Section by Andrei Frumusanu

CPU ST Performance: SPEC 2006, SPEC 2017

SPEC2017 and SPEC2006 is a series of standardized tests used to probe the overall performance between different systems, different architectures, different microarchitectures, and setups. The code has to be compiled, and then the results can be submitted to an online database for comparison. It covers a range of integer and floating point workloads, and can be very optimized for each CPU, so it is important to check how the benchmarks are being compiled and run.

We run the tests in a harness built through Windows Subsystem for Linux, developed by our own Andrei Frumusanu. WSL has some odd quirks, with one test not running due to a WSL fixed stack size, but for like-for-like testing is good enough. SPEC2006 is deprecated in favor of 2017, but remains an interesting comparison point in our data. Because our scores aren’t official submissions, as per SPEC guidelines we have to declare them as internal estimates from our part.

For compilers, we use LLVM both for C/C++ and Fortan tests, and for Fortran we’re using the Flang compiler. The rationale of using LLVM over GCC is better cross-platform comparisons to platforms that have only have LLVM support and future articles where we’ll investigate this aspect more. We’re not considering closed-sourced compilers such as MSVC or ICC.

clang version 10.0.0
clang version 7.0.1 (ssh://

-Ofast -fomit-frame-pointer
-mfma -mavx -mavx2

Our compiler flags are straightforward, with basic –Ofast and relevant ISA switches to allow for AVX2 instructions. We decided to build our SPEC binaries on AVX2, which puts a limit on Haswell as how old we can go before the testing will fall over. This also means we don’t have AVX512 binaries, primarily because in order to get the best performance, the AVX-512 intrinsic should be packed by a proper expert, as with our AVX-512 benchmark.

To note, the requirements for the SPEC licence state that any benchmark results from SPEC have to be labelled ‘estimated’ until they are verified on the SPEC website as a meaningful representation of the expected performance. This is most often done by the big companies and OEMs to showcase performance to customers, however is quite over the top for what we do as reviewers.

Starting off with our SPEC2006 analysis for Tiger Lake, given that we’re extremely familiar with the microarchitectural characteristics of these workloads:

SPECint2006 Speed Estimated Scores

As a note, the Tiger Lake figures published in the detailed sub-scores represent the 28W TDP configuration option of the platform, with the core mostly clocking to 4800MHz and all other aspects the device allowing for maximum speed. This allows us for a pure microarchitectural analysis.

The generational improvements of the new Sunny Cove design here is showing very much its advertised characteristics of the microarchitecture.

Starting off with high-IPC and backend execution-bound workloads such as 456.hmmer we’re seeing a near linear performance increase with clock frequency. Sunny Cove here had larger IPC improvements but the Ice Lake design was rather limited in its clock frequency, most of the time still losing out to higher-clocked Skylake designs.

This time around with the major frequency boost, the Tiger Lake chip is able to even outperform the desktop i7-10900K at 5.3GHz as long as memory doesn’t become a bottleneck.

IPC/performance-per-clock wise, things are mostly flat between generation at +-2% depending on workloads, but 473.astar does seem to like the Willow Cove architecture as we’re seeing a +10% boost. 403.gcc’s 4% IPC improvement also likely takes advantage of the larger L2 cache of the design, whilst 429.mcf’s very latency sensitive nature sees a huge 23% IPC boost thanks to the strong memory controllers of Tiger Lake.

462.libquantum doesn’t fare well at all as we’re not only seeing a 30% reduction in IPC, but absolute performance is actually outright worse than Ice Lake. This workload is bandwidth hungry. The theory is that if it has a mostly cache-resident workload footprint, then it would generally make sense to see such a perf degradation due to the L3’s overall degraded generational performance. It’s an interesting aspect we’ll also see in 470.lbm.

SPECfp2006(C/C++) Speed Estimated Scores

In the floating-point workloads, we again see the Tiger Lake chip doing extremely well, but there are some outliers. As mentioned 470.lbm is which is also extremely bandwidth hungry sees a generational degradation, which again could be L3 related, or something more specific to the memory subsystem.

There’s actually a wider IPC degradation in this set, with 482.sphinx being the only positive workload with a +2% boost, while the rest fall in a -12%, -7%, -14%, -3% and that massive -31% degradation for 470.lbm. Essentially, all workload which have stronger memory pressure characteristics.

SPEC2006 Speed Estimated Total

Overall SPEC2006 score performance for Tiger Lake is extremely good. Here we also present the 15W vs 28W configuration figures for the single-threaded workloads, which do see a jump in performance by going to the higher TDP configuration, meaning the design is thermally constrained at 15W even in ST workloads. By the way, this is a core power consumption limitation, as even small memory footprint workloads see a performance jump.

The i7-1185G7 is at the heels of the desktop i9-10900K, trailing only by a few percentage points.

Against the x86 competition, Tiger Lake leaves AMD’s Zen2-based Renoir in the dust when it comes to single-threaded performance. Comparing it against Apple’s A13, things aren’t looking so rosy as the Intel CPU barely outmatches it even though it uses several times more power, which doesn’t bode well for Intel once Apple releases its “Apple Silicon” Macbooks.

Even against Arm’s Cortex-A77 things aren’t looking rosy, as the x86 crowd just all that much ahead considering the Arm design only uses 2W.

SPECint2017 Rate-1 Estimated Scores

Moving onto the newer SPEC2017 suite, we’re seeing a quite similar story across the scaling between the platforms. Tiger Lake and its Willow Cove cores are showcasing outstanding performance as long as things are execution-bound, however do fall behind a bit to the desktop system when memory comes into play. There are two sets of results here, workloads which have high bandwidth or latency requirements, or those which have large memory footprint requirements.

523.xalancbmk_r seems to be of the latter as it’s posting a quite nice 10% IPC jump for Willow Cove while the rest generally in-between -4% regressions or +3-5% improvements.

SPECfp2017 Rate-1 Estimated Scores

In the FP suite, we mostly see again the same kind of characteristics, with performance most of the time scaling in line with the clock frequency of Tiger Lake, with a few outliers here and there in terms of IPC, such as 544.nab_r gaining +9%, or 549.fotonik3d_r regressing by 12%.

Much like in the 2006 suite, the memory bandwidth hungry 519.lbm_r sees a 23% IPC regression, also regressing its absolute performance below that of Ice Lake.

SPEC2017 Rate-1 Estimated Total

Overall, in the 2017 scores, Tiger Lake actually comes in as the leading CPU microarchitecture if you account both the integer and float-point scores together.

Although the design’s absolute performance here is exemplary, I feel a bit disappointed that in general the majority of the performance gains seen today were due to the higher clock frequencies of the new design.

IPC improvements of Willow Cove are quite mixed. In some rare workloads which can fully take advantage of the cache increases we’re seeing 9-10% improvements, but these are more of an exception rather than the rule. In other workloads we saw some quite odd performance regressions, especially in tests with high memory pressure where the design saw ~5-12% regressions. As a geometric mean across all the SPEC workloads and normalised for frequency, Tiger Lake showed 97% of the performance per clock of Ice Lake.

In a competitive landscape where AMD is set to make regular +15% generational IPC improvements and Arm now has an aggressive roadmap with yearly +30% IPC upgrades, Intel’s Willow Cove, although it does deliver great performance, seems to be a rather uninspiring microarchitecture.

Power Consumption: Comparing 15 W TGL to 15 W ICL to 15 W Renoir CPU MT Performance: SPEC 2006, SPEC 2017


View All Comments

  • blppt - Friday, September 18, 2020 - link

    Yeah, we can extrapolate such things if power consumption and heat dissipation are of no relevance to AMD. You're leaving out other factors that go into building a top line GPU. Reply
  • AnarchoPrimitiv - Saturday, September 26, 2020 - link

    Power? It will certainly be better than Ampere which is awful at efficiency... Are you forgetting that RDNA2 will be on an improved 7nm node, meaning a better 7nm node that RDNA2? Reply
  • Spunjji - Friday, September 18, 2020 - link

    Big Navi probably won't clock that high for TDP reasons, but the people who are buying that it's only going to have 2080Ti performance are in for a rude surprise. It should compete solidly with the 3080, and I'm betting at a lower TDP. We'll see. Reply
  • blppt - Saturday, September 19, 2020 - link

    Its been AMD's modus operandi for a long time now. Introduce new card, and either because of inferior tech (occasionally) or drivers (mostly), it usually ends up matching Nvidia's last gen flagship. Although also at a lower price.

    Considering the leaked benches we've already seen, Big Navi appears to be more of the same. Around 2080Ti performance, probably at a much lower price, though.
  • Spunjji - Saturday, September 19, 2020 - link

    @blppt - not sure if you're shilling or credulous, but there's no indication that those leaked benchmarks are "Big Navi". Based on the probable specs vs. the known performance of the 3080, it's extremely unlikely that it will significantly underperform the 3080. It's entirely possible that it will perform similarly at lower power levels. They're also specifically holding back the launch to work on software.

    In other words: assuming AMD will keep doing the same thing over and over when they already stopped doing that (see: RDNA, Zen 2, Renoir) is not a solid bet.

    But none of this is relevant here. It's amazing how far shills will go to poison the well in off-topic posts.
  • blppt - Sunday, September 20, 2020 - link

    Considering that the 2080ti itself doesn't "significantly underperform the 3080", Big Navi being in line with the 2080ti doesn't qualify it as getting pummeled by the 3080. Reply
  • blppt - Sunday, September 20, 2020 - link

    Oh, and BTW, I am not a shill for Nvidia. I've owned many AMD cards and cpus over the years, and they have been this way for a while. I keep wishing they'll release a true high end card, but they always end up matching Nvidia's previous gen flagship.

    Witness the disappointing 5700XT in my machine at the moment. Due to AMD's lesser driver team, it often is less consistent in games then my now ancient 1080ti. Even in its ideal situation with well optimized drivers in a game that favors AMD cards, it just barely outperforms that old 1080ti. Most of the time its around 1080 performance.

    Actually, YOU are the shill for AMD if you keep denying this is the way they have been for a while.

    "In other words: assuming AMD will keep doing the same thing over and over when they already stopped doing that (see: RDNA, Zen 2, Renoir) is not a solid bet."

    Except---they STILL don't hit the top of the charts in games on their CPUs. Zen/Zen 2 is a massive improvement, and dominates Intel in anything highly multi-core optimized, but that almost always never applies to games.

    So, going to a Zen comparison for what you think Big Navi will do is not a particularly good analogy.
  • Spunjji - Sunday, September 20, 2020 - link

    @blppt - "I'm not the shill, you're the shill, I totally own this product, let me whine about how disappointing it is though, even though performance characteristics were clear from the leaks and it still outperformed them. I bought it to replace a far more expensive card that it doesn't outperform". Okay buddy, sure. Whatever you say. 🙄

    I didn't say it would take the performance lead. Going for a Zen comparison is exactly what I meant and I stand by it. We will see, until benchmarks come out it's all just talk anyway - just some of it's more obvious nonsense than the rest...
  • blppt - Sunday, September 20, 2020 - link


    That was the dumbest counter argument I've ever heard.

    First off, I didn't buy it to 'replace' anything. The 1080ti is in one of my other boxes. Where did you get 'replace' from? The 5700XT was to complete an all-AMD rig consisting of a 3900X and and AMD video card.

    Secondly, the 1080ti is now almost 4 freaking years old. You bet your rear end I'd expect it to outperform a top end card from almost 4 years ago, when it is currently STILL the best gpu AMD offers.

    And finally, I have over 20 years experience with both AMD cpus and gpus in various builds of mine, so don't give me that "bought one AMD product and decided they stink" B.S.

    I've been on both sides of the aisle. Don't try and tell me i'm a shill for Nvidia. I've spent way too much time and money around AMD systems for that to be true.
  • AnarchoPrimitiv - Saturday, September 26, 2020 - link

    You're a liar, I'm so sick of Nvidia fans lying about owning AMD cards Reply

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