Intel's server CPU portfolio just got more diversified and complex with the launch of the Intel Xeon E3-1200 V4 at Computex 2015.  It is basically the same chip as the Core i7 "Broadwell" desktop that Ian reviewed yesterday: inside we find four Broadwell cores and a Crystal Well-backed Iris Pro GPU, baked with Intel's state-of-the-art 14 nm process. The Xeon enables ECC RAM support, PCI-passthrough, and VT-D, the former two being features that the desktop chips obviously lack, and VT-D only being present in some desktop chips.

But the current line-up of the Xeon E3-1200 v4 based upon Broadwell is not a simple replacement for the current Xeon E3 1200 v3 "Haswell", which we tested a few months ago. Traditionally, the Xeon E3 was about either workstations or all kinds of low-end servers. 

It looks like the current Xeon E3-1200 v4 is somewhat a niche product. Besides being a chip for workstations with moderate graphics power, Intel clearly positions the chip as a video transcoding and VDI platform. It looks like - once again - Intel is delivering what AMD promised a long time ago. AMD's Berlin, a quad steamroller with Radeon GPU was supposed to address this market, but the product did not seem to convince the OEMs.

Intel claims that the 65W TDP E3-1285L v4 was able to decode 14 1080p (at 30 fps) 20Mbps streams, four or 40% more than on the Xeon E3-1286L v3, which could only sustain 10 video streams. Another use are virtual desktops that use PCI device passthrough to give the virtual machine (VM) full access to the GPU. That way of working is very attractive for an IT manager: it enables centralized management of graphical workstation in a secure datacenter.  

But it is should be noted that this kind of virtualization technology comes with drawbacks. First of all, there is only one VM that gets access to the GPU: one VM literally owns the GPU (unlike NVIDIA's GRID technology). Secondly you add network latency, something that many graphical designers will not like as adds lag compared to the situation where they are working on a workstation with a beefy OpenGL card. 

Below you can find the table of the 5 new SKUs. I added a sixth column with the Xeon-D, so you can easily compare.  

Intel Xeon E3 Broadwell Lineup For
comparison:
  E3-1258L v4 E3-1265L v4 E3-1278L v4 E3-1285 v4 E3-1285L v4 Xeon D-1540
Price $481 $418 $546 $557 $445 $581
Cores 4 4 4 4 4 8
Threads 8 8 8 8 8 16
Base CPU Freq. 1.8 GHz 2.3 GHz 2 GHZ 3.5 GHZ 3.4 GHZ 2 GHz
Turbo CPU Freq. 3.2 GHz 3.3 GHz 3.3 GHz 3.8 GHz 3.8 GHz 2.6 GHz
Graphics P5700
1 GHz
Iris Pro P6300 (GT3e)
1.05 GHz
Iris Pro P6300 (GT3e)
1 GHz
Iris Pro P6300 (GT3e)
1.15 GHz
Iris Pro P6300 (GT3e)
1.15 GHz
none
TDP 47W 35W 47W 95W 65W 45W
DRAM Freq.
(DDR3L)
1600MHz 1866MHz 1600MHz 1866MHz 1866MHz DDR4-2133
L3 Cache 6MB 6MB 6MB 6MB 6MB 12 MB
L4 Cache none 128MB (Crystal Well) 128MB (Crystal Well) 128MB (Crystal Well) 128MB (Crystal Well) none

It is pretty clear that the Xeon-D is a much more attractive server chip for most purposes: twice the amount of cores, twice the amount L3-cache, while remaining inside a 45W TDP power envelop. On top of that, the new Xeon E3 v4 still needs a separate C226 chipset and is limited to 32 GB of RAM. The Xeon-D does not need a separate chipset and supports up to 128 GB of DDR-4. 

In summary, the current Xeon E3-1200 v4 lineup is only interesting if you need a server chip for video transcoding, centralized workstation or a local workstation with relatively modest graphical needs. 

The Atom C2000 and hopefully the X-Gene 2 chips are the SoCs to watch if you want ultra dense and relatively cheap server cpus for basic server processing tasks (static web content, object caching). The Xeon E3-1240Lv3 is probably still the best "single/lowly threaded performance"/watt champion. And the Xeon-D? Well, we will be reviewing that one soon... 

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  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, June 03, 2015 - link

    It was less a swapping error and more a copy error. Either way, the table has been corrected. 1285 v4 is 3.5GHz, 1285L is 3.4GHz. Reply
  • kpb321 - Wednesday, June 03, 2015 - link

    Still need to fix the prices unless the E3-1285L v4 is actually cheaper than the E3-1285 v4. The prices on the E3-1258L v4 looks odd too. Why is it more expensive than the E3-1265L v4? It's slower, got crippled graphics and memory, no L4 cache and higher TDP but it's still more expensive? Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, June 03, 2015 - link

    The 1285L is actually cheaper. I can confirm it's $445, versus $557 for the 1285. Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Thursday, June 04, 2015 - link

    The E3-1285L is cheaper... http://files.shareholder.com/downloads/INTC/0x0x83... . I know, it does not make sense to me either. Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Wednesday, June 03, 2015 - link

    The PCI-Passthrough sounds interesting. I'm assuming the host gets to use the GPU when the VM it's assigned to isn't running? It would be nice to have full access to the GPUs for old-game VMs. Reply
  • nils_ - Wednesday, June 10, 2015 - link

    Well currently you'd have to enable a PCIe stub driver on the host system which prevents other components from accessing the GPU. You can even pass through other PCIe cards. This works with any system with an IOMMU (usually only Xeon/Opteron series).

    However, some network cards support "partitioning" the network adapter so that using a purpose built driver you can use part of the network card in the host while still preserving isolation. This could also be possible with GPUs in the future.
    Reply
  • nils_ - Wednesday, June 10, 2015 - link

    Correction, the latter is possible now with Intel GVT. Reply
  • dotted - Wednesday, June 03, 2015 - link

    >The Xeon enables ECC RAM support, VT-D and PCI-passthrough, something that the desktops chips obviously lack.

    Intel ARK disagrees. 5775C has VT-d
    Reply
  • icrf - Wednesday, June 03, 2015 - link

    Xeon-D "launched" a month ago, but is still kind of hard to find. It could just be that I'm not familiar with how server parts are launched and where they become available. Enough other server stuff pops up on Newegg/Amazon. I assumed these would, too. I'm just after a D-1540 no frills motherboard in the $800 range. Reply
  • ats - Wednesday, June 03, 2015 - link

    Apparently there has been large bulk demand for the D-1540 from large deployment companies. And since these companies are ordering in such large quantities they are getting first crack at availability. Recently however, there has been availability on the market for the Supermicro solutions if sporadically. Reply

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