If you can't wait to order a new PC with AMD’s crazy 16-core Threadripper CPU, there’s bad news unless your chosen PC manufacturer is Alienware. The Dell subsidiary announced Monday afternoon that it secured an exclusive deal for AMD’s high-end chip through the end of the year.
Repeat: Alienware has a worldwide exclusive on Ryzen Threadripper for its Area-51 gaming PC through the end of 2017. Mic drop.
Why this matters: AMD’s much-hyped Threadripper promises to bring the same tough competition to Intel’s high-end desktop CPUs that its Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 5 chips did for Intel’s Core i5 and Core i7 chips. Alienware’s exclusive is a major coup for the gaming PC company, but it's also certain to anger competing PC makers and their fans. The only bright side: DIYers can still get the chip.
Trapped in Area-51
Alienware said it will use the 16-core variant and lower in its updated Area-51 PC, which can take liquid cooling and run up to three GPUs.
Alienware may have a lock on Threadripper, but Threadripper doesn't have a lock on Alienware. The company said it will also offer Intel’s new 12-core Skylake-X for the Area-51 product line.
AMD officials sidestepped any questions of controversy among other PC makers, instead saying the exclusive with Alienware would help build momentum for the new chip.
“Interest from all our OEM partners into Ryzen opportunities have been strong, as was showcased at Computex Taipei this year," AMD officials told PCWorld. "Building on that momentum, we are incredibly excited that Alienware is our lead Ryzen Threadripper OEM partner, with its leadership OEM position in the HEDT market. We look forward to showcasing the full potential of our Ryzen Threadripper CPU and TR4 platform through our Alienware partnership, as well as our partnership with other key HEDT component DIY hardware partners."
DIYers can breathe
The exclusive deal is sure to annoy competitors such as Maingear, Origin, CyberPower, or iBuyPower, but Alienware said those who roll their own can breathe easy. This exclusive deal won’t block consumers who want to buy the chip and build their own systems.
Threadripper chips will also be available for some PC makers who decide to buy the chip on the open market and integrate them. AMD’s lock on the OEM deal means the bulk of Threadripper systems will likely be carrying the Alienware logo, though.
When you can buy it
Besides the "Nyah, nyah, you can't touch this" message, Alienware's other bombshell news is that you'll be able to buy an Area-51 Threadripper Edition as soon as July 27. Maybe, just maybe, that means consumers will be able to get their paws on the CPU at that time, too.
The bad news? If you're an Intel fan, Alienware won't say when you can buy one with an Intel Core i9 chip inside. Intel is starting a gradual release of Core i9 next week, so it's a mystery or something of a burn that a major gaming PC vendor won't be carrying it immediately.
Alienware hasn't put a price on either version yet, but the configurations look mean enough.
A 12-core Threadripper is confirmed
The Area-51 Threadripper Edition will come factory overclocked across all cores the company said and with up to 1TB M.2 SSDs and 64GB of DDR4/2933. CPU options include the topdog 16-core Threadripper chip with options for GeForce GTX 1080 ti cards in single or SLI configuration or Radeon RX 480 GPUs in single, dual and three-way Crossfire. PSU options include 850 watt and 1,500 watt power supplies.
CPU options include the 16-core version of Threadripper and, in the first confirmation of a lower-end chip, Alienware says it will also offer a 12-core Threadripper.
The Area-51 PC with Core i9 chips will offer the same GPU and PSU configuration as the Threadripper Edition, but the CPUs will obviously differ.
Alienware will offer the 6-core Core i7-7800X, the 8-core Core i9-7820X and the 10-core Core i9-7900X. If you're wondering why there are no options for 12-, 14-, 16-, and 18-core Core i9 chips, it's because they won't be out until later this year.
Do you need it?
Of course, the bigger question is whether the regular gamer even needs such an over-the-top CPU. Alienware officials say some certainly can justify it.
“We believe that there is absolutely a need,” said Alienware’s Chris Sutphen. “We’re looking into capabilities to be able to run virtual desktops and actually do two VR instances on the same system. We know these [AMD and Intel] CPUs will deliver amazing gaming advantage.”
Those who do live-streaming while gaming plus additional encoding can also benefit from CPUs with a lot more cores, Sutphen said. But he admitted it's a little bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario from a pure gaming perspective, because game makers can't make money developing for niche platforms.
Alienware general manager Frank Azor was a little more blunt. Some game streamers who run multiple PCs, Azor said, could consolidate them with a Threadripper Edition Area 51. “Nobody needs a 16-core desktop or a 12-core desktop (for gaming). This is not about need,” Azor said. “The main appeal right now from a high core-count platform is going to be for those folks who use multiple computers today to do this.”
Azor is likely correct. A 16-core Threadripper system is more about wanting more than about needing more, for most gamers.