Making The AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X Run Even Faster - By Loading Up Intel's Clear Linux

Written by Michael Larabel in Operating Systems on 11 February 2020 at 05:00 PM EST. Page 1 of 9. 29 Comments.

One of the interesting takeaways from my pre-launch briefing with AMD on the Ryzen Threadripper 3990X was AMD representatives actually recommending Clear Linux for use on this 64-core / 128-thread HEDT processor and the platform to which they've found the best performance. Yet, Clear Linux is an Intel open-source project. In any case, here are benchmarks of how Clear Linux performs against other Linux distributions on the Ryzen Threadripper 3990X within the System76 Thelio Major. And, holy crap, with the Threadripper 3990X on Clear Linux I managed to build the x86_64 default Linux kernel in under 20 seconds!

The Clear Linux recommendation for the Threadripper 3990X was hardly a surprise to me given my experience with the platform, just a bit surprising AMD representatives acknowledging the Intel open-source software creation during a briefing. We've been benchmarking Clear Linux for years and were the ones to initially shine the public spotlight on its impressive performance capabilities -- that includes for AMD platforms too with numerous tests on different platforms we've performed the past few years. Just recently were our benchmarks looking at how Clear Linux offered the best performance on a $199 AMD laptop while this testing is at the opposite end of the spectrum with the 64-core $3990 USD processor.

For those that haven't looked through the documentation at or gone through our past articles looking at some of the finer aspects of this Linux distribution, among the approaches pursued by Intel's open-source engineers for obtaining leading performance are by building their packages with Link Time Optimizations (LTO) / Profile Guided Optimizations (PGO) / other compiler optimizations, patches to the Linux kernel (example here) and other areas where relevant in enhancing security and/or performance (one example would be their leading turnaround time for mitigating the JCC Erratum vulnerability but also mitigating the microcode overhead thanks to toolchain patches), the performance governor by default along with other kernel tuning, aggressive compiler flags by default, shipping AVX2/AVX512 optimized libraries that are utilized at run-time, and focusing on modern x86_64 platforms while still retaining compatibility back to Westmere era systems. Thanks to GCC Function Multi-Versioning (FMV) and other work they are able to handle some of these optimizations at run-time when catering to newer platforms. Clear Linux is also a rolling-release in that they release vetted images up to a few times per day for always ensuring the latest and greatest open-source code.

While Clear Linux is catering to Intel's latest microarchitectures, they have previously communicated a stance of not doing anything intentionally to help or hurt the AMD support. And with all of our AMD Ryzen and EPYC testing of Clear Linux going well, it's not too surprising that Clear Linux would still deliver on optimal performance for the Ryzen Threadripper 3990X.

The System76 Thelio Major with 3990X was used as the basis for testing with 4 x 32GB DDR4-3000 memory, dual Radeon RX 5700 XT graphics cards, and a Gigabyte-rebranded-System76 motherboard. The operating systems we freshly tested on this System76 Thelio high-end workstation were:

- CentOS 8
- Clear Linux 32880
- Debian 10.3
- Fedora Workstation 31
- Manjaro Linux 18.1.5
- openSUSE Tumbleweed
- Pop_OS! 19.10
- Ubuntu 18.04.3 LTS

AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X Linux Performance Benchmarks

All the Linux distributions were tested out-of-the-box on the Threadripper 3990X system. Following this testing we'll be moving on to some Windows vs. Linux metrics. On these distributions, 50 benchmarks were carried out in a fully-automated and standardized manner using the Phoronix Test Suite benchmarking software.

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