With the release of the Zen architecture and the Ryzen product family for consumer PCs, AMD started down a path of growth in the processor market that it has been absent from for basically a decade. The Ryzen 7 processor family directly targets the Intel Core i7 line of CPUs that have been incredibly dominant and turns the market on its side by doubling core and thread counts at like price points. The platform surrounding the CPU was modernized, leaving very little on the feature list that AMD couldn’t match to Intel’s own. Followed by the Ryzen 5 launch a few weeks later, AMD continued the trend by releasing processors with higher core and thread counts at every price bracket.
More recently the EPYC server and data center processor marked AMD’s first entry for the enterprise markets since Opteron, a move that threatens at least some portion of the 99.5% market share that Intel currently holds. By once again combining higher core counts with aggressive pricing, EPYC will be a strong force in the single and dual-socket markets immediately, leaving the door open for further integration with large data center customers that see firsthand the value AMD can offer compared to the somewhat stagnant Xeon product family.
Though reviews aren’t launching for another couple of weeks, on Thursday AMD showed all of its cards for the summer’s hottest CPU launch, Ryzen Threadripper. With the hyper-aggressive naming scheme to go along with it, Threadripper will be a high-core-count processor and platform, based on the EPYC socket and design, targeting the high-end desktop market (HEDT) that Intel has had to itself for nearly that same 10-year window. Intel was the first to recognize the value of taking its Xeon product family, lowering features a slight degree, and then sell it to eager PC enthusiasts that want the best of the best. Families like Broadwell-E, Sandy Bridge-E, and most recently, Skylake-X that was released in June, have dominated the small, but very profitable, segment of the market for overclockers, extreme gamers, and prosumers that need top level multi-threaded performance.
CEO Lisa Su and CVP of marketing John Taylor took the wraps off the clocks, core counts, and prices in a video launched on the company’s YouTube page, along with a blog post from SVP of compute Jim Anderson, showing confidence in AMD’s message. Available in early August, Threadripper will exist as a 12-core/24-thread 1920X with frequencies as high as 4.0 GHz for $799 AND as a 16-core/32-thread 1950X hitting the same 4.0 GHz for $999. No doubt these are high costs for consumer processors, but compared to the competing solutions from Intel, AMD is pricing them very aggressively, following the same strategy that has caused market disruption with the Ryzen 7 and 5 releases. Intel’s $999 Core i9-7900X is a 10-core/20-thread part, putting it at a disadvantage for multi-threaded workloads despite having an advantage in single threaded performance based on architectural design.
Impressive speeds aside, what does this mean for AMD as we get into the heat of summer? I expect Ryzen Threadripper to be a high-demand product compared to the Skylake-X solution, giving AMD the mindshare and high margin space to continue seeing the benefits of its investment in Zen and the Ryzen family. Intel had already reacted to the Ryzen 7 launch with price drops and adjustments to the timing of Skylake-X but arguably not to the degree necessary to maintain price-to-performance leadership across the board. Threadripper will offer heavy multi-taskers, video editors, 3D animators, and other prosumer style users a better solution at a lower price point based on performance estimates.
AMD did release one benchmark metric for us to analyze until full reviews come out in August. Cinebench R15 is an industry standard test that runs a ray-traced rendering pass on a specific data set, timing it to generate a higher-is-better score. The Core i9-7900X, the current flagship part from Intel that sells for $999, generates a score of 2186. The upcoming Threadripper 1920X (12-cores) scores 2431, 12% higher than the Intel processor that costs $200 more. Like-for-like pricing competition from the Threadripper 1950X (16-cores) scores 3046, a full 39% faster than what Intel currently has on the market.
Intel has on its roadmap for releasing Skylake-X parts up to 18-cores but we won’t see them until September or October, and prices there hit as high as $1999.
Along with the high-end desktop announcement of Threadripper, AMD also revealed some details on the Ryzen 3 processor SKUs that will offer direct competition to the high volume Intel Core i3 family. The Ryzen 3 1200 will have 4-cores, 4-threads and a clock speed running up to 3.4 GHz while the Ryzen 3 1300X is 4-core/4-thread and a 3.7 GHz peak frequency. The advantages that AMD offers here remain in line with entire Ryzen family – higher core counts than Intel at the same or better price. The Core i3 line from Intel runs 2-core/4-thread configurations, so Ryzen 3 should offer noticeably better multi-threaded performance with four “true cores” at work. No pricing information is available yet, but the parts should be on store shelves July 27th, so we will know soon.
In the span of just five months, AMD has gone from a distant competitor in the CPU space to a significant player with aggressive, high-performance products positioned to target market share growth. The release of Threadripper will spike the core-count race in consumer devices, enabling further development for high-performance computing but also gives AMD an avenue for higher-margin ASPs and the “halo product effect” that attracts enthusiasts and impacts the buying decisions for all product families below it. AMD has a long way to go to get back to where it was in 2006 but the team has built a combination of technology and products that might get it there.