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Threadripper: Core blimey!

21 Nov 2023

AMD has launched their new HEDT hi-core-count Threadripper CPUs to resounding applause from all the online reviewers.

These CPUs do represent the pinnacle of desktop computing power but they come at a huge price, with the 7980 64-core part costing an eye-watering US$5,000.

Of course along with the CPU you'll need a matching motherboard and RAM so the actual cost of a workstation based on this part will be beyond the reach of most regular users.

However, when you can't get by with anything but the fastest workstation or when you can justify the cost by way of productivity gains, I guess these Threadripper CPUs do have a place.

However, there must surely be a cheaper way to get 64 cores of computing power?

Yes there is!

The new Raspberry Pi 5 SBC has just four cores but the 4GB version comes in at around US$60.

Okay, the Pi only clocks at 2.4GHz out of the box (some have been overclocked to quite a bit more) and the ARM-based cores are not as grunty as those in the Threadrippers but just do the math.

The per-core cost for an RPi 5 is US$15. The per-core cost for the threadripper 7980 is an eye-watering $78.

So maybe, if you really want 64 cores of CPU power, a cluster of 16 RPi 5 boards would be a lot cheaper and perhaps even more fun.

Would it be as fast?

Hell no, at least not unless you were running some bespoke software that was perfectly suited to running on a cluster rather than a single CPU.

However, that RPi cluster would also have 64GB of RAM, something you'd have to pay extra for with a Threadripper. The Threadripper would also require one of those expensive motherboards whereby the Pi cluster would only need a US$100 network hub and some cables to become a unified computing resource.

The cost of building a 64-core RPi cluster will drop even further when the RPi 5 compute module is released. These compute modules are cheaper because they don't have all the I/O of the full board and they can be easily fitted to a backplane. This not only eliminates the need for an ethernet switch but also allows for much faster inter-board communications, thus boosting performance significantly.

There have already been quite a number of RPi cluster projects built with high degrees of success and clustering components are readily available from places such as Ali Express.

Best of all, clusters can be expanded as/when needed to increase their power over time. Start with a cluster of two and just keep going if you need to.

So, if you want to boast that your computer has more cores than a thread-ripper you will be able to do so for as little as US$1K on a box full of Raspberry Pi 5 SBCs and a network switch and make fun of those who've spent five times as much for their CPU alone.

Carpe Diem folks!

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