Intel playing catch-up with AMD

A 32-core consumer CPU is now a reality. By Koh Wanzi

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

AMD is kicking up the CPU core wars by another notch. Last month, it announced its second-generation Threadripper processors, which pack more cores than ever.

The top-of-the-line Threadripper 2990WX packs no fewer than 32 cores and a whopping 64 threads, the most ever for a consumer CPU. The rest of the Threadripper line-up is no less stacked, and even the TR 2920X features a total of 12 cores and 24 threads.

Who needs that many cores? A small but hungry crowd of gamers, enthusiasts, and content creators who want a CPU that can do it all. The new Threadripper WX series was created for creative professionals who deal with the most intensive workloads. That means things like 3D and VR animation and simulation, character modeling, massive virtualization, and professional 3D ray-tracing and rendering.

There’s no doubt that AMD’s multi-die design and Infinity Fabric interconnect is paying off handsomely. It makes the jump from 16 to 32 cores straightforward – simply up the number of active dies from two to four – and puts Intel on the back foot when it comes to high-performance desktop CPUs.

The comparison between the two chipmakers could not have been starker than at Computex when Intel demonstrated a 28-core CPU running at 5.0GHz on all cores. This generated a ton of excitement until it was revealed that an air conditioner was cooling the chip, which helped bring the liquid cooling system’s temperatures down. Furthermore, the motherboard was an enterprise-class unit, with a massive VRM solution that would never make it into a consumer board.

Intel’s 28-core monster was more an exercise in overclocking than a working product. The final shipping version, if that even happens, won’t come anywhere close. Intel also wasn’t completely transparent about the matter, and it gave the impression at the demo that the CPU would be coming to market in Q4 2018 as it was seen on stage.

In contrast, Threadripper is a real product that is already shipping. AMD is pushing the envelope with its HEDT platform and 32-core CPUs, and Intel is now lagging behind with the 18-core Core i9-7980XE. In fact, the 32-core Threadripper 2990WX is even cheaper than the latter, costing US$1,799 to Intel’s US$1,999. AMD is hard at work to undercut Intel, and it’s succeeding for the most part.

There’s a similar story to be told in the mainstream segment, where we’re still waiting for Intel’s rumored 8-core Coffee Lake chip. Intel still holds the advantage in single-core performance. But AMD is closing the gap with its higher base clocks in this generation of Ryzen and Threadripper chips.

Even as Intel tries to catch up, AMD is continuing to forge ahead with its advantage in multi-threaded performance, chipping away at Intel’s edge in single-threaded performance.