Product Review

AMD EPYC 3rd Gen Review

April 1, 2021 • 13 min read


AMD EPYC (Milan) Review: A Powerful Server Processor with a Few Security Flaws

AMD EPYC is entering it's 3rd generation of server microprocessors with the introduction of the new Zen 3 architecture known as "Milan." AMD EPYC (pronounced epic) has been a series of microprocessors, so called because of their size and ability to fit multiple cores into a smaller unit to increase computing power, released by AMD since 2017. Currently, they are in generation three of their microprocessor architecture, called Zen. 

A while back we did a Power your projects with AMD EPYC CPUs article, but we wanted to focus on the 3rd generation review for this article. 

The most recent AMD EPYC series was announced in January of 2021, and released March 2021 using the Zen 3 architecture, codenamed "Milan," following the Zen 1 architecture (Naples) and the Zen 2 architecture (Rome).

Between Naples and Rome, there was a big jump in the number of potential cores in the AMD EPYC series of microprocessors. However, the jump from Rome to Milan has the same capacity and capability for usable cores in the microprocessors.

What Are the Differences in 3rd Gen AMD EPYC?

Before we dive into our review of the AMD EPYC "Milan" (or 7003) series, let's start by looking at the differences in this upgraded microprocessor as compared to its predecessor.

Chart comparing Zen 2 and Zen 3 Changes

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This chart breaks down all of the changes between the Zen 2 and Zen 3 series. 

While the number of potential cores remains the same, everything else has been fully optimized. So much so, in fact, that the Zen 3 architecture has a 19% increase in IPC (instructions per clock), which means it can perform more tasks at an even faster rate than the Zen 2 models. 

A 19% increase may not seem like a lot, but spread out over time those improvements stack up to be enormous computational differences. When we talk about the AMD EPYC "Milan," we are talking about an absolute powerhouse solution for your server and CPU needs.

AMD EPYC CPU Capabilities

AMD EPYC specs

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While the AMD EPYC series positions itself as a server solution, it can also be used as a highly functional CPU in its own right.

What to Look for in a CPU

When it comes to researching what to look for in a formidable CPU, you want to take into account these three things:

  • Cores
  • Frequency
  • Thermal Design

The higher the number of cores, the more computational power you have. With the AMD EPYC CPU offering up to a total of 64 cores, there is no need to be concerned with using it as your primary CPU.

When it comes to frequency, the AMD EPYC CPU comes with options from 2.0GHz up to 4.0GHz. So whether you are looking for a CPU for your average day working from home, small business needs, or high-end gaming, this CPU has you covered.

One last factor to consider for the AMD EYPC CPU is to take a look at its thermal design. The AMD EPYC CPU has a range of 180-280W for its thermal design power, so you will want to keep this in mind and ensure you have appropriate cooling systems installed for ideal performance. 

These three factors make the AMD EPYC CPU a formidable, adaptable, and affordable CPU for whatever needs you require. If you are looking for a CPU to be a catch-all for any projects you might be working on or interested in, then the AMD EPYC will be a great choice that will stand the test of time.

AMD EPYC Server Capabilities

AMD EPYC announcement from CEO Lisa Su

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AMD EPYC is built for servers.

Where the AMD EPYC really shines, and what it was designed for, lies in its capabilities as a server.

The critical functions and considerations of a server are different from those of a CPU, but many of the things that make the AMD EPYC a top-tier CPU also make the AMD EPYC server solution the best in its industry.

What to look for in a CPU Server

For a server solution, there are a few primary factors to consider:

  • Cores
  • Thermal Design
  • Threading

As we have mentioned before, the appropriate cores and the volume of cores can drastically affect the performance of any CPU or server solution. With the improvements made between Zen 2 and Zen 3, the 64 cores available for the AMD EPYC makes it a perfect choice for server solutions. However, the type and number of cores is only a small part of this consideration, as we will discuss in a moment.

Thermal Design Power is another important factor for server solutions comparing other traditional PC CPUs for the average consumer. The AMD EPYC server solution falls within a TDP range that is within standard parameters for a server solution with a max range of 280W. Depending on the specific model you choose, you can find a lower TDP that fits your requirements. However, in terms of the trade-off between TDP and raw computing power, there is very little competition when it comes to the AMD EPYC server solution.

Lastly, and most importantly, you need to consider threading capabilities for a server. This is what we mentioned before as being a primary consideration alongside the type and number of cores in a server solution. While the number of cores decides how many threads the unit can process at a time, the threading capabilities determine how quickly the unit can process the data in those threads. 

For a server solution, you need to have hyper-threading capabilities. The AMD EPYC server capabilities include simultaneous multi-threading (SMT), a type of hyperthreading specific to the AMD ecosystem. While the differences between hyper-threading and SMT are significant, there is too much to say in this article aside from the fact that SMT is comparable or, arguably, better than hyper-threading.

The AMD EPYC server solution goes above and beyond many of the expectations of many server solutions and comes out as one of the top dogs in both the CPU and server solutions spaces in the industry.

AMD EPYC Security Flaw

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AMD EPYC has been discovered to contain security vulnerabilities. 

We can’t talk about AMD EPYC without talking about the security flaws discovered in March of 2021. 

The AMD EPYC security flaw as it is now being called, contains vulnerabilities to two threat types called Fallout and Masterkey. These threat types can segregate virtual machines, access protected data and credentials, disable security features, and install and run malware on start up through the computer’s BIOS.

However, the AMD EPYC security flaw is not specific to the AMD EPYC. In fact, there were 13 different security flaws leading to vulnerabilities in multiple ecosystems, including the main competitors. 

While it is important to recognize the risks of any purchase, it is also important to realize that not every unit is perfect. 

AMD is Releasing Security Patches

AMD has currently stated that they are working on patches to be rolled out over the next couple of months to correct these vulnerabilities across the affected ecosystems. 

Diving deeper into the AMD EPYC security flaw reveals that all of these vulnerabilities can only be taken advantage of by a local machine with full admin privileges. The simple fix here would be to make sure only trusted individuals have access to the AMD EPYC system along with admin privileges.

While there is risk with these AMD EPYC security flaws they are also easily preventable and are expected to have patches sent to current and future devices within the near future.

So the security flaw is not something that should prevent you from using the AMD EPYC in your server configurations. 

AMD EPYC vs AMD Ryzen Threadripper

AMD Threadripper Pro shell and insides

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AMD EPYC vs AMD Ryzen Threadripper

With all of this in mind, it is time to do a side-by-side comparison review of the AMD EPYC Zen 3 “Milan” and its direct opposition in the form of the AMD Ryzen Threadripper.

3 Comparison Areas for AMD EPYC vs AMD Ryzen Threadripper

For this comparison review, we will run down a list of the three most important factors when looking for a server solution, just like we mentioned above:

  • Cores
  • Thermal Design Power
  • Threading

AMD EPYC vs Threadripper Cores

exposed CPU core

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For starters, we already know the AMD EPYC has 64 cores. However, to go even deeper, the AMD EPYC Zen 3 actually has three subcategories for this series that focus on either core performance, core density, or balanced and optimized models.

The core performance models focus on higher frequency and larger cache/restore ratios to optimize every single available core to their maximum potential. These models excel at running large computations rather than more computations.

The core density models focus on having a high number of cores and optimized threading processes to take advantage of strength in numbers. These models will perform best with running heavy workloads of shorter computations and will run a little bit hotter and require a little bit more power.

The balanced and optimized models focus on being a happy medium between the two. When in doubt, these models are going to be the best choice for just about anything and everything aside from some rare instances when you are going to be running larger and more complex computations or heavy workloads of shorter computations.

The Winner for Server Cores

The clear winner here is AMD EPYC, but the Threadripper has better performance when used for gaming. The Threadripper also has 64 cores and a similar spread in terms of different types of models. The main benefit presented by the Threadripper lies in its ability to serve as a great CPU for gaming. For a server solution, though, the AMD EPYC is a better choice with its capabilities for core specialization.

AMD EPYC vs Threadripper Thermal Design Power

Computer cooling system

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Thermal Design Power is a consideration that, at first glance, would seem not dreadfully important to the decision making process between these two powerhouses. However, if you are concerned about power draining and temperature control, then there is an obvious choice.

The AMD EPYC has models ranging from 180W-280W TDP while the Threadripper has a majority of models with 280W TDP. The Threadripper inevitably uses more power than the AMD EPYC and requires more temperature control than the AMD  EPYC.

The Winner for Thermal Design Power

Having a CPU that pulls less power and requires fewer cooling systems is a big factor when you are building your own home desktop or building out a server solution system. When it comes to TDP, there is no contest that the AMD EPYC is a better fit.

AMD EPYC vs Threadripper Threading

multithreading Python logo

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Here is where things get a little more complicated. In terms of pure, unaltered threading capabilities, the AMD EPYC and Threadripper are in a dead heat with 128 threads for potential and access to Level 3 caches – effectively putting them at 256 threads at the highest levels.

The Winner for Threading

Without getting too deep into differing potentials between hyper-threading and simultaneous multithreading, both the AMD EPYC and the Threadripper can fulfill your server solution needs. As we already mentioned, though, the AMD EPYC provides a larger selection of models that will help you get exactly what you are looking for while providing the same raw processing power as the Threadripper.

Is the AMD EPYC Worth Buying?

For our closing thoughts, we think the AMD EPYC is the best overall choice for a CPU server solution because of the variety of models to fit your exact needs without breaking the bank.

Compared to other CPUs like the Threadripper, AMD EPYC is cheaper, and will fit all your needs while staying within your budget. 

View some of our AMD EPYC Workstation options. 

Get More Helpful Insights in Our Other Articles

What do you think? Does the AMD EPYC have you excited for all the potential computing power and possibilities you can create for your server? It sure has us excited!

You can find other articles and comparisons about CPU and server solution needs on the SabrePC blog. Keep a lookout for more helpful articles that will be on the way soon. If you have any questions or want to suggest some other topics for us to focus on, please feel free to contact us.



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