Sizing Up Servers: Intel's Skylake-SP Xeon versus AMD's EPYC 7000 - The Server CPU Battle of the Decade?by Johan De Gelas & Ian Cutress on July 11, 2017 12:15 PM EST
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This morning kicks off a very interesting time in the world of server-grade CPUs. Officially launching today is Intel's latest generation of Xeon processors, based on the "Skylake-SP" architecture. The heart of Intel's new Xeon Scalable Processor family, the "Purley" 100-series processors incorporate all of Intel's latest CPU and network fabric technology, not to mention a very large number of cores.
Meanwhile, a couple of weeks back AMD soft-launched their new EPYC 7000 series processors. Based on the company's Zen architecture and scaled up to server-grade I/O and core counts, EPYC represents an epic achievement for AMD, once again putting them into the running for competitive, high performance server CPUs after nearly half a decade gone. EPYC processors have begun shipping, and just in time for today's Xeon launch, we also have EPYC hardware in the lab to test.
Today's launch is a situation that neither company has been in for quite a while. Intel hasn't had serious competition in years, and AMD has't been able to compete. As a result, both companies are taking the other's actions very seriously.
In fact we could go on for much longer than our quip above in describing the rising tension at the headquarters of AMD and Intel. For the first time in 6 years (!), a credible alternative is available for the newly launched Xeon. Indeed, the new Xeon "Skylake-SP" is launching today, and the yardstick for it is not the previous Xeon (E5 version 4), but rather AMD's spanking new EPYC server CPU. Both CPUs are without a doubt very different: micro architecture, ISA extentions, memory subsystem, node topology... you name it. The end result is that once again we have the thrilling task of finding out how the processors compare and which applications their various trade-offs make sense.
The only similarity is that both server packages are huge. Above you see the two new Xeon packages –with and without an Omni-Path connector – both of which are as big as a keycard. And below you can see how one EPYC CPU fills the hand of AMD's CEO Dr. Lisa Su.
Both are 64 bit x86 CPUs, but that is where the similarities end. For those of you who have been reading Ian's articles closely, this is no surprise. The consumer-focused Skylake-X is the little brother of the newly launched Xeon "Purley", both of which are cut from the same cloth that is the Skylake-SP family. In a nutshell, the Skylake-SP family introduces the following new features:
- AVX-512 (Many different variants of the ISA extension are available)
- A 1 MB (instead of a 256 KB) L2-cache with a non-inclusive L3
- A mesh topology to connected the cores and L3-cache chunks together
Meanwhile AMD's latest EPYC Server CPU was launched a few weeks ago:
On the package are four silicon dies, each one containing the same 8-core silicon we saw in the AMD Ryzen processors. Each silicon die has two core complexes, each of four cores, and supports two memory channels, giving a total maximum of 32 cores and 8 memory channels on an EPYC processor. The dies are connected by AMD’s newest interconnect, the Infinity Fabric...
In the next pages, we will be discussing the impact of these architectural choices on server software.
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CajunArson - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - linkWould a high-end server that was built in 2014 necessarily update? Maybe not.
Should a high-end server with a brand new microarchitecture use the most recent version of the software if it has any expectation of seeing a real benefit? Absolutely.
If this was a GPU review and Anandtech used 2 year old drivers on a new GPU (assuming they even worked at all) we wouldn't even be having this conversation.
BrokenCrayons - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - linkHome users playing video games are in a different environment than you find in a business datacenter. There's a lot less money to be lost when a driver update causes a performance regression or eliminates a feature. Conversely, needlessly updating software in the aforementioned datacenter can result in the loss of many millions if something goes wrong.
wallysb01 - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - linkConversely, having stuff working, but unnecessarily slowly costs money as well. Its a balance, and if you're spending hundreds of thousands or even millions on a cluster/data center/what have you, you'd probably want to spend at least a little bit of time optimizing it, right?
Icehawk - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - linkMost of the businesses I have worked for, ranging from 10 people to 50k, use severely outdated software and the barest minimum of patching. Optimization? HA!
For example I work for a manufacturer & retailer currently, our POS system was last patched in 2012 by the vendor and has been replaced by at least two versions newer. We have XP machines in each of our stores as that is the only OS that can run the software.
The above is very typical. The 50k company I worked for had software so old and deeply entrenched that modernizing it is virtually impossible. My current company is working on getting to a new product... that was new in 2012 and has also been replaced with a newer version. Whee!
Icehawk - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - linkOne other thing - maybe the big shops actually do test/size but none of the places I have worked at and have been involved in do any testing, benchmarking, etc. They just buy whatever their preferred vendor gives them that meets the budget and they *think* will work. My coworker is in charge (lol) of selecting servers for a new office... he has no clue what anything in this article is. He has never read a single review, overview, or test of a processor. I could keep going on like this :(
0ldman79 - Wednesday, July 12, 2017 - linkIcehawk's comments are so accurate it is scary.
I can't tell you how many businesses running custom *nix software running in a VM on a Windows server.
They're not all about speed. Reliability is the single most important factor, speed is somewhere down the line. The people that make those decisions and the people that drink coffee while they're waiting on the machines are very different.
Neither understand that it could all be done so much better and almost all of them are utterly terrified at the concept of speeding up the process if it means *any* changes are made.
JohanAnandtech - Friday, July 21, 2017 - linkWe did test with NAMD 2.12 (Dec 2016).
sutamatamasu - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - linkGlad, AMD make back again to this segment, now we can only see what can Raja to do for server market with Radeon instinct.
Kaotika - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - linkSo this confirms that the previous information regarding Skylake-X core configurations was wrong, and 12-core variant is in fact using HCC-core instead of LCC-core?
Ian Cutress - Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - linkWe corrected that in our Skylake-X review.