Our Testing Suite for 2018 and 2019

Spectre and Meltdown Hardened

In order to keep up to date with our testing, we have to update our software every so often to stay relevant. In our updates we typically implement the latest operating system, the latest patches, the latest software revisions, the newest graphics drivers, as well as add new tests or remove old ones. As regular readers will know, our CPU testing revolves an automated test suite, and depending on how the newest software works, the suite either needs to change, be updated, have tests removed, or be rewritten completely. Last time we did a full re-write, it took the best part of a month, including regression testing (testing older processors).

One of the key elements of our testing update for 2018 (and 2019) is the fact that our scripts and systems are designed to be hardened for Spectre and Meltdown. This means making sure that all of our BIOSes are updated with the latest microcode, and all the steps are in place with our operating system with updates. In this case we are using Windows 10 x64 Enterprise 1709 with April security updates which enforces Smeltdown (our combined name) mitigations. Uses might ask why we are not running Windows 10 x64 RS4, the latest major update – this is due to some new features which are giving uneven results. Rather than spend a few weeks learning to disable them, we’re going ahead with RS3 which has been widely used.

Our previous benchmark suite was split into several segments depending on how the test is usually perceived. Our new test suite follows similar lines, and we run the tests based on:

  • Power
  • Memory
  • SPEC2006 Speed
  • Office
  • System
  • Render
  • Encoding
  • Web
  • Legacy
  • Integrated Gaming
  • CPU Gaming

Depending on the focus of the review, the order of these benchmarks might change, or some left out of the main review. All of our data will reside in our benchmark database, Bench, for which there is a new ‘CPU 2019’ section for all of our new tests.

Within each section, we will have the following tests:

Power

Our power tests consist of running a substantial workload for every thread in the system, and then probing the power registers on the chip to find out details such as core power, package power, DRAM power, IO power, and per-core power. This all depends on how much information is given by the manufacturer of the chip: sometimes a lot, sometimes not at all.

We are currently running POV-Ray as our main test for Power, as it seems to hit deep into the system and is very consistent. In order to limit the number of cores for power, we use an affinity mask driven from the command line.

Memory

These tests involve disabling all turbo modes in the system, forcing it to run at base frequency, and them implementing both a memory latency checker (Intel’s Memory Latency Checker works equally well for both platforms) and AIDA64 to probe cache bandwidth.

SPEC Speed

  • All integer tests from SPEC2006
  • All the C++ floating point tests from SPEC2006

Office

  • Chromium Compile: Windows VC++ Compile of Chrome 56 (same as 2017)
  • PCMark10: Primary data will be the overview results – subtest results will be in Bench
  • 3DMark Physics: We test every physics sub-test for Bench, and report the major ones (new)
  • GeekBench4: By request (new)
  • SYSmark 2018: Recently released by BAPCo, currently automating it into our suite (new, when feasible)

System

  • Application Load: Time to load GIMP 2.10.4 (new)
  • FCAT: Time to process a 90 second ROTR 1440p recording (same as 2017)
  • 3D Particle Movement: Particle distribution test (same as 2017) – we also have AVX2 and AVX512 versions of this, which may be added later
  • Dolphin 5.0: Console emulation test (same as 2017)
  • DigiCortex: Sea Slug Brain simulation (same as 2017)
  • y-Cruncher v0.7.6: Pi calculation with optimized instruction sets for new CPUs (new)
  • Agisoft Photoscan 1.3.3: 2D image to 3D modelling tool (updated)

Render

  • Corona 1.3: Performance renderer for 3dsMax, Cinema4D (same as 2017)
  • Blender 2.79b: Render of bmw27 on CPU (updated to 2.79b)
  • LuxMark v3.1 C++ and OpenCL: Test of different rendering code paths (same as 2017)
  • POV-Ray 3.7.1: Built-in benchmark (updated)
  • CineBench R15: Older Cinema4D test, will likely remain in Bench (same as 2017)

Encoding

  • 7-zip 1805: Built-in benchmark (updated to v1805)
  • WinRAR 5.60b3: Compression test of directory with video and web files (updated to 5.60b3)
  • AES Encryption: In-memory AES performance. Slightly older test. (same as 2017)
  • Handbrake 1.1.0: Logitech C920 1080p60 input file, transcoded into three formats for streaming/storage:
    • 720p60, x264, 6000 kbps CBR, Fast, High Profile
    • 1080p60, x264, 3500 kbps CBR, Faster, Main Profile
    • 1080p60, HEVC, 3500 kbps VBR, Fast, 2-Pass Main Profile

Web

  • WebXPRT3: The latest WebXPRT test (updated)
  • WebXPRT15: Similar to 3, but slightly older. (same as 2017)
  • Speedometer2: Javascript Framework test (new)
  • Google Octane 2.0: Depreciated but popular web test (same as 2017)
  • Mozilla Kraken 1.1: Depreciated but popular web test (same as 2017)

Legacy (same as 2017)

  • 3DPM v1: Older version of 3DPM, very naïve code
  • x264 HD 3.0: Older transcode benchmark
  • Cinebench R11.5 and R10: Representative of different coding methodologies

Scale Up vs Scale Out: Benefits of Automation

One comment we get every now and again is that automation isn’t the best way of testing – there’s a higher barrier to entry, and it limits the tests that can be done. From our perspective, despite taking a little while to program properly (and get it right), automation means we can do several things:

  1. Guarantee consistent breaks between tests for cooldown to occur, rather than variable cooldown times based on ‘if I’m looking at the screen’
  2. It allows us to simultaneously test several systems at once. I currently run five systems in my office (limited by the number of 4K monitors, and space) which means we can process more hardware at the same time
  3. We can leave tests to run overnight, very useful for a deadline
  4. With a good enough script, tests can be added very easily

Our benchmark suite collates all the results and spits out data as the tests are running to a central storage platform, which I can probe mid-run to update data as it comes through. This also acts as a mental check in case any of the data might be abnormal.

We do have one major limitation, and that rests on the side of our gaming tests. We are running multiple tests through one Steam account, some of which (like GTA) are online only. As Steam only lets one system play on an account at once, our gaming script probes Steam’s own APIs to determine if we are ‘online’ or not, and to run offline tests until the account is free to be logged in on that system. Depending on the number of games we test that absolutely require online mode, it can be a bit of a bottleneck.

Benchmark Suite Updates

As always, we do take requests. It helps us understand the workloads that everyone is running and plan accordingly.

A side note on software packages: we have had requests for tests on software such as ANSYS, or other professional grade software. The downside of testing this software is licensing and scale. Most of these companies do not particularly care about us running tests, and state it’s not part of their goals. Others, like Agisoft, are more than willing to help. If you are involved in these software packages, the best way to see us benchmark them is to reach out. We have special versions of software for some of our tests, and if we can get something that works, and relevant to the audience, then we shouldn’t have too much difficulty adding it to the suite.

Frequency Analysis: Cutting Back on AVX2 vs Kaby Lake CPU Performance: Memory and Power
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  • eva02langley - Sunday, January 27, 2019 - link

    Even better...

    https://youtu.be/osSMJRyxG0k?t=1220
    Reply
  • AntonErtl - Sunday, January 27, 2019 - link

    Great Article! The title is a bit misleading given that it is much more than just a review. I found the historical perspective of the Intel processes most interesting: Other reporting often just reports on whatever comes out of the PR department of some company, and leaves the readers to compare for themselves with other reports; better reporting highlights some of the contradictions; but rarely do we se such a pervasive overview.

    The 8121U would be interesting to me to allow playing with AVX512, but the NUC is too expensive for me for that purpose, and I can wait until AMD or Intel provide it in a package with better value for money.
    Reply
  • RamIt - Sunday, January 27, 2019 - link

    Need gaming benches. This would make a great cs:s laptop for my daughter to game with me on. Reply
  • Byte - Monday, January 28, 2019 - link

    Cannonlake, 2019's Broadwell. Reply
  • f4tali - Monday, January 28, 2019 - link

    I can't believe I read this whole review from start to finish...
    And all the comments...
    And let it sink in for over 24hrs...

    But somehow my main takeaway is that 10nm is Intel's biggest graphics snafu yet.

    (Well THAT and the fact you guys only have one Steam account!)
    ;)
    Reply
  • NikosD - Monday, January 28, 2019 - link

    @Ian Cutress
    Great article, it's going to become all-time classic and kudos for mentioning semiaccurate and Charlie for his work and inside information (and guts)

    But really, how many days, weeks or even months did it take to finish it ?
    Reply
  • bfonnes - Monday, January 28, 2019 - link

    RIP Intel Reply
  • CharonPDX - Monday, January 28, 2019 - link

    Insane to think that there have been as many 14nm "generations" as there were "Core architecture" generations before 14nm. Reply
  • ngazi - Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - link

    Windows is snappy because there is no graphics switching. Any machine with the integrated graphics completely off is snappier. Reply
  • Catalina588 - Wednesday, January 30, 2019 - link

    @Ian, This was a valuable article and it is clipped to Evernote. Thanks!

    Without becoming Seeking Alpha, you could add another dimension or two to the history and future of 10nm: cost per transistor and amortizing R&D costs. At Intel's November 2013 investor meeting, William Holt strongly argued that Intel would deliver the lowest cost per transistor (slide 13). Then-CFO Stacey Smith and other execs also touted this line for many quarters. But as your article points out, poor yields and added processing steps make 10nm a more expensive product than the 14nm++ we see today. How will that get sold and can Intel improve the margins over the life of 10nm?

    Then there's amortizing the R&D costs. Intel has two independent design teams in Oregon and Israel. Each team in the good-old tick-tock days used to own a two-year process node and new microarchitecture. The costs for two teams over five-plus years without 10nm mainstream products yet is huge--likely hundreds of millions of dollars. My understanding is that Intel, under general accounting rules, has to write off the R&D expense over the useful life of the 10nm node, basically on a per chip basis. Did Intel start amortizing 10nm R&D with the "revenue" for Cannon Lake starting in 2017, or is all of the accrued R&D yet to hit the income statement? Wish I knew.

    Anyway, it sure looks to me like we'll be looking back at 10nm in the mid-2020s as a ten-year lifecycle. A big comedown from a two-year TickTock cycle.
    Reply

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