Closing Thoughts

First of all, we have to emphasize that we were only able to spend about a week on the AMD server, and about two weeks on the Intel system. With the complexity of both server hardware and especially server software, that is very little time. There is still a lot to test and tune, but the general picture is clear.

We can continue to talk about Intel's excellent mesh topology and AMD strong new Zen architecture, but at the end of the day, the "how" will not matter to infrastructure professionals. Depending on your situation, performance, performance-per-watt, and/or performance-per-dollar are what matters.

The current Intel pricing draws the first line. If performance-per-dollar matters to you, AMD's EPYC pricing is very competitive for a wide range of software applications. With the exception of database software and vectorizable HPC code, AMD's EPYC 7601 ($4200) offers slightly less or slightly better performance than Intel's Xeon 8176 ($8000+). However the real competitor is probably the Xeon 8160, which has 4 (-14%) fewer cores and slightly lower turbo clocks (-100 or -200 MHz). We expect that this CPU will likely offer 15% lower performance, and yet it still costs about $500 more ($4700) than the best EPYC. Of course, everything will depend on the final server system price, but it looks like AMD's new EPYC will put some serious performance-per-dollar pressure on the Intel line.

The Intel chip is indeed able to scale up in 8 sockets systems, but frankly that market is shrinking fast, and dual socket buyers could not care less.

Meanwhile, although we have yet to test it, AMD's single socket offering looks even more attractive. We estimate that a single EPYC 7551P would indeed outperform many of the dual Silver Xeon solutions. Overall the single-socket EPYC gives you about 8 cores more at similar clockspeeds than the 2P Intel, and AMD doesn't require explicit cross socket communication - the server board gets simpler and thus cheaper. For price conscious server buyers, this is an excellent option.

However, if your software is expensive, everything changes. In that case, you care less about the heavy price tags of the Platinum Xeons. For those scenarios, Intel's Skylake-EP Xeons deliver the highest single threaded performance (courtesy of the 3.8 GHz turbo clock), high throughput without much (hardware) tuning, and server managers get the reassurance of Intel's reliable track record. And if you use expensive HPC software, you will probably get the benefits of Intel's beefy AVX 2.0 and/or AVX-512 implementations.

The second consideration is the type of buyer. It is clear that you have to tune more and work harder to get the best performance out of AMD EPYC CPUs. In many ways it is basically a "virtual octal socket" solution. For enterprises with a small infrastructure crew and server hardware on premise, spending time on hardware tuning is not an option most of the time. For the cloud vendors, the knowledge will be available and tuning for EPYC will be a one-time investment. Microsoft is already deploying AMD's EPYC in their Azure Cloud Datacenters.

Looking Towards the Future

Looking towards the future, Intel has the better topology to add more cores in future CPU generations. However AMD's newest core is a formidable opponent. Scalar floating point operations are clearly faster on the AMD core, and integer performance is – at the same clock – on par with Intel's best. The dual CCX layout and quad die setup leave quite a bit of performance on the table, so it will be interesting how much AMD has learned from this when they launch the 7 nm "Rome" successor. Their SKU line-up is still very limited.

All in all, it must be said that AMD executed very well and delivered a new server CPU that can offer competitive performance for a lower price point in some key markets. Server customers with non-scalar sparse matrix HPC and Big Data applications should especially take notice.

As for Intel, the company has delivered a very attractive and well scaling product. But some of the technological advances in Skylake-SP are overshadowed by the heavy price tags and somewhat "over the top" market segmentation.

Energy Consumption


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  • mpbello - Friday, July 14, 2017 - link

    If you are rushing, you reduce scope and deliver fewer pieces with high quality instead of insisting on delivering a full set of benchmarks that you are not sure about its quality.
    The article came to a very strong conclusion: Intel is better for database scenarios. Whatever you do, whether you are rushing or not, you cannot state something like that if the benchmarks supporting your conclusion are not well designed.
    So I agree that the design of the DB benchmark was incredibly weak to sustain such an important conclusion that Intel is the best choice for DB applications.
  • StargateSg7 - Sunday, August 06, 2017 - link

    Maybe I'm spoiled, but to me a BIG database is something I usually deal with on a daily basis
    such as 500,000 large and small video files ranging from two megabytes to over a PETABYTE
    (1000 Terabytes) per file running on a Windows and Linux network.

    What sort of read and write speeds do we get between disk, main memory and CPU
    and when doing special FX LIVE on such files which can be 960 x 540 pixel youtube-style
    videos up to full blown 120 fps 8192 x 4320 pixel RAW 64 bits per pixel colour RGBA files
    used for editing and video post-production.

    AND I need for the smaller files, total I/O-transaction rates at around
    OVER 500,000 STREAMS of 1-to-1000 64 kilobyte unique packets
    read and written PER SECOND. Basically 500,000 different users
    simultaneously need up to one thousand 64 kilobyte packets per
    second EACH sent to and read from their devices.

    Obviously Disk speed and network comm speed is an issue here, but on
    a low-level hardware basis, how much can these new Intel and AMD chips
    handle INTERNALLY on such massive data requirements?

    I need EXABYTE-level storage management on a chip! Can EITHER
    Xeon or EPyC do this well? Which One is the winner? ... Based upon
    this report it seems multiple 4-way EPyC processors on waterblocked
    blades could be racked on a 100 gigabit (or faster) fibre backbone
    to do 500,000 simultaneous users at a level MUCH CHEAPER than
    me having to goto IBM or HP for a 30+ million dollar HPC solution!
  • PixyMisa - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - link

    It seems like a well-balanced article to me. Sure the DB performance issue is a corner case, but from a technical point of view its worth knowing.

    I'd love to see a test on a larger database (tens of GB) though.
  • philehidiot - Wednesday, July 12, 2017 - link

    It seems to me that some people should set up their own server review websites in order that they might find the unbiased balance that they so crave. They might also find a time dilation device that will allow them to perform the multitude of different workload tests they so desire. I believe this article stated quite clearly the time constraints and the limitations imposed by such constraints. This means that the benchmarks were scheduled down to the minute to get as many in as possible and therefore performing different tests based on the results of the previous benchmarks would have put the entire review dataset in jeopardy.

    It might be nice to consider just how much data has been acquired here, how it might have been done and the degree of interpretation. It might also be worth considering, if you can do a better job, setting up shop on your own and competing as obviously the standard would be so much higher.

  • JohanAnandtech - Thursday, July 13, 2017 - link

    Thank you for being reasonable. :-) Many of the benchmarks (Tinymembench, Stream, SPEC) etc. can be repeated, so people can actually check that we are unbiased. Reply
  • Shankar1962 - Monday, July 17, 2017 - link

    Don't go by the labs idiot
    Understand what real world workloads are.....understand what owning an entire rack means started foul language so you deserve the same respect from me......
  • roybotnik - Wednesday, July 12, 2017 - link

    EPYC looks extremely good here aside from the database benchmark, which isn't a useful benchmark anyways. Need to see the DB performance with 100GB+ of memory in use. Reply
  • CarlosYus - Friday, July 14, 2017 - link

    A detailed and unbiased article. I'm awaiting for more tests as testing time passes.
    3.2 Ghz is a moderate Turbo for AMD EPYC, I think AMD could push it further with a higher thermal envelope i/o 14 nm process improvement in the coming months.
  • mdw9604 - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - link

    Nice, comprehensive article. Glad to see AMD is competitive once again in the server CPU space. Reply
  • nathanddrews - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - link

    "Competitive" seems like an understatement, but yes, AMD is certainly bringing it! Reply

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