AMD two-pronged attack at Siggraph: not just GPUs but CPUs as well

Now the top workstation vendors have to come to the table. 

By Alex Herrera

Of course, it’s no surprise Intel Xeon would anchor Dell’s refreshed workstation models. A more interesting question in 2017 would be whether or not AMD’s CPUs might get an opportunity, too. In short, the answer is no, because while AMD managed to get a few Radeon Pro options supported in Dell’s new line, Precision remains the exclusive domain of Intel CPUs. The same goes for lines at every other major workstation OEM. Now that wouldn’t make for a particularly pertinent statement at any time over the past decade or so. After a brief surge on the back of the industry-disrupting Opteron-brand Hammer CPU back in 2006, AMD faded to represent negligible penetration in workstation CPUs by 2009. Ever since, workstations have represented a GPU-only opportunity for AMD.

Ryzen Pro and Ryzen Threadripper represent logical lines to pursue workstation opportunities. (Source: AMD)

For the better part of three years, however, we’ve been wondering it that situation would change—ever since we first caught wind of AMD’s development of Zen, a new architecture that promised to bring AMD back into performance-oriented computing markets. It’s no secret that Zen has finally arrived, first bearing the Ryzen brand for consumer and corporate markets, and more recently spun into high-core count versions for servers under the Epyc banner and Threadripper for high-end desktops. AMD has also created the Ryzen Pro sub-brand to denote Ryzen SKUs shaped for commercial applications. From a technical standpoint, Ryzen Pro (up to 8 cores), Ryzen Threadripper (16 cores), and scalable Epyc all appear to be aggressively priced and a good fit for workstations: the first for entry class desksides, the second for premium single-socket workstations and the latter for dual-socket models. But aggressive pricing and a good fit does not equate to automatic success in the market.

Will Ryzen Pro, Threadripper or Epyc eventually crack top-tier OEMs’ workstation line-ups? To date, the only public announcement we’ve seen was from a smaller workstation vendor, Velocity Micro, which just announced its ProMagix line with both Threadripper and Epyc. But as far as a Dell, HP or Lenovo picking up Zen for workstations, it’s hard to predict, and for a few reasons. On the positive side, AMD has a credible performance story, for the first time in a long while. It also has a very welcome audience, one that would like to bring on a viable CPU rival to keep Intel competitive. On the flip side, however, would be concerns about commitment and longevity. More than any other client platform, the workstation is a long-term proposition, both for users and vendors alike. No vendor wants to go through the time, expense and marketing to bring on AMD CPUs, if they feel AMD isn’t a viable partner for the long haul. That means feeling confident that AMD will continue to have performance-competitive CPUs for many years to come (which didn’t happen with Opteron last decade) and the company will treat it as a key strategic market long-term.