Intel 3rd Gen Xeon Scalable (Ice Lake SP) Review: Generationally Large, Competitively Small

Ian Cutress Section

The release of Intel’s Ice Lake Xeon scalable processors has been behind the scenes for several years. Delays in Intel’s 10nm manufacturing process have caused a number of setbacks to all of Intel’s proposed 10nm product lines, especially the high-performance Xeon family: trying to make 660mm2 of silicon in one process it is difficult at best. But Intel has 10nm in a place where it is economically viable to start selling large Xeon processors, and the official launch today of Intel 3rd Generation Xeon Scalable sits on the back of more than 200,000 units shipped to major customers to date. The new flagship, the Xeon Platinum 8380, has 40 cores, offers PCIe 4.0 and takes advantage of the IPC gain in the core of Intel’s Sunny Cove processor. We are testing it with the best in the market.

Intel’s 3rd Scalable Generation Xeon: 10nm becomes enterprise

Today Intel launches the complete stack of processors under the 3rd Generation Xeon Scalable Ice Lake brand, based on its 10nm process. These processors, with up to 40 cores per socket, are uniquely designed for single socket and dual socket systems, competing in a market with other available x86 and Arm options. With this new generation, Intel’s offering aims to be twofold: first, the generational rise compared to 2North Dakota Gen, but also the narrative around selling a solution rather than just selling a processor.

Intel’s messaging with its new Ice Lake Xeon Scalable (ICX or ICL-SP) moves away from simple single-core or multi-core performance, and instead is the unique feature set such as AVX-512, DLBoost, acceleration of Cryptography and security, along with appropriate software optimizations or in conjunction with specialized Intel family products, such as Optane DC Persistent Memory, Agilex FPGA / SmartNIC, or 800 Series Ethernet, offer better performance and better metrics for those who actually buy the systems. This angle, Intel believes, puts it in a better position than its competitors who only offer a limited subset of these features, or lack the infrastructure to unite these products under a single, user-friendly brand.

One wafer of 10nm 40-core Ice Lake Xeon processors

However, the launch of a new generation of products and an expanded portfolio justifies the product being truly put to the test for its gross base performance claims. This generation of Xeon Scalable, Intel’s first at 10nm, uses a newer architecture Sunny Cove core. The benefits of this kernel, as Intel explains, begin with an additional 20% increase in raw performance, enabled through a much larger kernel with an improved interface and more runtime resources. Outside of the core, memory bandwidth is improved by increasing memory channels from six to eight, but also with new memory prefetch techniques and optimizations that increase bandwidth up to 100% with another + 25% efficiency. The mesh interconnect between the cores also uses updated algorithms to feed IO to and from the cores, and Intel is promoting better power management through separate power management agents within each IP block.

In addition to this, Intel is applying acceleration functions, stating that on raw performance, software optimized for these accelerators will see a better than generational increase. This starts with the basic design of the kernel, especially in regards to SIMD commands such as SSSE, AVX, AVX2, and AVX-512: Intel is enabling better crypto support in its ISA, allowing AES, SHA, GFNI, and others. instructions are executed simultaneously in all vector instruction sets. AVX-512 has improved frequencies during more complex bit operations for ICX with smarter mapping between instructions and power consumption, offering an additional 10% frequency for all 256-bit instructions. In addition to this are Intel’s speed selection technologies such as Performance Profile, Base Frequency Enhancements, Turbo Frequency Enhancements, and Core Power Assist to ensure maximum performance per core or quality. of service during a heavily used system based on customer requirements. Other new features include Software Guard Extensions, which allow enclave sizes of up to 512GB per socket with select models.

Ice Lake’s Sunny Cove Core: Part 2

The Sunny Cove core has already been on the market. Intel has created a kernel variant for the consumer and a kernel variant for the server. Ice Lake Xeon has the server variant, with larger caches and slightly different optimization points, but it is the consumer variant that we have seen and tested in laptop form. Sunny Cove is part of Intel’s Ice Lake portfolio of notebook processors, whose performance we reviewed on August 1.S t 2019, which is 614 days ago. That period of time between enabling a core for laptops and enabling the same core (with server upgrades) in the enterprise is almost unheard of, but it indicates Intel’s problems in the making.

Nonetheless, in our Ice Lake core notebook tests, we saw a gross performance of + 17-18% over the previous generation, however this was at the expense of 15-20% in frequency. Where the product really stood out was in limited memory scenarios, where a new memory controller provided a better than generational boost. When it comes to this generation of Xeon Scalable processors with the new core, as you can see from the review, on non-accelerated workloads we get a very similar story. That said, consumer hardware often has a limited TDP, especially laptops! With the new Ice Lake Xeon platform, Intel is increasing the maximum TDP from 205 W to 270 W, which also brings additional performance benefits.

Headline Law: Intel Xeon Platinum 8380

The main prefect of Intel’s new line of processors is the Platinum 8380, a 40-core behemoth. If we put it next to the previous generation processors, there are a few key specs to keep in mind.

Intel Xeon Comparison: 3rd Gen vs 2nd Gen
Peak vs Peak
Xeon Platinum
AnandTech Xeon Platinum
40/80 Cores / Threads 28/56
2900/3400/3000 Base frequency / ST / MT 2700/4000/3300
50 MB + 60 MB L2 + L3 cache 28 MB + 38.5 MB
270 W TDP 205 W
PCIe 4.0 x64 PCIe PCIe 3.0 x48
8 x DDR4-3200 DRAM support 6 x DDR4-2933
4 TB DRAM capacity 1 TB
200 series Optane 100 series
4 TB Optane
Optane Capacity
By plug
1TB DDR4-2666
+ 1.5 TB
512 GB SGX Enclave None
1P, 2P Plug holder 1P, 2P, 4P, 8P
3 x 11.2 GT / s UPI links 3 x 10.4 GT / s
$ 8099 Price (1ku) $ 10099 *
6258R, variant 2P
it’s only $ 3950

Among these processors, the new flagship has a number of positives:

  • + 43% more cores (40 vs 28),
  • almost double the cache,
  • + 33% more PCIe lanes (64 vs 48),
  • 2x the bandwidth of PCIe (PCIe 4.0 vs PCIe 3.0)
  • 4 times the memory support (4 TB vs 1 TB)
  • SGX Enclave Support
  • + 7% more socket-to-socket bandwidth
  • Support for DDR4-3200 Optane DCPMM 200-series
  • The price is down 20% … or 100% more compared to the 6258R

Although perhaps we should highlight some of the negative aspects:

  • TDP has increased + 32% (270 W vs 205 W)
  • ST frequency is low (3400 MHz vs 4000 MHz)
  • MT frequency is low (3000 MHz vs 3300 MHz)

If we combine the cores from the spec sheet and the frequency of all cores (MT), Ice Lake actually has about the same efficiency here as the previous generation. Modern high-performance processors often perform well outside of the maximum efficiency window, however the fact that Ice Lake has a lower frequency generally suggests that Ice Lake has to operate closer to the point of maximum efficiency to stay within. of a proper socket TDP than previous generations. This is similar to what we saw in the laptop space.

Features on all Ice Lake Xeon Scalable processors

We’ll dive into the different processors on the next page, however, it’s worth noting some of the key features that will apply to the entire new Intel ICL-SP family. In the ~ 40 new processors, including all media-centric parts, network-centric processors, and all individual optimizations used, all processors will have the following:

  • All Ice Lake Xeons will support eight channels of DDR4-3200 in 2DPC
  • All Ice Lake Xeons will support 4 TB of DRAM per socket
  • All Ice Lake Xeons will be compatible with SGX Enclaves (size will vary)
  • All Ice Lake Xeons will support 64 PCIe 4.0 lanes
  • All Ice Lake Xeons will support three UPI links at 11.2 GT / s
  • All Silver / Gold / Platinum Xeons will support Optane DC 200 series persistent memory

In the past, Intel has often produced some of these features to sell the most capable ones at a higher cost. This segmentation is often due to a lack of competition in the market. This time, however, Intel has seen fit to unify part of its segmentation to maintain consistency. The key in my mind is memory support: At the beginning of the Xeon Scalable family, Intel began charging more for high-capacity memory models. But in light of the competition now offering 4TB / socket at no additional cost, it appears that Intel has decided to unify the stack with a memory support option.

Intel 3rd Scalable Generation Xeon: New Socket, New Motherboards

Ice Lake Xeons, now with eight memory channels instead of six, will require a new socket and new motherboards. Ice Lake comes with 4189 pins and requires an LGA4189-4 ‘Whitley’ motherboard. This is different from the LGA4189-5 ‘Cedar Island’ in use for Cooper Lake, and the two are not interoperable, however they share a power profile.

This actually brings us to a point about the Intel portfolio. Technically, the 10nm ice lake is not the only member of the 3rd Gen Xeon Scalable Family: Intel has seen fit to group the 14nm Cooper Lake and the 10nm Ice Lake under the same title. Intel is separating the two by stating that Cooper Lake is targeting several specific high-volume customers looking to deploy four- and eight-socket systems with specific AI workloads. By comparison, Ice Lake is for the mass market and is limited to two plug systems.

Ice Lake and Cooper Lake have the ‘3’ in the processor name indicating third generation. Users can tell which Cooper Lake is because they end in H or HL – Ice Lake processors (as we’ll see on the next page) never have H or HL. Most Cooper Lake processors are Platinum models anyway, with some Xeon Gold. As we go through this review, we will focus solely on Ice Lake, given that this is the platform that Intel is selling to the mainstream.

This review

In the lead up to this launch today, Intel provided us with a 2U system with two of the best Ice Lake Xeon models – we have two 40-core Xeon Platinum 8380s! At the same time, we’ve also spent time on a Supermicro Xeon Gold 6330 dual system, which has two 28-core processors and acts as a good comparison to the previous generation Xeon Platinum 8280.

Our review today will cover the processor stack, our benchmarks, power analysis, memory analysis, and some initial takeaways.

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