AMD Threadripper CPU supply severely low, PC makers say

Some fear they'll lose workstation sales to Lenovo, AMD's exclusive launch partner for the T Pro 5000

Special report If you've been on the hunt for a pre-built workstation with AMD's Ryzen Threadripper processors, there's a chance you've noticed fewer options available and longer lead times from different PC system builders.

That's because supply for Threadripper 3000 and Threadripper Pro 3000 processors has been severely low over the past several months, according to executives at six PC builders and one IT distributor in the US who spoke to The Register.

A few said supply was at an all-time low in the history of Threadripper, which AMD introduced in 2017 as high-performance processors that have largely outperformed Intel's competing parts for heavy-duty applications like video editing over the past few years.

The complicating factor for these system builders — which includes long-running and well-known boutique system builders featured on AMD's website, such as Maingear, Velocity Micro, and Puget Systems — is that they don't yet have access to the newly launched Threadripper Pro 5000 parts.

The reason? AMD launched the new Threadripper Pro 5000 lineup in March, with Hong Kong-based PC giant Lenovo as its exclusive launch partner, and the chip designer doesn't expect other PC makers to get the parts until the second half of this year.

But even then, Lenovo's ThinkStation P620 workstations were refreshed with Threadripper Pro 5000 chips at the end of March, and its website currently shows P620 systems only with previous-generation Threadripper Pro 3000 CPUs available.

"I have been assured that the CPU supply is not the issue regarding the ThinkStation systems," a Lenovo spokesman told us.

Regardless, the situation seems to have created an imbalance in supply among workstation vendors, with some smaller companies worried they may lose out on sales to Lenovo while they wait for Threadripper Pro availability in the second half of the year.

The PC industry is trending overall towards paper launches and product announcements far ahead of general availability

"The PC industry is trending overall towards paper launches and product announcements far ahead of general availability.

"I think I can speak for everyone that we're weary of product launches that not everyone can participate in," said Jon Bach, president of Auburn, Washington-based Puget Systems.

Not a unique problem

It's important to note that the Threadripper shortage is happening amid a broader global chip shortage that has lasted roughly for the past two years, which has prompted chipmakers and governments to push for a large expansion of manufacturing plants in various regions, including the United States and Europe.

With the inability to match supply with high demand for various silicon, the broader shortage has forced chip companies to figure out how to prioritize their product lines, particularly for chip designers like AMD that don't own manufacturing operations and instead rely on contract chip manufacturers, such as TSMC, to produce their chips.

In AMD's most recent quarter, CEO Lisa Su said the chip designer has made "significant investments in wafer capacity as well as substrate capacity and back-end capacity" to improve production with the company's manufacturing partners.

"Our goal is frankly to have enough supply to satisfy the demand out there," she said during the call in early February. "Our view is we're going to continue to work with our partners and our customers to ensure that we know what they need."

Evaporated

What makes the Threadripper issue stand out to us is that these system builders said it only became a big problem in the past several months, which has them wondering what makes this period different from others during the global chip shortage.

These system builders said they value their relationship with AMD, which injected the PC industry with much-needed competition against Intel with the Ryzen and Ryzen Threadripper series five years ago, but they decided to speak up because the Threadripper shortage has slowed down business in some respects, and it has made business planning more difficult.

Randy Copeland, CEO of Richmond, Virginia-based Velocity Micro, said he has some Threadripper 3970X and Threadripper 3960X processors in his inventory, though availability for his company's biggest seller in the workstation category, the 64-core Threadripper 3990X, has "evaporated."

His company does sell some workstations with the Threadripper Pro 3000 processors that come with higher-end capabilities, such as error-correcting code memory, though Copeland said the motherboards for such CPUs are too pricey to justify for most customers and even the company itself.

With Velocity Micro making roughly half of its annual revenue from workstations, the Threadripper shortage has caused the company's sales of AMD-based systems to flatten after they had been growing month-over-month for the past two years, according to Copeland.

We put so much marketing effort behind Threadripper promotion and now that's all kind of gone to waste

"We put so much marketing effort behind Threadripper promotion over the past three years, and now that's all kind of gone to waste," he said.

Copeland said he first noticed supply getting tight for Threadripper CPUs in the calendar fourth quarter of last year.

At the time, he said AMD warned his company it would be this way for a while, which prompted Velocity Micro to stock up on whatever the company could find, but then in late January or early February, the chip designer told his company the situation was going to get even worse.

The main concern for Copeland is about Velocity Micro losing business to a much larger company — Lenovo, in this case — that seems to have better access to Threadripper supply.  

"The bottom line is I want to lose as few Threadrippers as possible to a multinational," he said.

Wallace Santos, CEO of Warren, New Jersey-based Maingear, said the Threadripper situation is so bad that it forced his company to list its four high-end workstation models, which range in price from $9,599 to $49,999, as out of stock since November of last year.

As a result, the company can only sell less-powerful and less-expensive workstations that use consumer-grade processors from Intel and AMD.

These high-end workstations carry with them high margins, and they're usually bought in big purchase orders, according to Santos, which is why the Threadripper shortage has mattered to Maingear.

"If I sell 10 systems that are 15 grand a pop to a single customer, that's a big purchase order. It's not a small purchase order for me," he said. "So imagine saying no to a [purchase order] with like 30, 40 systems. It's real money, and it's just a shame that it turned out this way."

Now, if you were to search for Threadripper parts on online retailers like NewEgg and Amazon, you may see some results pop up, so shouldn't they just buy from there? In some desperate situations, these system builders have, but the important thing to know here is that system builders need to try their best to buy components through authorized distributors above any other source because of warranties and other agreements with vendors like AMD, according to Copeland.

"We're not prohibited [from buying through retail], but it's not good for us to go out of the channel. Besides, how do you market a product when you have no idea what the online price may be?" he said.

Buying through distributors is very standard in the world of the channel, where vendors rely on partners to sell their wares. This also helps with pricing and supply forecasting, and it gives vendors like AMD better visibility so they can better support partners, Santos said.

The other concern with buying through online retailers is that listings can often come from third-party sellers, which can raise questions about whether the components are original parts, he added.

A silver lining for Maingear is that the biz makes most of its money from gaming PCs, which rely on consumer-grade processors from Intel and AMD, but that is not the case for outfits like Puget Systems, which only sells PCs for workstation purposes.

Bach, president of Puget Systems, said the Threadripper shortage has caused business to slow down a little bit, mainly due to longer lead times, but it has also prompted his business to move some customers to systems with Intel's Xeon W workstation chips.

This shifting of customers from AMD to Intel is something we heard a few times in conversations with system builder executives. One of them, who works for a company that fulfills large orders for government agencies, said his organization has started to redesign its standard workstations using Intel's high-core-count Xeon CPUs as an alternative to the professional-grade Threadripper Pro parts.

"We have strategically made a decision to not count on AMD as much," said the executive, who asked to not be identified.

An AMD spokesperson restated: "The Threadripper Pro 5000 will be available from additional partners in CY3Q22," but declined to comment on supply chain issues. ®

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