Under the Hood of AMD’s Threadripper

Although AMD has been losing market share to Intel over the past decade, they’ve recently started to pick up steam again in the great battle for desktop processor superiority. A large part of this surge comes in the high-end, multi-core processor arena, where it seems like AMD’s threadripper is clearly superior to Intel’s competition. Thanks to overclocking expert [der8auer] we can finally see what’s going on inside of this huge chunk of silicon.

The elephant in the room is the number of dies on this chip. It has a massive footprint to accommodate all four dies, each with eight cores. However, it seems as though two of the cores are deactivated due to a combination of manufacturing processes and thermal issues. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either, or a reason not to use this processor if you need to utilize a huge number of cores, though; it seems as though AMD found it could use existing manufacturing techniques to save on the cost of production, while still making a competitive product.

Additionally, a larger die size than required opens the door for potentially activating the two currently disabled chips in the future. This could be the thing that brings AMD back into competition with Intel, although both companies still maintain the horrible practice of crippling their chips’ security from the start.

51 thoughts on “Under the Hood of AMD’s Threadripper

  1. The two extra cores are non-functional dummy dies added to support the lid uniformly when under pressure from the cooler. Also, money is saved by using the same die mounting configuration as Epyc.

    1. I’d highly suspect that is not the only reason. Likely there are yield issues. Why throw out usable dies that just have one or two dead cores in them? Likely as AMDs yields improve we will see chips with all of the cores activated sometime in the future.

      1. “Likely as AMDs yields improve we will see chips with all of the cores activated sometime in the future.”

        That would then be an Epyc (server) CPU where all dies (each with multiple cores) are functional, not a Threadripper high end desktop CPU.

      2. Also, it would be ridiculously easy to drop bare silicon on there if you run short on defective dies.

        You can use lower-grade silicon, slice it up to the right size, and drop it in. You might need the top metal layer and passivation to make the bumps for mounting, but that is about it. You could do this on a much older process to save more money.

      3. AMD’s 8-core Zeppelin die which is used in everything from Ryzen 3 to EPYC is and has been having absolutely incredible yields for awhile now. The current figure from GloFo is 80%+ have all 8-cores functional. Aka practically none are actually “unsellable”, and AMD definitely isn’t wasting working dies as IHS supports in Threadripper. Ergo the simplest solution (and AMD’s official answer) is correct, they are blank silicon dummy dies.

    2. doesn’t really make sense to have dummy chips on there would make much more sense to use some kind of binning after QC and use the functioning cores. that is at least until the yield is so high that then can get 16 cores on 2 chips consistently most of the time.
      this is my personal opinion but i would definitely not be surprised if threadripper and epyc where the exact same silicon only varying the microcode/FW ( this trick has been used extensively for GPU in the late 90s early 2k) which means possibly an “epyc upgrade” for threadripper in the future …..

  2. The source video that the article is written from was taken down by request of AMD. So while it’s interesting to see that there are four dies… there’s not much else left for certain on this topic.

  3. BTW, the separation of a CPU into multiple smaller and therefore higher yield and much cheaper dies enabled by AMD’s Infinity Fabric technology is why AMD will lead Intel in price/performance until Intel does something similar instead of what they currently do which is to put everything on one huge and, therefore, very expensive die. Unless, of course, Intel tries to do for the nth time what they’ve done in the past, things which nearly killed AMD:

      1. “The advantage is it makes it easier to slide up and down the market scale by adding and taking away dies, leveraging Infinity Fabric.”

        Yep, plus endless combinations of partially functional dies to produce the different SKUs.

    1. I remember years ago looking for a laptop/small embedded board with an AMD laptop processor and very sad they always had the worst AMD processor available in the AMD/family when AMD had a better processor only available in some embedded boards(on special order and retooling) if that and very limited number of manufactures willing to sell and only available to some military suppliers. F**k Intel. Also sad that MIPS has lost so much ground.

  4. So happy to see AMD back on the map again. Intel needs a kick in the ass to get going again. Looking to buy a new system in the coming weeks and it will most likely be a Ryzen build. I just wish there were more mini-ITX boards around, I really don’t feel like going back to monstrously huge cases again.

  5. I got burned on buying a six core FX CPU. It’s how long after the Phenom II? It *should be* far above the Phenom II in performance, right? Especially on multithreaded applications…

    Uh, no. On single threaded applications its performance is *slightly worse* than on the quad core Phenom II it replaced, despite running at a higher frequency. Mutli-thread performance is only slightly better, much of that only coming in apps that can properly utilize 5 or 6 threads VS 3 or 4 on the Phenom II.

    1. That is why they fully ditched the FX architecture and redesigned from scratch with Zen (Ryzen, Threadripper, Epyc). Bulldozer and its direct descendants turned out to disappoint in raw performance, as you have found out. They had to up the clockspeeds to compensate, yielding hot and thirsty chips. Clock for clock, the previous architecture was more of a success. Intel has had somewhat similar trouble with the Pentium 4 Netburst architecture. The Bulldozer family is dead and buried and that is good for everyone.

      Zen, on the other hand, is a definite improvement and a healthty, modern architecture with very good efficiency. They are great chips for the desktop too, with great performance overall and an excellent price performance ratio. These processors are in no way comparable to the previous generation.

    2. Not sure where you’re looking but I see a 4 core phenom ii x4 965 get about 360 points in Cinebench at close to stock speed (3.6GHz vs 3.4 stock, minor overclock). Meanwhile I see a 4 core ryzen r3 1200 getting 480 points in cinebench, despite only running at 3.1 to 3.4GHz.

      No IPC improvements you say?

      1. Synthetic Benmarks vs realworld usage is very different, certain mappings are missing from Phenom II but it’s Raw power its single core performance was better, Unfortunately with new library’s used on new garbage doing the same old thing call up some hardware obsolescence through software.

        1. People seem to be talking about different things in this conversation. Phenom II can outperform Bulldozer and derivatives clock for clock, but Zen (including Ryzen) beats both Phenom II and the more recent FX (Bulldozer) series in whatever performance metric. Handsomely, I might add.

          Ryzen is almost on par with Intel when it comes to clock for clock performance and both a lot cheaper and more power efficient. That goes for both artificial and real world benchmarks.

    3. Bulldozer and the piledriver update were IPC side-grades from K10, the design was much more compact, efficient, ran much better at higher clocks and with faster memory and was modular. However two of the integer units per core were removed, giving K10 an advantage clock-for-clock, core-per-core in complex code. The main idea for FX was that it kept the same performance as K10 but allowed twice as many cores for the same power envelope. The last revisions of the design on the FM2+ platform (and finally on AM4 recently) however are drastically improved in efficiency and IPC, however AMD only ever made APU models of these revisions, sometimes with the GPU side disabled.

      Ryzen however is a completely different story, the 1800X has more than 60% more IPC than the 8150 and is 200% faster overall, while using about 50% less power.

  6. I too am an AMD fan. In 2010 I purchased a Phenom II X2 550 BE, which could unlock the extra deactivated cores. I’ve been running on that same CPU since then, and only now am needing to replace it. Really though, $95 in 2010 got me to 2017 with 4 cores! That’s serious bang for buck. My next build will be a Ryzen 5 1600 most likely. The FX series chips were a gamble in the wrong direction, but their new chips while not having the same overall performance of Intel, are a FAR better deal.

    1. Still wonder if HSA is going to make an appearance with their APUs since they was making big noise not too long ago about all the benefits when they were on the ropes.

    2. Same CPU I replaced with the 6 core FX. I ran the Phenom II for a while on two cores, then got an AM3+ board with unlocking capability. Was quite a kick up from 2 cores with DDR2 to 4 cores with DDR3.
      Popped in the FX CPU, “Now I’m finally going to be able to play my PS2 games on my PC! Yeah!” Yeah, not so much. Not unless PCSX2 gets some more massive speed optimizations.

    3. My last upgrade was for my work PC… previously using a Core i5 laptop (Panasonic Toughbook CF-53… not sure what model CPU it has) which was a solid performer.

      The laptop I was using at home, a 2008-era Apple MacBook wasn’t doing so well, with a dead battery and somewhat idiosyncratic hardware. I didn’t need the portability at work and tax-wise, the Toughbook had been written off, so I took the Toughbook home to replace the MacBook and bought a new desktop which will be claimed as a work expense.

      I’m no fanboy, I have both Intel and AMD systems, and consider both on their merits. AMD won over Intel for two reasons:
      – AMD has 8-core offerings for desktop (Rysen 7 & Phenom II), Intel didn’t from what I could see.
      – Many of the AMD motherboards feature RS-232 and parallel ports. Some Intel boards offer RS-232, but few offer parallel ports.

      Had Intel had an octo-core Core i5 or i7, I might’ve looked at it, I couldn’t find any from the local supplier (tried U-Mart Milton, who are just down the road from my work; I also looked at Scorptec, no joy there).

      I did also consider buying another Supermicro A1SAi-2750F which has an Intel Atom C2750. I have five of these already in my cluster. They run well as servers, but for desktop use, their video capability is a little, well, underwhelming. I’d need a PCIe video card and a case and power supply to accommodate them to make it worthwhile.

      The parallel port is a nice-to-have, the RS-232 port has already proven itself useful. I am looking to make a 5¼” bay break-out that’ll give me convenient access to both with translation to TTL and RS-485/RS-422, as there’s lots of occasions when I find myself needing RS-485 at my desk. Parallel ports are handy for many things, including JTAG, or interfacing to some ancient piece of industrial equipment that occasionally makes its appearance here.

      Linux vk4msl-ws 4.12.4 #1 SMP Fri Jul 28 19:20:31 AEST 2017 x86_64 AMD Ryzen 7 1700 Eight-Core Processor AuthenticAMD GNU/Linux

      So far, so good. You’ll want a very recent version of Linux if you’re going to run that OS. I can’t comment on this machine running Windows: when I looked, I noticed Windows 7 wasn’t for sale any more, so decided I’d go without. There’s a Core i5 laptop I inherited from my predecessor that dual-boots Windows 7 and Debian, so that’s my Windows needs sorted.

      I started with Debian 9 on this machine, as I literally had that up and running within an hour… and presently I’m now running Gentoo. Builds of big packages like LibreOffice are done in a little over 30 minutes. Linux kernels for embedded devices can be done in the time it takes me to make a cup of tea.

      About the only problem I’ve had was the motherboard (MSI B350 PC Mate) taking umbrage to an old ALN-201 PCI Ethernet card (NE2000-PCI clone; 10Mbps with coax and UTP) I had shoved in one of the PCI slots for those rare occasions when I need to configure a 3G router. Pulled that card out and the machine was happy, so I guess that card had quietly died prior to installation. Thankfully, a PCIe network card is cheap, and that can wait until I actually need the second interface.

      My previous desktop build was a Phenom II x6, bought in 2010, and it is still going strong, and that was a big factor in buying this one. Rysen vs Phenom II was a case of what used more power, the Rysen being a little more energy efficient. I don’t normally go bleeding edge, but there was good incentive to do so here and so far, it’s been okay, well worth considering.

      1. I found this highly informative. Thanks for posting it. I don’t plan on running Linux (I maintain that it is best used on a headless server, but that’s a debate for another day!) and run W10 because it Just Works for what I do, and in my business it’s a Windows world (except for our servers). Ironically, I’d still be rocking the Phenom II X2/4 for another long while except that my primary tool (Google Chrome) brings it to its knees with its multi-threaded goodness. Video conferences via Hangouts are murder on my CPU.

        I am also looking at the MSI B350 PC Mate and so I’m glad you like that board. My last board has USB issues (Universal Serial Bus, not Upper SideBand, hi hi!) and I don’t think I realized it did RS-232 also. Very cool.

        1. Yep, each to their own. :-) For me, Windows is a legacy OS, and in my workday, 99.999% of what I do revolves around Linux in a workplace whose standard operating environment is built on Firefox/Chrome, Thunderbird and LibreOffice. That said, there are some things that require Windows, so it has a place. Never quite worked right for me, but if it works in your case, that’s fine too. :-)

          With that motherboard, if you intend on running VMs, you may need a BIOS update and there’s an option you can set to enable AMD-V extensions in the CPU for running a hypervisor. If you look on MSI’s forums, someone made mention of how to do this in the context of KVM on Linux, but I’d say the same applies to Microsoft’s Hyper-V too.

        1. One can get quad inline caps. I have a bunch in both x7r 100nF and c0g 100pF. The former make very good 400nF decoupling caps because the package is “wide”, which helps reduce the inductance which then allows decoupling effective at higher frequencies.

          So, I think those on the package are those, and not resistor-packs, which for impedance matching.
          Nowadays that job is built into the circuitry on the chip, since that reduces the length of the stub that would otherwise result from sticking the impedance matching so many mm away.
          And in any case, mostly everything is LVDS anyway. Look at some lvds chip data sheets, and you’ll find most of them have integral termination, especially for anything going more than half a GHz or so.

          I could be wrong, but it would surprise me.

  7. Bought an I7 4700K z87-ws mobo for a total 12 sata drives on it, and maxed it with 32gigs of ram for 1200$ at the time, waiting and waiting for a good mobo replacement that never came, the Asus WS mobos became less and less featured with newers intels chipsets, totally decieved. Now I’ll have to buy an 16 ports sata 3 card 300-500$ ?? since im running a minimum of 10 hot swap drives ..

    I just want a good featured mobo and cpu, not into rgb led bling bling, seriously i dont care and dont want that.

    I’ll check for an Gigabyte Aorus and the thread ripper combination, maybe a 64gigs of ram for a start .. i will wait a while to see how much it goes and the reviews, i want a solid and stable system, not a gaming rig.

    And with this socket type maybe it will survive longer and have more future cpu possibilities …

    1. As Employed mentioned, you wont get those features on gaming or desktop boards, look for server grade boards. or check linux tech tips, he often has videos on maxing out your GB/$

  8. AMD are killing it with Ryzen. Currently I have exclusively Intel CPU’ed products in my house however as I have always liked the underdog I will be changing over to AMD unless Intel can pull something crazy good. I have a lot of distrust for Intel and their business practices in the past. They don’t play fair and basically locked AMD out of the market with draconian contracts with OEM’s.
    The way I see it is competition is great for consumers so fight away, bring those prices down, give us more performance but do it ethically.

  9. I miss the days when my AMD computers, built for something like 1/4 the price of the Intel computers most people I knew had were faster than those Intel computers. Of course… back then AMDs power usage really sucked. It helped being in a college dorm where the university paid for the electricity!

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