"It looks the same on the powerpoint slide, but they are very different". The place is Austin, where an AMD engineer is commenting on the slides describing the Zen and Skylake schematics. In Portland, the Intel representatives could not agree more: "the implementation matters and is completely different". "We have to educate our customers that they can not simply compare AMD's 32 core with our 28 cores".

This morning kicks off a very interesting time in the world of server-grade CPUs. Officially launching today is Intel's latest generation of Xeon processors, based on the "Skylake-SP" architecture. The heart of Intel's new Xeon Scalable Processor family, the "Purley" 100-series processors incorporate all of Intel's latest CPU and network fabric technology, not to mention a very large number of cores.

Meanwhile, a couple of weeks back AMD soft-launched their new EPYC 7000 series processors. Based on the company's Zen architecture and scaled up to server-grade I/O and core counts, EPYC represents an epic achievement for AMD, once again putting them into the running for competitive, high performance server CPUs after nearly half a decade gone. EPYC processors have begun shipping, and just in time for today's Xeon launch, we also have EPYC hardware in the lab to test.

Today's launch is a situation that neither company has been in for quite a while. Intel hasn't had serious competition in years, and AMD has't been able to compete. As a result, both companies are taking the other's actions very seriously.

In fact we could go on for much longer than our quip above in describing the rising tension at the headquarters of AMD and Intel. For the first time in 6 years (!), a credible alternative is available for the newly launched Xeon. Indeed, the new Xeon "Skylake-SP" is launching today, and the yardstick for it is not the previous Xeon (E5 version 4), but rather AMD's spanking new EPYC server CPU. Both CPUs are without a doubt very different: micro architecture, ISA extentions, memory subsystem, node topology... you name it. The end result is that once again we have the thrilling task of finding out how the processors compare and which applications their various trade-offs make sense.

The only similarity is that both server packages are huge. Above you see the two new Xeon packages –with and without an Omni-Path connector – both of which are as big as a keycard. And below you can see how one EPYC CPU fills the hand of AMD's CEO Dr. Lisa Su. 

Both are 64 bit x86 CPUs, but that is where the similarities end. For those of you who have been reading Ian's articles closely, this is no surprise. The consumer-focused Skylake-X is the little brother of the newly launched Xeon "Purley", both of which are cut from the same cloth that is the Skylake-SP family. In a nutshell, the Skylake-SP family introduces the following new features: 

  1. AVX-512 (Many different variants of the ISA extension are available)
  2. A 1 MB (instead of a 256 KB) L2-cache with a non-inclusive L3
  3. A mesh topology to connected the cores and L3-cache chunks together

Meanwhile AMD's latest EPYC Server CPU was launched a few weeks ago:

On the package are four silicon dies, each one containing the same 8-core silicon we saw in the AMD Ryzen processors. Each silicon die has two core complexes, each of four cores, and supports two memory channels, giving a total maximum of 32 cores and 8 memory channels on an EPYC processor. The dies are connected by AMD’s newest interconnect, the Infinity Fabric...

In the next pages, we will be discussing the impact of these architectural choices on server software. 

AMD's EPYC Server CPU
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  • tamalero - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - link

    How is that different if AMD ran stuff that is extremely optimized for them? Reply
  • Friendly0Fire - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - link

    That's kinda the point? You want to benchmark the CPUs in optimal scenarios, since that's what you'd be looking at in practice. If one CPU's weakness is eliminated by using a more recent/tweaked compiler, then it's not a weakness. Reply
  • coder543 - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - link

    Rather, you want to test under practical scenarios. Very few people are going to be running 17.04 on production grade servers, they will run an LTS release, which in this case is 16.04.

    It would be good to have benchmarks from 17.04 as another point of comparison, but given how many things they didn't have time to do just using 16.04, I can understand why they didn't use 17.04.
    Reply
  • Santoval - Wednesday, July 12, 2017 - link

    A compromise can be found by upgrading Ubuntu 16.04's outdated kernel. Ubuntu LTS releases include support for rolling HWE Stacks, which is a simple meta package for installing newer kernels compiled, modified, tested and packaged by the Ubuntu Kernel Team, and installed directly from the official Ubuntu repositories (not via a Launchpad PPA). With HWE 16.04 LTS can install up to the kernel of 18.04 LTS.

    I also use 16.04 LTS + HWE (it just requires installing the linux-generic-hwe-16.04 package), which currently provides the 4.8 kernel. There is even a "beta" version of HWE (the same package plus an -edge at the end) for installing the 4.10 kernel (aka the kernel of 17.04) earlier, which will normally be released next month.

    I just spotted various 4.10 kernel listings after checking in Synaptic, so they must have been added very recently. After that there are two more scheduled kernel upgrades, as is shown in the following link. Of course HWE upgrades solely the kernel, it does not upgrade any application or any of the user level parts to a more recent version of Ubuntu.
    https://wiki.ubuntu.com/Kernel/RollingLTSEnablemen...
    Reply
  • CajunArson - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - link

    Considering the similarities between RyZen and Haswell (that aren't coincidental at all) you are already seeing a highly optimized set of RyZen results.

    But I have no problem seeing RyZen be tested with the newest distros, the only difference being that even Ubuntu 16.04 already has most of the optimizations for RyZen baked in.
    Reply
  • coder543 - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - link

    What similarities? They're extremely different architectures. I can't think of any obvious similarities. Between the CCX model, caches being totally different layouts, the infinity fabric, Intel having better AVX-256/512 stuff (IIRC), etc.

    I don't think 16.04 is naturally any more optimized for Ryzen than it is for Skylake-SP.
    Reply
  • CajunArson - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - link

    Oh please, at the core level RyZen is a blatant copy-n-paste of Haswell with the only exception being they just omitted half the AVX hardware to make their lives easier.

    It's so obvious that if you followed any of the developer threads for people optimizing for RyZen they say to just use the Haswell compiler optimizations that actually work better than the official RyZen optimization flags.
    Reply
  • ddriver - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - link

    Can't tell if this post is funny or sad. Reply
  • CajunArson - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - link

    It's neither: It's accurate.

    Don't believe me? Look at the differences in performance of the holy 1800X over multiple Linux distros ranging from pretty new (OpenSuse Tumbleweed) to pretty old (Fedora 23 from 2015): http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=article&...

    Nowhere near the variation that we see with Skylake X since Haswell was already a solved problem long before RyZen lauched.
    Reply
  • coder543 - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - link

    Right, of course. Ryzen is a copy-and-paste of Haswell.

    Don't make me laugh.
    Reply

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