Conclusion & End Remarks

Today’s launch of the new 3rd gen Xeon Scalable processors is a major step forward for Intel and the company’s roadmap. Ice Lake SP had been baking in the oven for a very long time: originally planned for a 2020 release, Intel had only started production recently this January, so finally seeing the chips in silicon and in hand has been a relief.

Generationally Impressive

Technically, Ice Lake SP is an impressive and major generation leap for Intel’s enterprise line-up. Manufactured on a new 10nm process, node, employing a new core microarchitecture, faster memory with more memory channels, PCIe 4.0, new accelerator capabilities and VNNI instructions, security improvements – these are all just the tip of the iceberg that Ice Lake SP brings to the table.

In terms of generational performance uplifts, we saw some major progress today with the new Xeon 8380. With 40 cores at a higher TDP of 270W, the new flagship chip is a veritable beast with large increases in performance in almost all workloads. Major architectural improvements such as the new memory bandwidth optimisations are amongst what I found to be most impressive for the new parts, showcasing that Intel still has a few tricks up its sleeve in terms of design.

This being the first super-large 10nm chip design from Intel, the question of how efficiency would end up was a big question to the whole puzzle to the new generation line-up. On the Xeon 8380, a 40-core part at 270W, we saw a +18% increase in performance / W compared to the 28-core 205W Xeon 8280. This grew to a +36% perf/W advantage when limiting the ICX part to 205 as well. On the other hand, our mid-stack Xeon 6330 sample showed very little advantages to the Xeon 8280, even both are 28-core 205W designs. Due to the mix of good and bad results here, it seems we’ll have to delay a definitive verdict on the process node improvements to the future until we can get more SKUs, as the current variations are quite large.

Per-core performance, as well as single-thread performance of the new parts don’t quite achieve what I imagine Intel would have hoped through just the IPC gains of the design. The IPC gains are there and they’re notable, however the new parts also lose out on frequency, meaning the actual performance doesn’t move too much, although we did see smaller increases. Interestingly enough, this is roughly the same conclusion we came to when we tested Intel's Ice Lake notebook platform back in August 2019.

The Competitive Hurdle Still Stands

As impressive as the new Xeon 8380 is from a generational and technical stand-point, what really matters at the end of the day is how it fares up to the competition. I’ll be blunt here; nobody really expected the new ICL-SP parts to beat AMD or the new Arm competition – and it didn’t. The competitive gap had been so gigantic, with silly scenarios such as where competing 1-socket systems would outperform Intel’s 2-socket solutions. Ice Lake SP gets rid of those more embarrassing situations, and narrows the performance gap significantly, however the gap still remains, and is still undeniable.

We’ve only had access limited to the flagship Xeon 8380 and the mid-stack Xeon 6330 for the review today, however in a competitive landscape, both those chips lose out in both absolute performance as well as price/performance compared to AMD’s line-up.

Intel had been pushing very hard the software optimisation side of things, trying to differentiate themselves as well as novel technologies such as PMem (Optane DC persistent memory, essentially Optane memory modules), which unfortunately didn’t have enough time to cover for this piece. Indeed, we saw a larger focus on “whole system solutions” which take advantage of Intel’s broader product portfolio strengths in the enterprise market. The push for the new accelerator technologies means Intel needs to be working closely with partners and optimising public codebases to take advantage of these non-standard solutions, which might be a hurdle for deployments such as cloud services where interoperability might be important. While the theoretical gains can be large, anyone rolling a custom local software stack might see a limited benefit however, unless they are already experts with Intel's accelerator portfolio.

There’s also the looming Intel roadmap. While we are exulted to finally see Ice lake SP reach the market, Intel is promising the upcoming Sapphire Rapids chips for later this year, on a new platform with DDR5 and PCIe 5. Intel is set to have Ice Lake Xeon and Sapphire Rapids Xeon in the market concurrently, with the idea to manage both, especially for customers that apply the leading edge hardware as soon as it is available. It will be interesting to see the scale of the roll out of Ice Lake with this in mind.

At the end of the day, Ice Lake SP is a success. Performance is up, and performance per watt is up. I'm sure if we were able to test Intel's acceleration enhancements more thoroughly, we would be able to corroborate some of the results and hype that Intel wants to generate around its product. But even as a success, it’s not a traditional competitive success. The generational improvements are there and they are large, and as long as Intel is the market share leader, this should translate into upgraded systems and deployments throughout the enterprise industry. Intel is still in a tough competitive situation overall with the high quality the rest of the market is enabling.

Compiling LLVM, NAMD Performance
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  • Oxford Guy - Sunday, April 11, 2021 - link

    'The faulty logic I see is that you seem to believe it's the review's job to...'

    'I think it could be appropriate to do that sort of thing, in articles that...'

    Don't contradict yourself or anything.

    If you're not interested in knowing how fast a CPU is that's ... well... I don't know.

    Telling people to go for marketing info (which is inherently deceptive — the entire fundamental reason for marketing departments to exist) is obviously silly.
    Reply
  • mode_13h - Monday, April 12, 2021 - link

    > Don't contradict yourself or anything.

    I think the point of confusion is that I'm drawing a distinction between the initial product review and subsequent follow-up articles they often publish to examine specific points of interest. This would also allow for more time to do a more thorough investigation, since the initial reviews tend to be conducted under strict deadlines.

    > If you're not interested in knowing how fast a CPU is that's ... well... I don't know.

    There's often a distinction between the performance, as users are most likely to experience it, and the full capabilities of the product. I actually want to know both, but I think the former should be the (initial) priority.
    Reply
  • ballsystemlord - Thursday, April 8, 2021 - link

    Spelling and grammar errors (there are a lot!):

    "At the same time, we have also spent time a dual Xeon Gold 6330 system from Supermicro, which has two 28-core processors,..."
    Nonsensical English: "time a duel". I haven't the faintest what you were trying to say.

    "DRAM latencies here are reduced by 1.7ns, which isn't very much a significant difference,..."
    Either use "very much", or use "a significant":
    DRAM latencies here are reduced by 1.7ns, which isn't a very significant difference,..."

    "Inspecting Intel's prior disclosures about Ice Lake SP in last year's HotChips presentations, one point sticks out, and that's is the "SpecI2M optimisation" where the system is able to convert traditional RFO (Read for ownership) memory operations into another mechanism"
    Excess "is":
    "Inspecting Intel's prior disclosures about Ice Lake SP in last year's HotChips presentations, one point sticks out, and that's the "SpecI2M optimisation" where the system is able to convert traditional RFO (Read for ownership) memory operations into another mechanism"

    "It's a bit unfortunate that system vendors have ended up publishing STREAM results with hyper optimised binaries that are compiled with non-temporal instructions from the get-go, as for example we would not have seen this new mechanism on Ice Lake SP with them"
    You need to rewrite the sentance or add more commas to break it up:
    "It's a bit unfortunate that system vendors have ended up publishing STREAM results with hyper optimised binaries that are compiled with non-temporal instructions from the get-go, as, for example, we would not have seen this new mechanism on Ice Lake SP with them"

    "The latter STREAM results were really great to see as I view is a true design innovation that will benefit a lot of workloads."
    Exchange "is" for "this as":
    "The latter STREAM results were really great to see as I view this as a true design innovation that will benefit a lot of workloads."
    Or discard "view" and rewrite as a diffinitive instead of as an opinion:
    "The latter STREAM results were really great to see as this is a true design innovation that will benefit a lot of workloads."

    "Intel's new Ice Lake SP system, similarly to the predecessor Cascade Lake SP system, appear to be very efficient at full system idle,..."
    Missing "s":
    "Intel's new Ice Lake SP system, similarly to the predecessor Cascade Lake SP system, appears to be very efficient at full system idle,..."

    "...the new Ice Lake part to most of the time beat the Cascade Lake part,..."
    "to" doesn't belong. Rewrite:
    "...the new Ice Lake part can beat the Cascade Lake part most of the time,..."

    "...both showcasing figures that are still 25 and 15% ahead of the Xeon 8380."
    Missing "%":
    "...both showcasing figures that are still 25% and 15% ahead of the Xeon 8380."

    "Intel had been pushing very hard the software optimisation side of things,..."
    Poor sentance structure:
    "Intel had been pushing the software optimisation side very hard,..."

    "...which unfortunately didn't have enough time to cover for this piece."
    Missing "we":
    "...which unfortunately we didn't have enough time to cover for this piece."

    "While we are exalted to finally see Ice lake SP reach the market,..."
    "excited" not "exalted":
    "While we are excited to finally see Ice lake SP reach the market,..."

    Thanks for the article!
    Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Sunday, April 11, 2021 - link

    Perhaps Purch would be willing to take you on as a volunteer unpaid intern for proofreading for spelling and grammar?

    I would think there are people out there who would do it for resume building. So... if it bothers you perhaps you should make an inquiry.
    Reply
  • evilpaul666 - Saturday, April 10, 2021 - link

    Are the W-1300s going to use 10nm this year? Reply
  • mode_13h - Saturday, April 10, 2021 - link

    You mean the bottom-tier Xeons? Those are just mainstream desktop chips with less features disabled, so that question depends on when Alder Lake hits.

    I'd say "no", because the Xeon versions typically lag the corresponding mainstream chips by a few months. So, if Alder Lake launches in November, then maybe we get the Xeons in February-March of next year.

    The more immediate question is whether they'll release a Xeon version of Rocket Lake. I think that's likely, since they skipped Comet Lake and there are significant platform enhancements for Rocket Lake.
    Reply
  • AdrianBc - Monday, April 12, 2021 - link

    No, the W-1300 Xeons will be Rocket Lake. The top model will be Xeon W-1390P, which will be equivalent to the top i9 Rocket Lake, with 125 W TDP and 5.3 GHz maximum turbo. Reply
  • rahvin - Tuesday, April 20, 2021 - link

    Andre does some of the best server reviews available, IMO. Reply
  • jajamajajori - Wednesday, April 21, 2021 - link

    Very nice dear good work
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    Reply
  • mode_13h - Wednesday, April 21, 2021 - link

    Spam. Reply

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