AMD vs. Intel HEDT Platform Showdown Editorial

Author:Daniel Dobrowolski

Editor:Kyle Bennett

Date: Tuesday , October 10, 2017

I’ve spent quite a bit of time with AMD’s Threadripper and X399 chipset and I thought I’d give our readers my impression of it and talk about the platform as well as giving interested consumers a general overview of the platform and what it has to offer. We compare it to Intel’s HEDT platform and give our take on this match up.

Legacy and Removable Storage

What about SATA ports? SATA isn’t a huge deal these days because it isn’t the premiere storage option anymore. AMD’s platform can support up to 12x SATA 6Gb/s devices, but you will typically only find 8x SATA ports as the other ports require diverting PCIe lanes from M.2 slots to enable those. Intel also supports 8x SATA 6Gb/s ports, a number which is down from X299’s immediate predecessor which supported 10x ports. In contrast to NVMe storage, I think Intel has the advantage here. Not only do the SATA ports perform somewhat better on the Intel side, these are more flexible. RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 are supported. Not only does Intel support the additional RAID mode (despite being nearly useless), Intel supports a greater range of stripe sizes from 8k to 128k. AMD only supports 64 and 128k stripe sizes. At this point, I’d also like to mention that I haven’t been able to install an OS to a single SATA drive when the controller was in RAID mode. This is something I do all the time with Intel systems. I don’t generally use NVMe devices for the OS drive, although I have been more recently in light of AMD’s restrictions. I install the OS with the SATA controller in RAID mode, to prevent a BSOD when switching modes. You can’t install to an AHCI volume and switch to RAID later, but I can attach a single AHCI volume to a controller in RAID mode and have it work fine. Performance-wise, Intel usually does a bit better though it’s hard to say as we normally test Intel’s with a more balanced stripe size that the AMD controllers can’t do. Even so, I have seen two cases where SATA performance was clearly low, even with single AHCI volumes compared to Intel’s X299 and Z270 Express chipsets. ASUS’ ROG Zenith Extreme had these issues which were resolved when ASUS provided an updated BIOS to address the issue.

Due to issues with the MSI X299 SLI running very slow compared to other X299 motherboards, I’ve elected to provide numbers from the GIGABYTE X299 Aorus Gaming 3 instead of the MSI X299 SLI Plus. I think this speaks to platform maturity, which is a topic I will cover a bit later.

NOTE: For all Intel X299 drive and subsystem testing, we used GIGABYTE’s X299 Aorus Gaming 3 motherboard. We also used an Intel Core i7 7740X (4.3GHz / 4.5GHz Turbo) and 2x 8GB (16GB total) Kingston HyperX (3200MHz DDR4 18-19-19-39, 2T@1.35v) memory modules running at DDR4 2666MHz speeds (stock testing, up to 3200MHz overclocked) were used. For power, I used an XFX XTR 850watt unit. Our discreet graphics card needs were handled by an EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780Ti reference card. The CPU was cooled with a Koolance Exos 2.5 system and an Alphacool Eisblock XPX waterblock.

NOTE: For all X399 drive and subsystem testing, we used GIGABYTE’s X399 Aorus Gaming 7 motherboard. We also used an AMD Threadripper 1920X (3.7GHz / 4.0GHz Boost) and 4x 8GB (32GB total) Corsair Vengeance LPX (3600MHz DDR4 18-19-19-39, 2T@1.35v) memory modules running at DDR4 2666MHz speeds (stock testing, up to 3200MHz overclocked) were used. For power, I used the an XFX XTR 850watt unit. Our discreet graphics card needs were handled by a Diamond Multimedia Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition reference card. The CPU was cooled with a Thermaltake FLOE Rising 360 TT Premium Edition

SATA Performance

Surprisingly, AMD and Intel trade more blows than I would have imagined. I do know that the Intel controllers can perform better, and the RAID results vary more with different stripe sizes. This isn’t intended to be the end all be all of performance testing. The goal here is to highlight where these platforms differ. Regarding the subject of SATA performance, I don’t think there is much to say about it other than "they are close enough" to one another as to be a non-issue. As I said, the X299 boards seem to be running a little slow and I’ve seen somewhat inconsistent results on X399 motherboards depending on the UEFI BIOS and AGESA code used with those. Again, I don’t think this is the point enthusiasts will harp on if one was considerably better than the other regarding performance. However, what does make a difference is the flexibility and feature set. On that front, I wouldn’t regard AMD’s lack of RAID 5 support a problem, but I would say that the more restrictive stripe sizes as a detriment to the platform. Of course, you can potentially have more SATA ports on AMD’s side, so again, both platforms trade blows here.

USB connectivity seems to favor AMD on paper as all its ports are native USB 3.1 instead of USB 3.0 as is the case with Intel. The number of ports supported is 14, and the actual number used on the board is variable, as is the allocation of USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports. However, I don’t have USB 3.1 devices to test with due to poor availability. I do test these controllers in USB 3.0 mode all the time. Below is an example of such testing on the same systems as we used for SATA testing.

USB Performance

As you can see, Intel has the advantage on USB 3.0 read speeds, but occasionally loses a little ground to AMD’s X399 chipset on the write tests. I’m going to declare Intel the winner on USB 3.0 performance simply because the read speeds are significantly higher on the USB 3.0 tests. USB 2.0 numbers are super close, and therefore close enough to declare roughly equal. All in all, I think the NVMe advantages on X399 make these other storage issues somewhat moot as I doubt anyone’s going to care that much about the places where AMD’s slightly slower. AMD’s always been behind Intel in these areas historically, but again I don’t think it’s a major point of contention for enthusiasts. Enthusiasts are going to care more about the processor, multi-threaded and gaming performance, as well as NVMe storage performance.