Too Many Cores

AMD CEO Lisa Su showing off the new 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X.
AMD CEO Lisa Su showing off the new 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X.
Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

AMD has been leading Intel into a friendly rivalry based on the number of cores one can pack into a CPU, and it’s been all fun and games for the last two years as each has fought to overwhelm the other with the sheer number of cores. Yet Wccftech claims that AMD is planning a monster 64-core CPU for some time towards the end of 2019. Who needs that many cores?

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I mean, yes, the many video producers at Gizmodo seem okay with more cores. “[M]ore cores the better” one told me via Slack. “[S]eems powerful, I could try it,” said another. More cores on a CPU means that CPU can handle more processes in parallel. So if you render a lot of really big video files, then 64 cores is amazing.

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But at what cost? Wccftech guesses it will retail for $2,500 to $3,000. That’s quite a bit until you consider an 18-core Intel i9-9980XE retails for nearly $2,000, and a 28-core Xeon processor retails for over $8,000. The supposed 64-core Threadripper would likely be the flagship CPU for AMD’s third generation of Threadripper products. The first two generations have been popular with gamers and some professionals because they’re typically enterprise-level performance at consumer prices—and they can really churn through video. That’s great not just for video producers, but for YouTubers and streamers who increasingly need more power to handle all the content they’re attempting to put online.

Threadripper CPUs are certainly impressive, but they’re not without some problems. The previous generation initially had issues with some programs that didn’t know how to handle all the cores a Threadripper presented them with. The new 64-core part could face similar issues.

As wild as a 64-core CPU is, it’s also not surprising. Thanks to the system bus architecture AMD developed, Infinity Fabric, it can merge CPUs together and create parts with larger core counts a lot easier than its rivals. (That’s also how it’s creating those dual GPU cards for the new MacPro).

On Monday, it launched what appears to be its wildest CPU yet, a 16-core CPU that has just a 105W TDP. That means it uses significantly less power than any previous 16-core CPU from AMD, or from Intel. Intel has traditionally handled power better than AMD, whose parts can be energy hogs.

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But not this time! The new Ryzen 9 3950X has a TDP of 105W, while AMD’s previous 16-core CPU, the Threadripper 2950X, had a TDP of 180W, and Intel’s 16-core CPUs range in TDP from 140W to 165W. Imagine if the new Threadripper is based on the same power-efficient architecture as the 3950X, the Zen 2 architecture. It wouldn’t just have a monstrous amount of cores that 99-percent of us don’t need, it would also be using less power than anything remotely like it before this.

That is, if AMD uses Zen 2 to produce it. Zen 2 is based on the 7nm process so it’s much more efficient than the 14nm Zen process AMD’s previous Threadrippers were based on (and this new Threadripper could be based on). It’s also more efficient than either the 14nm process Intel has relied on in the past or the new 10nm process it just announced.

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If this over-the-top processor does exist, we’ll apparently get a better sense of what it can do, and just how much power it will suck up, later this year. Wccftech currently has the launch pegged for the end of 2019. AMD declined to comment.

Senior Consumer Tech Editor. Trained her dog to do fist bumps. Once wrote for Lifetime. Tips encouraged via Secure Drop, Proton Mail, or DM for Signal.

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DISCUSSION

Alex.

We need to talk.

Threadripper is not for you. It is not for bloggers. It is not for gamers. It is for developers, workstations and small servers. Content creation. Virtual machines. Do you remember allll the way back to when Apple announced the 28 core Mac Pro, which doesn’t ship until the fall? I know it’s been a few days, but stick with me here. That thing has a similar audience, except Threadripper CPUs are a bargain by comparison.

You said previous Threadrippers are 14nm parts. This is not true - Second gen CPUs are 12nm, just like the Zen+ Epyc and Ryzen dies which they are comprised of. Third gen TR will be based on the new Zen 2 7nm process, just like the “Rome” and Ryzen 3000 CPU dies. “One die, many processors” is the entire point of the architecture.

You allude to the possibility of the 3rd gen CPUs suffering from inter-die latency and scheduling issues. These existed on the the WX series Threadripper CPUs because the NUMA arrangement required the third and fourth chiplets to access main memory through the first two cores. The Rome / Zen 2 design moves to a central I/O die (which is 14nm on Rome and art Zen 2, with the X570 PCH being 12nm), eliminating these contention issues. Threadripper 3 will likely see no WX designation as a result.

And no, there aren’t “too many cores.”