with AMD’s previous TR4 socket or motherboards. While the CPUs look physically identical and the sockets are the same, a 1000-series or 2000-series Threadripper will not accept a TRX40 CPU or vice-versa. AMD’s TRX40 is designed to be flexible, with a great deal of potential customizability. There was no mention of a “TRX80” as has been rumored.
Overall, this is a momentous set of launches for AMD. The lack of upgrade compatibility for first and second-generation Threadripper owners is an unfortunate loss, but the 32-core Ryzen 9 3970X looks as though it could rewrite the rules of high-end desktop performance. The 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X at $750 is priced at a premium above AMD’s other cores, but AMD was always likely to establish a high-end market for its chips. Intel has done no different for decades, and AMD has played a critical role in making desktop computing cheaper over the past 2.5 years. At the same time, the company wants to establish itself in the kind of markets where OEMs don’t even talk to you unless you’ve got a multi-thousand dollar CPU to field. That means establishing Threadripper as a player in higher-end markets.
There were consistent rumors of a 64-core Threadripper emerging this generation, but no such chip has tipped up and AMD hasn’t said anything about confirming one. It’s not surprising that AMD would want to keep its halo CPU core counts for the server market. Intel has higher core count Xeons coming next year, with 38-core Ice Lake server parts and 48-core Cooper Lake socketed chips coming as well (built on 10nm and 14nm, respectively). With socketed 48-core chips coming, AMD may be waiting to see how Intel introduces these chips and where it positions them before making any moves of its own. Alternately, it may simply plan to keep Threadripper as a 32-core platform for now, or to launch a 64-core chip at a later date.
AMD Threadripper 3970X, 3960X, and Intel Core i9-10980XE CPUs Tested: Intel Cuts Prices, AMD Redefines What’s Possible
Intel's HEDT chips have never been a better deal than they are today, at least compared with previous generations of Intel products, thanks to Cascade Lake. But AMD just redefined what workstations are capable of with the Threadripper 3970X and 3960X. Read our full review of these powerhouse CPUs.