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.

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  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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: http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=article&...

    Considering that Purley is just an upscaled version of the i9 7900X, I wouldn't be surprised to see different results.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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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