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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  • KOneJ - Sunday, January 27, 2019 - link

    Bingo. Reply
  • Spunjji - Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - link

    Truly magnificent. Reply
  • KateH - Saturday, January 26, 2019 - link

    but please, if OP is interested in taking a whack at "articulating" i'd love to see what that looks like and how my translation fared Reply
  • Midwayman - Friday, January 25, 2019 - link

    Interesing. So Basically no real possibility for desktop improvement until 2020 at least. They really are giving AMD a huge window to take the performance crown. Zen 2 is due to ship this year, right? Reply
  • BigMamaInHouse - Friday, January 25, 2019 - link

    And dont forget- there are many Dual/Quad core (lets Say from Q6600 ~SandyBridge to 7700K ) Intel PC's that gonna be upgraded finally with new Ryzen launch and those PC won't we upgraded for another 3+ Years, Reply
  • DanNeely - Sunday, January 27, 2019 - link

    The lower end of that range has been upgrading for years. The upper end has no real reason to upgrade unless they're doing something other than gaming, since current games don't benefit from the higher core counts much.

    I'm in the middle with a 4790K; and still see myself on track for a nominal 2022 upgrade; short of games growing CPU demands significantly or unexpected hardware failures I don't see any need to bring it forward. The additional cores will be nice for future proofing; but what I'm mostly looking forward to is all the stuff outside the CPU.

    My notional want list is 10GB ethernet, PCIe4(5?) to the GPU and SSD, 50/50 USB 3.x A/C mix, and DDR5. The first of these is starting to show up on halo priced mobos.

    PCIe4 is rumored to be launching this year on AMD, although from the leaks so far it's not clear if it'll only reach the first x16 slot for the GPU or be more widely available (maximum trace lengths are short enough that anything other than M.2 on a not-dimm will probably need signal boosters increasing costs).

    Dual USB-C is starting to show up on a few boards; but widerspread availability is likely to be blocked until the hardware to handle flipping the connector moves from a separate chip into the chipset itself.

    DDR5 is supposed to start shipping in very limited quantities this year, but will be another year or two before reaching consumer devices.

    My guess is late 2020/early 2021 before all the hardware I want is finally available; which fits well with the nominal 8y lifespan I'm targeting for my systems core components.
    Reply
  • shadowx360 - Friday, February 1, 2019 - link

    What is the point of DDR5? It's going to be beyond overpriced at launch for negligible performance gain. As for USB-C, you can find cases with front connectors. Reply
  • Gondalf - Friday, January 25, 2019 - link

    Ask to TSMC, we have not any real date of shipment. Moreover we don't know how the new SKUs will perform. Reply
  • eastcoast_pete - Saturday, January 26, 2019 - link

    I don't think TSMC would give anybody except their customer (AMD) an expected shipping date. Also, while we don't know how the new AMD processors will perform, we already know that I Intel's 10 nm tech was both late and hasn't performed so we'll. BTW, I am currently running all PCs around me on Intel chips, so no fanboy here. This disappointing 10 nm fiasco is bad for all of us, as we need Intel to egg on AMD and vice versa. If one of them drops behind, the other one gets lazy. Reply
  • eastcoast_pete - Saturday, January 26, 2019 - link

    Damn autocorrect and no edit! Reply

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