Single Threaded Integer Performance: SPEC CPU2006

Even in the server market where high core count CPUs are ruling the roost, high single threaded performance is still very desirable. It makes sure that a certain level of performance is guaranteed in every situation, not just in "throughput situations" of "embarrassingly parallel" software. 

SPEC CPU2017 has finally launched, but it did so while our testing was already under way. So SPEC CPU2006 was still our best option to evaluate single threaded performance. Even though SPEC CPU2006 is more HPC and workstation oriented, it contains a good variety of integer workloads.

It is our conviction that we should try to mimic how performance critical software is compiled instead of trying to achieve the highest scores. To that end, we:

  • use 64 bit gcc : by far the most used compiler on linux for integer workloads, good all round compiler that does not try to "break" benchmarks (libquantum...) or favor a certain architecture
  • use gcc version 5.4: standard compiler with Ubuntu 16.04 LTS. (Note that this is upgraded from 4.8.4 used in earlier articles)
  • use -Ofast -fno-strict-aliasing optimization: a good balance between performance and keeping things simple
  • added "-std=gnu89" to the portability settings to resolve the issue that some tests will not compile with gcc 5.x
  • run one copy of the test

The ultimate objective is to measure performance in non-"aggressively optimized" applications where for some reason – as is frequently the case – a "multi-thread unfriendly" task keeps us waiting. 

First the single threaded results. It is important to note that thanks to modern turbo technology, all CPUs will run at higher clock speeds than their base clock speed. 

  • The Xeon E5-2690 ("Sandy Bridge") is capable of boosting up to 3.8 GHz
  • The Xeon E5-2690 v3 ("Haswell") is capable of boosting up to 3.5GHz
  • The Xeon E5-2699 v4  ("Broadwell") is capable of boosting up to 3.6 GHz
  • The Xeon 8176 ("Skylake-SP") is capable of boosting up to 3.8 GHz
  • The EPYC 7601 ("Naples") is capable of boosting up to 3.2 GHz

First we look at the absolute numbers. 

Subtest Application type Xeon E5-2690
@ 3.8
Xeon E5-2690 v3
@ 3.5
Xeon E5-2699 v4
@ 3.6
EPYC 7601
Xeon 8176
400.perlbench Spam filter 35 41.6 43.4 31.1 50.1
401.bzip2 Compression 24.5 24.0 23.9 24.0 27.1
403.gcc Compiling 33.8 35.5 23.7 35.1 24.5
429.mcf Vehicle scheduling 43.5 42.1 44.6 40.1 43.3
445.gobmk Game AI 27.9 27.8 28.7 24.3 31.0
456.hmmer Protein seq. analyses 26.5 28.0 32.3 27.9 35.4
458.sjeng Chess 28.9 31.0 33.0 23.8 33.6
462.libquantum Quantum sim 55.5 65.0 97.3 69.2 102
464.h264ref Video encoding 50.7 53.7 58.0 50.3 67.0
471.omnetpp Network sim 23.3 31.3 44.5 23.0 40.8
473.astar Pathfinding 25.3 25.1 26.1 19.5 27.4
483.xalancbmk XML processing 41.8 46.1 64.9 35.4 67.3

As raw SPEC scores can be a bit much to deal with in a dense table, we've also broken out our scores on a percentage basis. Sandy Bridge EP (Xeon E5 v1) is about 5 years old, the servers based upon this CPU are going to get replaced by newer ones. So we've made "Single threaded Sandy Bridge-EP performance" our reference (100%) , and compare the single threaded performance of all other architectures accordingly.

Subtest Application type Xeon E5-2690
@ 3.8
Xeon E5-2690 v3
@ 3.5
Xeon E5-2699 v4 @ 3.6 EPYC 7601 @3.2 Xeon 8176 @ 3.8
400.perlbench Spam filter 100% 119% 124% 89% 143%
401.bzip2 Compression 100% 98% 98% 98% 111%
403.gcc Compiling 100% 105% 70% 104% 72%
429.mcf Vehicle scheduling 100% 97% 103% 92% 100%
445.gobmk Game AI 100% 100% 103% 87% 111%
456.hmmer Protein seq. analyses 100% 106% 122% 105% 134%
458.sjeng Chess 100% 107% 114% 82% 116%
462.libquantum Quantum sim 100% 117% 175% 125% 184%
464.h264ref Video encoding 100% 106% 114% 99% 132%
471.omnetpp Network sim 100% 134% 191% 99% 175%
473.astar Pathfinding 100% 99% 103% 77% 108%
483.xalancbmk XML processing 100% 110% 155% 85% 161%

SPEC CPU2006 analysis is complicated, and with only a few days spend on the EPYC server, we must admit that what follows is mostly educated guessing. 

First off, let's gauge the IPC efficiency of the different architectures. Considering that the EPYC core runs at 12-16% lower clockspeeds (3.2 vs 3.6/3.8 GHz), getting 90+% of the performance of the Intel architectures can be considered a "strong" (IPC) showing for the AMD "Zen" architecture. 

As for Intel's latest CPU, pay attention to the effect of the much larger L2-cache of the Skylake-SP core (Xeon 8176) compared to the previous generation "Broadwell". Especially perlbench, gobmk, hmmer and h264ref (the instruction part) benefit. 

Meanwhile with the new GCC 5.4 compiler, Intel's performance on the "403.gcc benchmark" seems to have regressed their newer rchitectures. While we previously saw the Xeon E5-2699v4 perform at 83-95% of the "Sandy Bridge" Xeon E5-2690, this has further regressed to 70%. The AMD Zen core, on the other hand, does exceptionally well when running GCC. The mix of a high percentage of (easy to predict) branches in the instruction mix, a relatively small footprint, and a heavy reliance on low latency (mostly L1/L2/8 MB L3) seems to work well. The workloads where the impact of branch prediction is higher (somewhat higher percentage of branch misses) - gobmk, sjeng, hmmer - perform quite well on "Zen" too, which has a much lower branch misprediction penalty than AMD's previous generation architecture thanks to the µop cache. 

Otherwise the pointer chasing benchmarks – XML procesing and Path finding – which need a large L3-cache, are the worst performing on EPYC. 

Also notice the fact that the low IPC omnetpp ("network sim") runs slower on Skylake-SP than on Broadwell, but still much faster than AMD's EPYC. Omnetpp is an application that benefited from the massive 55 MB L3-cache of Broadwell, and that is why performance has declined on Skylake. Of course, this also means that the fractured 8x8 MB L3 of AMD's EPYC processor causes it to perform much slower than the latest Intel server CPUs. In the video encoding benchmark "h264ref" this plays a role too, but that benchmark relies much more on DRAM bandwidth. The fact that the EPYC core has higher DRAM bandwidth available makes sure that the AMD chip does not fall too far behind the latest Intel cores. 

All in all, we think we can conclude that the single threaded performance of the "Zen architecture" is excellent, but it somewhat let down by the lower turbo clock and the "smaller" 8x8 MB L3-cache. 

Memory Subsystem: Latency SMT Integer Performance With SPEC CPU2006


View All Comments

  • ddriver - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - link

    Yeah, offering pretty much double the value is so barely competitive LOL. Reply
  • ddriver - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - link

    Gotta love the "you don't care about the xeon prices" part thou. Now that intel don't have a performance advantage, and their product value at the high end is half that of amd, AT plays the "intel is the better brand" card. So expected... Reply
  • OZRN - Wednesday, July 12, 2017 - link

    You need some perspective. Database licensing for Oracle happens per core, where Intel's performance is frequently better in a straight line and since they achieve it on lower core count it's actually better value for the use case. Higher per-CPU cost is not so much of a concern when you pay twice as much for a processor license to cover those cores.

    I'm an AMD fan and I made this account just for you, sweetheart, but don't blind yourself to the truth just because Intel has a history of shady business. In most regards this is a balanced review, and where it isn't, they tell you why it might not be. Chill out.
  • ddriver - Thursday, July 13, 2017 - link

    You are such a clown. Nobody, I repeat, NOBODY on this planet uses 64 core 128 thread 512 gigabytes of ram servers to run a few MB worth of database. You telling me to get pespective thus can mean only two things, that you are a buthurt intel fanboy troll or that you are in serious need of head examination. Or maybe even both. At any rate, that perfectly explains your ridiculously low standards for "balanced review". Reply
  • Notmyusualid - Friday, July 14, 2017 - link

    It seems no matter what opinion someone presents that might exhibit Intel in a better light - you are going to hate it anyway.

    What a life you must lead.
  • OZRN - Friday, July 14, 2017 - link

    No, they don't. They use them to host gigabytes to terabytes worth of mission critical databases, with specified amounts of cores dedicated to seperate environments of hard partitioned data manipulation. I've done some quick math for you and in an average setup of Enterprise Edition of Oracle DB, with only the usually reported options and extras, this type of database would cost over $3.7m to run on *64 cores alone*. At this point, where is your hardware sunk costs argument?

    Also, I don't think anyone here is impressed by your ability to immediately personally insult people making valid points. Good luck finding your head that deep in your colon.
  • CajunArson - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - link

    "All of our testing was conducted on Ubuntu Server "Xenial" 16.04.2 LTS (Linux kernel 4.4.0 64 bit). The compiler that ships with this distribution is GCC 5.4.0."

    I'd recommend using a more updated distro and especially a more up to date compiler (GCC 5.4 is only a bug-fix release of a compiler from *2015*) if you want to see what these parts are truly capable of.

    Phoronix does heavy-duty Linux reviews and got some major performance boosts on the i9 7900X simply by using up to date distros:

    Considering that Purley is just an upscaled version of the i9 7900X, I wouldn't be surprised to see different results.
  • CajunArson - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - link

    As a followup to my earlier comment, that Phoronix story, for example, shows a speedup factor of almost 5X on the C-ray benchmark simply by using a modern distro with some tuning for the more modern Skylake architecture.

    I'm not saying Purley would have a 5X speedup on C-ray per-say, but I'd be shocked if it didn't get a good boost using modern software that's actually designed for the Skylake architecture.
  • CoachAub - Wednesday, July 12, 2017 - link

    Keywords: "actually designed for the Skylake architecture". Will there be optimizations for AMD Epyc chips? Reply
  • mkozakewich - Friday, July 14, 2017 - link

    If it's a reasonable optimization, it makes sense to include it in the benchmark. If I were building these systems, I'd want to see benchmarks that resembled as closely as possible my company's workflow. (Which may be for older software or newer software; neither are inherently more relevant, though benchmarks on newer software will usually be relevant further into the future.) Reply

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