Perhaps somewhere in a parallel universe, AMD does not have a Ryzen Threadripper line, leaving Intel all by itself in the high end desktop (HEDT) market. And that could have been the case in the universe we live in, had it not been for a group of AMD engineers who worked on what would become Threadripper in their spare time.
The story behind Threadripper is a rather unique and interesting one, as uncovered by Forbes in a series of interviews with AMD employees involved with Ryzen.
"It’s not really a story of roadmaps and long-term planning or huge R&D budgets—it’s a lot more personal than that and stemmed from a skunkworks project and a small group of AMD employees who had a vision of a processor they’d really want in terms of a high-performance PC," Sarah Youngbauer from AMD's communications team told Forbes.
"They worked on it in their spare time and it was really a passion project for about a year before they sought the green light from management, which is quite unusual— it was something they really cared about," Youngbauer added.
Youngbauer credits the group's early efforts for Threadripper ultimately becoming a reality several years later. Otherwise, there might not be a Threadripper, she says.
James Prior, who is also a member of AMD's communications team, elaborated on Threadripper's development by telling Forbes he and others noticed a gap between Ryzen, AMD's consumer desktop processors, and Epyc, the company's server-oriented silicon.
"To get to this product, which sounded great to us as enthusiasts, we found we’d only have to change a few details. So we put together this skunkworks team where we had platform architects, people that deal with core design, business unit, marketing team, to work out how to use what’s already here and to go to the boss—Jim Anderson and say we’d like to do this. This was all happening in 2015," Prior said.
A little bit of luck played a role in Threadripper's development, too. According to Prior, there was a cardinal rule at AMD to not go against the grain, so the 20 or 30 people working on Threadripper continued to do so in their spare time. The turning point was when Anderson came on board from Intel.
"We found out he was an actual CPU enthusiast, this was perfect for taking the project forward," Prior recalls. "My boss was sharing a taxi with Jim on the way to Computex 2016 and mentioned Threadripper to him then. He loved it, gave it the green light and found a way to get it on the roadmap."
Threadripper's conception is an interesting story with more details and interviews with other AMD players involved on the project. It is worth a read if you have a few spare minutes.