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Threadripper 3990x brings more CPU threads than Windows Pro can handle

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Enlarge / It looks like the Empire is about to cool this CPU by freezing it in carbonite.

On Friday, AMD launched its latest monster CPU—the 64-core, 128-thread Threadripper 3990x. The 3990x isn’t the first publicly available 128-threaded x86-64 CPU—that honor goes to AMD’s Epyc 7742, 7702, and 7702P in a three-way tie. But the 3990X is the first “desktop” CPU offering that many threads—and it’s stretching the ecosystem in doing so.

Cost per thread

Despite the groundbreaking specs on the TR3990x, AMD is adhering to the same pricing strategy it has employed for years now—pick the CPU that fits your needs and pay a reasonable, roughly linearly scaled price for it. If you want Threadripper cores, you’re going to pay roughly $30 apiece for them, whether you’re looking for the smaller or larger parts.

Processor Cores/Threads Cost Cost per thread
AMD Threadripper 3990x 64/128 $3,990 $31.17
AMD Threadripper 3970x 32/64 $1,999 $31.23
AMD Threadripper 3960x 24/48 $1,399 $29.15
AMD Epyc 7702P 64/128 $4,784 $37.36
Intel Xeon Platinum 9282 56/112 $30,000 (?) $267.86 (?)
Intel Core i9-10980XE 18/36 $1,000 $27.78
Intel Core i9-9980XE 18/36 $1,979 $54.97

This is in sharp contrast to Intel’s pricing strategies, which have tended for years to run more toward “pick the CPU you can afford” than “pick the CPU that fits your needs.” The best example of this strategy is Intel’s top-of-the-line Intel Xeon Platinum series, which literally cannot be priced—they’re not available in retail—but can be reasonably estimated to cost roughly ten times as much per thread as the closest competing Epyc parts.

However, we can see a big change in Intel’s HEDT (High End DeskTop) CPU pricing strategy since 3rd-generation Threadripper launched. Team Blue slashed the price for its flagship HEDT part in half in a single year. This brought the top Core i9 part’s cost per thread in line with—and even a little cheaper than—the competing Threadripper parts.

Moving back to Team Red, the 64-core Threadripper is a bit cheaper than the 64-core, single-socket Epyc 7702P—but not enough to write home about. This leaves the decision between building a system around TR3990x or 7702P, again, more focused on finding a build that suits the workflow instead of a cost that fits your wallet.

Why (or why not) Threadripper?

Threadripper and Epyc have more in common than not. Both families offer incredible core counts, support for ECC RAM, and relatively high numbers of PCIe 4.0 lanes—and with the cost per thread in shouting distance of one another, that means a careful system builder can worry about the remaining differences between the architectures rather than overall cost.

3rd-generation Threadripper can usefully be thought of as a 3rd-generation Epyc with higher clock speeds but fewer PCIe 4.0 lanes, fewer memory channels, and support for less total RAM. It’s an optimal setup for jobs like 3D rendering that typically bottleneck on raw, massively multi-threaded CPU performance—but not so much for jobs bottlenecking on memory throughput or requiring massive in-memory datasets.

As reported in Anandtech’s excellent Threadripper 3990x review, the newest Threadripper is also pushing the boundaries of what the industry is prepared to consider a “desktop” in the first place. Windows 10 Professional chokes pretty badly when presented with TR3990x’s 128 cores and organizes them as two CPU groups—which it even mistakenly refers to as multiple “sockets” in some places.

Windows 10 Pro’s lack of support for so many threads on a single socket isn’t just a funny-looking quirk. Under Windows 10 Pro, some benchmarks run twice as fast with hyperthreading disabled, just to keep the operating system from maladaptively grouping them into separate “sockets” that then get handled under NUMA rules. Keeping threads from crossing real physical processor boundaries is helpful, but it can be crippling when the actual boundary doesn’t exist in the first place.

Ultimately, this means Windows 10 Pro isn’t really appropriate for Threadripper 3990x at all—if you’re building a 3990x system, you need to plan on a roughly $120 upgrade from Pro to Workstation or on paying the $84/year for a Windows 10 Enterprise subscription. Windows 10 Workstation and Enterprise both support TR3990x’s 128 threads without resorting to organizing them in nonexistent sockets, and without the performance penalties associated.

None of this is a problem for Linux users. Although Intel’s performance-optimized Clear Linux distribution outperforms normal “daily driver” distributions, it doesn’t do so any more on the Threadripper 3990x than it does on a lowly quad-core Ryzen 5 3400G. If you want to run a 3900x on bone-stock Ubuntu, you can do so, and you’ll be fine.

Conclusions

Threadripper 3990x, like the 3970x that came before it, is a very specialized beast. If you need the massive number of threads either CPU brings to bear and don’t need more than 256GB RAM, they’re kind of a no-brainer. But it’s a mistake to think of them as optimal CPUs for gaming, or for any workload that doesn’t make effective use of their massive parallelism. While they’re no slower for single-threaded or lightly multithreaded tasks than the much less expensive Ryzen 9 3950X, they’re not any faster at those tasks, either—and they’re considerably less efficient.

The good

  • 128 threads—oh my! Nobody’s ever made a 128-thread HEDT CPU before.
  • Cost per thread isn’t significantly higher than other Threadripper (or competing Intel) HEDT parts.
  • Already available in retail OEM systems—including OEM Linux workstations.
  • Compiles a modern Linux kernel in 24 seconds.

The bad

  • No AVX-512 / Deep Learning Boost x86 instructions—AVX-512 workloads will run faster on much smaller, cheaper Intel CPUs.
  • 128 threads—oh my! Some operating systems and applications can’t really cope with this scale yet.
  • Even maxed out with the newest RAM, 3990x only supports 2GB RAM per CPU thread.

The ugly

  • Sharing office space with a Threadripper system in a South Carolina summer.
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The MacBook Pro will soon get a resolution bump, macOS beta suggests

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Enlarge / The 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Samuel Axon

The seventh beta of macOS Monterey contains what appear to be references to new screen resolutions suitable for the MacBook Pro line, as discovered by MacRumors.

In a list of supported graphics resolutions within macOS, there are two new resolutions: 3,456 by 2,234 and 3,024 by 1,964. Each carries a “Retina” marker, which Apple typically only applies to its own devices’ screens.

The aspect ratio for these new resolutions is very close to the current aspect ratios on the MacBook Pro computers sold today, but they’re lower than what we currently see in the iMac line, suggesting that they aren’t for Apple’s desktops. Further, the numbers fit nicely with a move to true 2x Retina, as opposed to the scaling approach presently used for Retina displays.

It is possible that this is a mistake, but the timing is convenient. macOS Monterey is expected to launch this fall alongside new MacBook Pro models featuring custom-designed Apple silicon that would be faster successors to Apple’s much-lauded M1 chips found in lower-end Macs and the most recent refresh of the iPad Pro.

If reports in Bloomberg and elsewhere are to be believed, the new laptops would also include Mini LED displays, which provide better contrast than the display technology currently used in Mac laptops, as well as additional ports like HDMI or an SD card slot. These devices would also drop the Touch Bar, which some users like but others hate, in favor of a return to physical function keys. The 13-inch MacBook Pro would probably see reduced bezels, making it a 14-inch MacBook Pro. (A similar change replaced the 15-inch MacBook Pro with a 16-inch model a couple of years ago.)

So increased screen resolutions join a plethora of other likely changes that would make for the most significant redesign of the MacBook Pro since the first Touch Bar models in 2016.

Leaks have also pointed to an upcoming MacBook Air redesign, but that laptop is unlikely to come until later.

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The Surface Duo’s two-year-old Android OS will be updated sometime this year

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If Microsoft wants to be taken seriously as an Android manufacturer, one of the things it will need to establish is a track record of reliable, on-time software updates. But as the company launches a second generation of the Surface Duo and the company’s first Android phone turns a year old, so far Microsoft has failed to impress.

The Surface Duo 1 shipped in September 2020 with Android 10, which was a full year old at the time, and Android 11 had already launched. The hope was that Microsoft would quickly update the Duo to the latest version of Android, but that never happened. Today the device is still running Android 10, which is now two years old, and Android 12 is about to ship. Microsoft has finally broken its silence about Surface Duo 1 updates, and the company tells The Verge it plans to update the device to Android 11 “before the end of this year.”

Assuming Microsoft follows through on its promise, the company’s $1,400 flagship device will be updated from a two-year-old operating system to a one-year-old operating system. Microsoft committed to three years of updates, and it has been delivering monthly security updates. But this is still worst-in-class update support, especially for the price. Samsung usually rolls out Android to its latest flagship three months after Google’s release, while OnePlus usually takes around a month—Microsoft’s one-year timeframe is really bad.

Microsoft is, at least, communicating. Before, it never really let its customers know when Android 11 would be arriving on the Surface Duo until this latest report, leaving the rumor mill to fill in the gaps. It would be nice to get a timeframe for Android 12 releases, given the latest update will be out any day now. Perhaps Microsoft’s lack of communication was due to the company just not knowing when Android 11 would be done. The Android 10 build that shipped on the original Duo had all sorts of bugs, and the company is clearly having a hard time transitioning to Android.

Perhaps some of Microsoft’s update problems were caused by the Duo 1 originally being designed for a now-canceled mobile resurrection of Windows; Microsoft was essentially forced to switch to Android later in that product’s development life. Unsurprisingly, the Windows-maker didn’t have a lot of Android OS engineers on staff at the time, and Microsoft ended up outsourcing the Duo’s OS development to a company called “Movial.” Microsoft ended up acquiring Movial just two months before the Duo’s release date, which doesn’t sound like ideal timing.

The Duo 1’s Windows DNA resulted in a device with very different underpinnings from a normal Android phone, like a “custom engineered” Microsoft UEFI instead of the normal Qualcomm one. The Duo 2 should have been designed from the start with Android as the target, so maybe things will be better for the sequel?

Listing image by Ron Amadeo

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Windows 11 hits the Release Preview Insider channel as official release nears

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Enlarge / The “official” Windows 11 update, complete with the UI that regular people will see, is now available in the Release Preview channel for Windows Insiders.

Andrew Cunningham

Yesterday, Microsoft released a near-final build of Windows 11 to Windows Insiders in the Release Preview channel, which (as the name implies) is generally the last stop for a major new Windows version ahead of its release to the general public. The official release date for Windows 11 is October 5, but Microsoft is planning to roll it out gradually over the next few months to prevent widespread problems.

The build number in the Release Preview channel is 22000.194, the same version released to the Beta channel on September 16.

While Beta- and Dev-channel builds of Windows 11 are simply downloaded and installed like regular Windows Updates, the version in the Release Preview channel gives you the same upgrade message that will be offered to the public when Microsoft offers the Windows 11 upgrade for their PCs. This includes a system notification that users can click through to learn more about Windows 11’s new features and a special update message in Windows Update that will give you the opportunity to waive the Windows 11 upgrade and stay on Windows 10 (seen above).

Windows 10 can run on pretty much any PC that could run Windows 7 or Windows 8, but Windows 11 comes with stringent new processor and security hardware requirements that severely limit its compatibility. The most important is the CPU requirement, which generally mandates an 8th-generation Intel Core processor (introduced in late 2017) or newer or a 2nd-generation AMD Ryzen processor (introduced in mid 2018) or newer. There are only a handful of exceptions for older processors, including for Microsoft’s own Surface Studio desktop—Microsoft has the full list of Intel and AMD processors available on its documentation site.

If your PC can run it, Windows 11 includes a refreshed user interface, rescued from Microsoft’s failed “Windows 10X” project. The redesign overhauls the taskbar, Start menu, system tray, the Settings app, and Windows Explorer, as well as right-click menus and built-in apps throughout the OS. It also adds some gaming features and improvements to the Windows Subsystem for Linux, though some of these will be backported to Windows 10.

Listing image by Microsoft

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