Which CAD Workstation Buyers Can Benefit from Threadripper?31 Dec, 2017 By: Alex Herrera
Herrera on Hardware: An analysis of AMD’s Ryzen Threadripper illustrates why a workstation CPU is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.
Looking at SPECwpc performance per dollar and by thread count reveals the different strengths of two CPUs.
Not Better and Worse, but Apples and Oranges
Test results for the two Boxx workstations also clearly illustrate why there’s not one best choice in selecting a CPU for CAD workflows. A CPU like Threadripper is not better or worse than a CPU like the Core i7-8700K; rather, the two models are quite clearly designed and equipped to operate best on two different types of workloads, and both impress in their respective wheelhouses. It’s like comparing a diesel engine that delivers huge torque at low RPM with a sports car engine that drives RPM high in order to achieve its horsepower: they’re two different tools, optimized for different applications.
From the perspective of pushing single-thread performance at a moderate price, the S3’s liquid-cooled, overclocked Intel Core i7 can’t be beat, especially with respect to performance per dollar. On the other end of the workload spectrum, stressing heavily threaded computing, Apexx 4 6301’s Threadripper is a compelling offering for users that demand and can exploit more massively parallel computing resources in a single-socket platform. Which is a better choice for your CAD workstation depends on the nature of your specific CAD workloads, and whether those you use the most can take advantage of many cores or are still mostly sensitive to single-thread performance (which given the same microarchitecture will scale largely, though not exclusively, by frequency/GHz).
Perhaps counter-intuitively, “many-core” CPUs — let’s define them for our purposes here as models with more than four to six cores — actually represent the exception in CAD workstations today, not the rule. Although we are now more than a decade into the era of multi-core CPUs, the applications many users rely on most still depend on single- or few-thread execution the majority of the time. A CAD user spending the bulk of the day running iterations of a typical model/visualize/repeat cycle, for example, will see his machine largely throttled by single-thread performance. And accordingly, that’s why currently three-quarters of deskside workstations ship with CPUs of four or fewer cores (with quad-core by far dominant, and the percentage is higher for mobile models). By contrast, a user whose workflow is rife with complex simulations — for example, finite-element analysis (FEA) or computational fluid dynamics (CFD), or with frequent need to render at maximum raytraced quality, such as when styling a product — may want to sacrifice a bit of single-thread performance to dramatically speed those highly threaded, time-hogging tasks.
That dichotomy in CPU traits helps explain why Threadripper’s natural positioning in the workstation market could serve AMD quite well. Threadripper is not a candidate for the mainstream Entry 1S workstation market; rather, both its price point and capabilities position it for the smaller Premium 1S segment, representing about a third of deskside shipments and where the Threadripper’s intersection of Zen architecture and multi-core implementation offers the most appeal. Premium 1S workstation buyers will typically encounter more multi-threaded workloads, have a stronger desire to make them run faster, and be more willing to pay a reasonable price premium to get there.
AMD’s 12c/16c Threadripper, the first Zen CPU to gain a foothold in workstations, is very sensibly positioned in the Premium single-socket (1S) segment.