Conclusion

First of all, Intel's benchmarks lend further support to what we already suspected: Intel's Scalable Xeon is better at serving databases for a number of reasons: better data locality (fewer NUMA nodes), better single-threaded performance, and a more "useable" cache. The claim that Intel offers much more predictable database performance seems very reasonable to us: the EPYC platform is much younger and much more complex to tune as it is a "virtual 8 socket" system.

Secondly it is true that the Intel Scalable Xeon is more versatile: the past 5 years AMD's presence in the server market was neglible, while Intel has been steadily adding virtualization features (posted interrupts), I/O features and more (TSX for example). Many of these features are now supported by the hypervisor and OSes out there.

The EPYC platform has some catching up to do. Firmware updates and other software updates were necessary to run a hypervisor, and only relatively recent versions of the Linux kernel (February 2017 w/4.10+) have support for the EPYC processor. So even if we doubt that the 8160 can really deliver 37% better performance than the AMD EPYC in the real world, there is no denying that the Intel Xeon is a "safer bet" for VMware virtualization.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to see that Intel admits that there are quite a few use cases out there where AMD has an advantage. The AMD EPYC has a performance per dollar advantage in webserving and Java servers, for example.

Otherwise, there is some merit to the claim that AVX-512 allows Intel to offer excellent HPC performance without the use of a GPU in compute intensive applications. At the same time, if you are after the best performance on these very parallel workloads, a GPU almost always offers several times higher performance. AVX-512 can also not save Intel in several bandwidth-intensive benchmarks such, as in fluid dynamics.


Intel Xeon-SP CPUs (Left: with Omni-Path)

One interesting element to the whole scenario is that at no point does Intel ever approach the performance per watt angle in these discussions. It leaves a big question unanswered from Intel - perhaps we should invoke Hanlon's Razor at this point and call it a missed opportunity, rather than suggest that Intel does not want to speak about power. Our own results showed a win for AMD's EPYC here though, when comparing two 145W Xeon 8176 parts to two 180W EPYC 7601 parts. More testing on specific workloads is needed.

In summary, Intel makes several good points, even when those points aren't always in their own favor. The company clearly has an interest in ensuring that the Xeon's performance leadership remains well-known in light of AMD's EPYC-fueled resurgence, and while there's nothing altruistic about Intel's benchmarking, they are working from a sound position. Still, in defending their position – and by extension their high margins – Intel does highlight the Xeon's biggest weakness versus the EPYC in this newly competitive market: the Skylake Xeon can offer excellent performance, but that performance comes with an equally heavy price tag.

HPC Benchmarks
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  • Ashari - Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - link

    LOL, "GloFo 16nm"... tsts, one would think people like Johan De Gelas and Ian Cutress would know which node is GloFo and which one is TSMC Reply
  • Ian Cutress - Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - link

    That's my brain fart. I've been writing about other things recently. Edited. Reply
  • peevee - Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - link

    "The benchmarking scenario also has a big question mark, as in the footnotes to the slides Intel achieved this victory by placing 58 VMs on the Xeon 8160 setup versus 42 VMs on the EPYC 7601 setup."

    Given how well AMDs SMT scales, a real client can put up to 128 single-CPU VMs on the EPIC 7601, and 58 VMs on Xeon 8160 would be tramped ridiculously.
    Here Intel just had to rely on the shenanigans so obvious it is just fraud.
    Reply
  • LordOfTheBoired - Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - link

    Yeah, that really stuck out for me too. "We outperform AMD when running a different benchmark!"
    And to be frank, it casts a pall over Intel's entire PR release since it IS blatantly not how benchmarks work.
    Reply
  • Andresen - Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - link

    Many HPC task are memory bandwidth limited, and then AVX-512 is of little help. In Spec.org CFP2006 none of the recent results are using AVX-512 but instead rely on AVX2. The few tests posted using AVX-512 come out worse than the tests on similar systems using AVX2. For memory bandwidth limited tasks the EPYC has an advantage with its 8 memory channels compared to Intels 6 channels. For both architectures, a high end processor is not needed for bandwidth limited task, since the don't offer more memory channels. Reply
  • Johan Steyn - Monday, December 18, 2017 - link

    AVX also heats up the CPU a lot and it has to throttle down. With AVX, Intel cannot run high clock speesds. Reply
  • ddriver - Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - link

    Just when you think AT cannot possibly sink any lower, they now directly publish publish intel benchmarks of a competing product. Reply
  • Coldfriction - Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - link

    I myself was confused and dissapointed reading the summary where agreement with Intel seems to be presented by the authors. Using prases like "there is no denying that the Intel Xeon is a 'safer bet' for VMware virtualization" without testing it pushes AT into the realm of paid for shills. Independent reviews wouldn't trust anyone's marketing and even if they were to publish an article on benchmarks from a competitor, they would fill the thing with hefty amounts of skepticism until they could test it themselves. What Intel presents could very realistically be true (personally, I don't doubt that their benchmarks are within the ballpark of being legit), but I want my independent review sites to have as little bias as possible and that means objectively testing the hardware and ignoring the marketing. Reply
  • wumpus - Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - link

    These type of servers are rarely bought by customers for personal use. Instead, they are bought for a 'real job' where CYA decisions outweigh any performance benefits (to a degree, the end product has to work). If something really goes wrong, you can always expect to get the blame for buying the "off brand" instead of following the sheep, regardless of what really caused the failure (typically with highly annoyed management who can't tell *anything* about the server than it is the "off brand").

    If this isn't a consideration you have a "great job". Expect the owner to sell at some point or expand to the point it is controlled by MBAs and downgrade everybody's job to a "real job'. Sorry to say, but at least in the USA that is life.
    Reply
  • Johan Steyn - Monday, December 18, 2017 - link

    People sometimes really surprise me. What support doe you want from AMD? Yes if there is a booboo like Intel has (present tense) with its security flaw, you need support from them. I have sold numerous systems and servers in my life and never did I go to AMD or Intel to ask for support. It either the OEM, component supplier or component manufacturer (like motherboards etc) who you go to for support.

    If the CPU works as it should, you do not need support. CPU's were in my experience the one component that rarely if ever dies on you. So if you trust Tyan to make good products, which they do, they are the ones to give you support, not AMD. AMD has to help with Bioses etc. with which they are very good.

    So please stop with this support issue and safer bet. If the system runs unstable because of hardware issues, sure they have to sort it out, but till now, none has been reported.

    What has Intel done about the bug recently found? Did they come to you to fix it and support you? Nope, you have to fix it yourself, that is if the motherboard manufacturer has a bios update. So, for me it looks like AMD might just be the safer bet after all...
    Reply

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