Computex 2017: Intel and AMD Bring Former Server Territory To Consumers
It wasn’t but a few weeks ago when XDA finally got an extended look at AMD’s Ryzen processors and the associated AM4 platform. The response I heard from many of our readers was that it was finally time for them to upgrade, especially open source teams that were looking to change out their 6 and 8 core team “build boxes” at home. But after what was announced since the events at Computex last week in Taipei, anyone considering upgrades to multi-user or heavy build use machines should really hold off right now. Why? Because more is coming. And while some of it makes absolute sense, other parts of the announcements last week left the enthusiast community scratching our collective heads in confusion.
Missed some of that news? Well, let’s get into then.
Intel: Enter Core X
Intel was due for a motherboard change and finally the third iteration of Socket 2011 will be its last. In its place comes Socket 2066, but along with it came a surprising set of processors. Rather than the expected 6, 8, and 10 core solutions, a 4-core Core i5 and 4-core, 8-thread Core i7 were added to the product list. The new product pricing falls pretty much in line with what we would expect for their respective series until we get to the 8 and 10 core solutions. But here is where we start to see a dramatic change: the 8 core processor has been reduced 40% over the previous generation pricing. The 10 core processor also gets a near-similar reduction in percentage and is rebranded from a Core i7 to the entry point for a new Core i9 product line. Additional products from 12 to 18 core counts have been announced but as shown in the graphic above does not give us much information to go off of at the moment.
All of this sounds great – until we take it in context with the Haswell-E and Broadwell-E product line that it’s replacing. Cost reductions are a great thing and it’s fair to believe that this is a response to Ryzen. Prior to and immediately after the launch there was no response from Intel at all. It’s no secret that given AMD’s previous struggles with Bulldozer and Excavator led many to be cautiously optimistic with Ryzen’s launch. Why should Intel make a change until it sees the market response?
The other issue with this is the relationship of its high end consumer lineup with that of its enterprise Xeon branding. In most cases up to Broadwell-E, the enthusiast consumer products (formerly Extreme Edition) were normally rebranded Xeon processors with, in some cases, slight microcode changes. When it comes to pricing though they’ve been usually similar, for good reason. Why would enterprise customers not go instead with a cheaper consumer version? The new Core X lineup addresses that by reducing the PCI Express lane count from 40 to 28 in the 6 and 8 core CPUs. The Core i9 product line gets an increase to 44 lanes.
To those of you scratching your head at this: you’re not alone. This means that Intel is offering pricing more expensive than Ryzen and the one reason most people could justify that move with – the additional PCI Express lanes – is now gone. Why would Intel make this move? It’s basically asking most of that market now to either hold tight for at least another cycle until a more competitive product comes out or throw down for an entire overhaul with the benefit of getting 10 cores instead of 8. And even there, it’s asking for you to pay $400 more for those two cores and four threads. Given that this is only half of the equation announced at Computex and that the details on the very high end are scarce, it’s hard to make a recommendation to go Intel at the moment.
The only reason that I can even remotely think of why Intel would be willing to take this much of a hit on the consumer side is to try and protect its Xeon market share. It’s no secret that enterprise sales are the “bread and butter” of most of the tech industry. But this also ignores one other factor: the entry of AMD’s server compliment to the Ryzen consumer line. It gives Intel time, likely until the fourth quarter, to keep pushing server sales and offering incentives to keep that going as long as possible. After that sales numbers for the previous quarter may force a strategy change.
AMD came to Computex with a heavy portfolio, announcing the spread of the Ryzen architecture to pretty much all of its processor segments. On the server side the Epyc (a.k.a.”Naples”) counterpart to Ryzen’s consumer lineup was announced to have a June 20th launch date as was the professional launch of the Vega Frontier Edition on June 24th. Also reinforced was Ryzen’s plan to start entering the mobile and lower desktop segments later this year.
Since before Ryzen launched, a rumor had been floating around regarding the filing of a trademark called Threadripper. Because of the odd name many, myself included, thought this might be a code name only; we were shocked during the Financial Analyst Day presentation when the high end processor was confirmed. At Computex, AMD went even further and gave us more expectations on a single slide – and on that single slide, put Intel’s announcements the previous day into doubt whether or not it was wanting to challenge AMD in this realm any longer.
What was confirmed when this slide appeared, in the webcast, is that all Threadripper processors will:
- Utilize AMD’s upcoming X399 Platform. The socket is the same size as Epyc, which isn’t a surprise that AMD is taking a similar strategy from Intel and making many of its enterprise products available in a consumer version.
- Support quad channel DDR4, something that outside of servers has only been available so far on the X99/X199 Intel platforms.
- 64 – yes, you are reading that right, 64 – PCI-Express lanes. At a minimum it will overshadow the 10 core Intel Core i9 solution. This staggering count eclipses Intel’s highest single socket count of 40 and even their newly announced high of 44 lanes.
Obviously with an announcement like this all eyes are now on AMD to respond with details on product levels and pricing. We reached out to AMD but was informed that no additional details were available yet. Hopefully once the Epyc product line details are revealed we can start to get a better view of what this will look like. Based on AMD’s current Ryzen strategy it’s likely that they will continue their trend of offering competitive product levels to that of Intel but at a lower price point.
The Takeaway From Computex
When it comes to the PC consumer market the heat in the kitchen seems to be rising along with the temperatures of the season. But if you’re looking at all this processor porn and wondering what’s right for you, it still comes down to what your workload is. For the majority of consumers at this point, including those doing Android open source builds for only a few devices, our Ryzen review found that the strategy AMD is offering makes it well worth your consideration. But if you’re a team looking at a new multi-user or heavy build (i.e. Jenkins) system, or other cases where your CPU workload is already being maxed out on either an 8 core Ryzen or Core i7, then the best advice right now is what we said at the beginning of this article – which is to hold off for now and wait for what’s coming.
The next question many will have is obvious: how long will you have to wait? Threadripper is already confirmed to come this summer. When exactly – we don’t know – but some common sense suggests that absent some unforeseen supply issues, Threadripper will launch in August. AMD has already announced the launch of its high end consumer graphics, the RX Vega, at SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles. AMD isn’t going to want to miss a prime time for students to buy and build their systems, especially ones that are both AMD in CPU and GPU. That means that Threadripper, for maximum sales, will need to come within that month as well. A quick peek at the August calendar suggests Hot Chips, towards the end of the month, would be a perfect time and venue to launch, especially since it was where the details of the architecture were detailed to the public last year.
As for Intel, I wouldn’t expect them to take too long. The fact that they felt it necessary to announce something at Computex suggest that they, contrary to previous beliefs, may want to counter Ryzen and Threadripper as quickly as possible. The Core X lineup up to 10 cores are supposed to be coming out by the end of the quarter and expect the remainder of the lineup, again barring supply issues, to be out sometime before the end of the year. I personally think we may even see them try to pull a proverbial rabbit out of a hat on the higher core counts. It was a wise move leaving most of the information on the Core i9 tier empty for now, especially if they have flexibility in the processor architecture which would allow them to offer something similar or better than what AMD has already announced with Threadripper.
This trend continues to bring only good news to consumers. In a span of less than a year we have gone from 8 cores being the highest consumer processor available to soon 18 cores and 36 threads. All at prices that were unthinkable last year. Furthermore, for our open source communities this means the time to upgrade or create a heavy duty build machine is at its best in years. It’s great to have competition in the processor market again.