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Threadripper 2: A Workstation Processor Second to None

Wednesday Aug 8th 2018 by Rob Enderle

Threadripper makes AMD appear trendy, gives the company bragging rights on performance, draws potential buyers to the brand, and differentiates the company positively against Intel, its primary competitor.

Threadripper, AMD’s top of the line desktop processor, has an interesting back story in that it was created by a group of engineers who just wanted to do something amazing. In a skunk works project, these folks went out and created a 16 Core/32 Thread monster that set Intel back on its heels. The irony of this was that back when Intel had IDF, the then CEO Paul Otellini got up on stage and basically declared a core war, arguing that Intel planned to move aggressively to massively multi-core parts, and then didn’t, largely because the software wasn’t ready. Since then, multi-core programing became a thing and while most would never use the 16 cores the original Threadripper had, AMD doubled down in an “in your face” like move with its new offering, which has 32 cores.

Initially positioned as a gaming part, this is arguably one of the strongest workstation parts, for workstations focused on video editing or rendering, currently in market. That is not to say it can’t be use for gaming; it is just that games increasingly stress the GPU, not the CPU, so you typically don’t get the benefit. One exception is strategy games like the one I’m hooked on (Ashes of the Singularity), as they can, and this one does, light up the cores nicely.

Let’s talk Threadripper 2 this week.

Skunk Works

I’m a huge fan of the skunk works approach to development. When I worked at a large company, pretty much anyone who wanted to do something unique and interesting was either driven out of the company or forced to conform and the interesting thing never happened. This is because large companies are political beasts and the number of people arrayed against someone doing something unique is impressive. Reasons range from not wanting the individual to stand out and eclipse the executives in charge to, and this is sadly more common, an almost unreasonable fear of being embarrassed by failure.

I recall attending meetings for months arguing about which department was responsible for fixing a couple of critical bugs in a high-profile project. Two managers got so fed up that they came in over the weekend and fixed them on their own time. Effectively, they made their own personal skunk works.

Skunk works efforts step away from all the bureaucracy and focus on the outcome, much like a well-funded startup would do.

This doesn’t mean they don’t still eventually have to deal with the problem. For instance, Microsoft had, and the operative word is “had,” a skunk works organization and it developed the Courier Tablet. On paper, it was, for some classes of users, far better than the iPad, but it didn’t run Office. Not only was it killed, but the entire skunk works effort was terminated. Ironically, Microsoft is rumored to be bringing a far more advanced product to market in a few months in a project code named Andromeda.

For Threadripper, you can almost hear the objections it overcame. It falls too far out of the mainstream, “Threadripper” is too aggressive and isn’t consistent with AMD naming, and with everyone and their brother focused on “mobile,” it isn’t. And yet it has sold relatively well, Intel hasn’t been able to respond to it in a meaningful way, and it enhances AMD’s brand regarding performance.

It reminds me a bit of the Shelby Cobra. Based on the British AC, that no one remembers anymore, it put Shelby on the map and was foundational to the muscle car era. The Threadripper is bringing performance, high performance, back to the languishing desktop and giving us excitement, the good kind, where we needed it.

Threadripper

Now Threadripper is an extreme processor which means, to justify it, you need to be in a class of user that needs the massive number of threads it supplies. This is mostly workstation-class loads focused on rendering of some kind or other real time use. CAD, photo and video editing, animation, architecture, and a wide variety of design tools will make use of this performance. In addition, if you massively multi-task, you may find the extra cores useful, but most should be just fine with the updated 16-core version of this rather than the over the top 32-core version.

For those of us who work at home and like to keep our security cameras up, our social media accounts open, and run resource-intensive programs in the background, the extra headroom could be a god send, depending on what resources the various applications use. This headroom should give the workstation, assuming your applications aren’t lighting up all the cores yet, an unusually long service life due to the massive performance most will experience.

And, granted, some of us just like the bragging rights of having the most powerful workstation in the market.

Wrapping Up: Bragging Rights for AMD

A product like Threadripper, which is basically a Halo product, can do a lot for a brand like AMD’s. It makes it appear trendy, it gives the company bragging rights on performance, it draws potential buyers to the brand, and it differentiates the company positively against Intel, its primary competitor.

For those of us still on desktop PCs and workstations, it gives us something to lust for and in a segment (desktop PCs) that has seen little excitement for years, it restores interest. Desktop PCs and workstations are simply better where performance matters.

I wish more companies had the guts to produce products like Threadripper. For the right kind of performance user, this thing is a god send, and for those of us who build our own rigs, this is the processor to lust for. 32 cores, 64 threads, Hoo….Ra….

Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm.  With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+

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