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


View All Comments

  • Shorty_ - Thursday, April 8, 2021 - link

    did you read the article before commenting?

    I'm inclined to believe him-- I think yields are still an issue (which is why they have so many dark cores) and that getting enough chips to meet demand on the 40 core parts will be tough.
  • Hifihedgehog - Saturday, April 17, 2021 - link

    LOL Gondalf. Who pays $1000 for your thoughts? Reply
  • DannyH246 - Tuesday, April 6, 2021 - link

    Another Intel marketing presentation from
    Let me summarize - slower, hotter, pricier than the AMD equivalent. Zero reason to buy.
  • SarahKerrigan - Tuesday, April 6, 2021 - link

    "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."

    How is that "Intel marketing"?
  • ParalLOL - Tuesday, April 6, 2021 - link

    In this case you did not even need to read the article to know what the tone would be. I guess Danny did not manage to read the title either. Reply
  • fallaha56 - Tuesday, April 6, 2021 - link

    how? the chip isn't worth touching with bargepole

    that's if the 38-40 core parts are actually available

    which they won't be

    and what sysadmin is going to go demand this when Milan is a drop in replacement and Intel next-gen is an entirely new platform
  • Azix - Tuesday, April 6, 2021 - link

    Are you assuming they won't be because semiaccurate said so? They have 100% track record? Didn't he also say Rocket Lake S wouldn't clock high at all? Reply
  • yeeeeman - Tuesday, April 6, 2021 - link

    this ain't intel marketing presentation. This is a laid back, relaxed, non-biased and professional review. Not everyone hates Intel with their whole heart and not every reviewer hunts for clicks, so as to say that the new Intel server chip are shit. In the grand scheme of things, sure, they are not competitive, BUT Intel still has a few advantages over AMD that for some customers it might matter more than absolute performance.
    In the server space, price, dependability, upgradeability, quality and support is the name of the game. AMD, as we know even from consumer products isn't that amazing when it comes to drivers, BIOS quality and fixing bugs, whereas Intel is much more reliable in this regard. Sure, sure, you might say I am a fanboy, but first check what I say and then call me that if you want. Nevertheless, Intel needs Sapphire Rapids badly because even with all their advantages, they will keep losing marketshare.
  • fallaha56 - Tuesday, April 6, 2021 - link

    absolute nonsense from a fanboi yes

    Intel is currently slower, buggier and overpriced with horrific security issues meaning you can have: slow and insecure or even slower and barely secure

    and who ever thought servers would regularly need watercooling

    also what on Earth are you talking about upgrades? this entire platform is getting chucked shortly while AMD has offered multiple generations on the same platform for years with an upgrade bringing DDR5 and PCIe 5
  • fallaha56 - Tuesday, April 6, 2021 - link

    wonderfully summed up here:

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