AMD talks Threadripper: How it works, who should buy it, and what's that price again?

It's easy to be dazzled by 64 cores, but this chip isn't for everyone.

Credit: Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

AMD’s 64-core Threadripper 3990X won the chip war at CES, and there’s still plenty to learn about it as we await its ship date February 7. PCWorld’s Gordon Mah Ung talked to AMD’s David McAfee to get more details. 

The 64-core, 128-thread 3rd-gen Threadripper may be gargantuan even compared to the monstrous 32-core version released last fall, but one thing hasn’t changed: The compatible motherboard is the existing TRX40 available today. You won’t be able to bring over your motherboard if you own a first- or second-gen Threadripper, but if you’ve already splurged on a third-gen model and still want to upgrade, you’ll be able to use the same board. 

AMD threw out the memory topology from prior generations as well, and that’s a good thing. In the 2nd-gen Threadripper, chips with 16 cores or fewer had four direct memory channels. However, chips with more than 16 cores had two cores that used direct memory, and two that used remote memory. In the 3rd generation, all chips up to 64 cores have direct memory channels.  

The new Threadripper has a 280-watt TDP power envelope. Its clock speeds feature a 4.3GHz boost and a 2.9GHz base—pretty high for a chip with so many cores. 

While it’s understandable for any PC enthusiast to be dazzled by the high core count, AMD has a certain kind of user in mind. According to McAfee, the product is aimed at creative professionals that need everything they can get for rendering, video editing, and other high-core-count tasks. 

What about gamers? “I personally wouldn’t buy the 3990X if all I want to do is game,” McAfee said, “but it will deliver a great gaming experience as well.” McAfee recommended that most gamers buy the 12-core or 16-core 3rd-gen Ryzen instead. 

If there’s any consolation for the numbers-obsessed, McAfee promised that consumers would someday enjoy applications that could truly take advantage of the company’s higher-core-count chips. “We’re breaking new ground, hard at work with multiple ISVs to get their applications to get the right scaling as they go from 32 to 64.” He noted that  memory allocation and thread pooling have a big effect in how an app scales from 32 to 64 cores, for instance.

And what about that price? Just slap a dollar sign in front of the chip name, and you have it: $3,990 for the 64-core 3990X. Easy to remember, if not easy to afford for most people. 

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Gordon Mah Ung, Melissa Riofrio

PC World (US online)
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