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Intel 3rd Generation Xeon Scalable (Ice Lake SP) Review: Generation Large, Competitive Small



Section by Ian Cutress

The launch of Intel’s Ice Lake Xeon Scalable processors has been in the wings for a number of years. The delays in Intel’s 10nm manufacturing process have led to a number of setbacks for all of Intel’s proposed 10nm product lines, particularly the high-performance Xeon family: trying to produce 660mm2 of silicon in one process is difficult in the best of times. But Intel has 10 nm in a place where it is financially viable to start retailing with large Xeon processors, and the official launch today of Intel’s 3rd Generation Xeon Scalable is on the back of over 200,000+ devices shipped to major customers to date. The new flagship, the Xeon Platinum 8380, has 40 cores, offers PCIe 4.0 and leverages the IPC gain of Intel̵

7;s Sunny Cove processor cores. We test it against the best on the market.

Intel 3rd Generation Xeon scalable: 10nm Goes Enterprise

Today, Intel launches the full stack of processors under 3rd Generation Xeon Scalable Ice Lake branding, built on its 10 nm process. These processors, up to 40 cores per Base, is designed exclusively for single connector and dual base systems that compete in a market with other available x86 and Arm options. With this new generation, Intel’s offer aims to be twice as large: first generation boost compared to 2nd 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) steers away from simple single-core or multicore performance and is instead that unique feature set, such as AVX-512, DLBoost, cryptography acceleration and security along with appropriate software optimizations or paired with specialized Intel family products, such as Optane DC Persistent Memory, Agilex FPGAs / SmartNICs, or 800 Series Ethernet, offer better performance and better metrics for those who actually purchase the systems. This angle, Intel believes, puts it in a better position than its competitors, which offer only a limited subset of these features or lack the infrastructure to unite these products under a single user-friendly brand.


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

Nevertheless, the launch of a new generation of products and an expanded portfolio guarantees that the product is actually being tested for its raw base performance. This generation of Xeon Scalable, Intel’s first at 10nm, uses a newer Sunny Cove core. Benefits of this core, as explained by Intel, start with an additional 20% increased raw performance, made possible through a much wider core with an improved front end and more execution resources. Outside the kernel, memory bandwidth is improved both by increasing the memory channels from six to eight, but also new memory retrieval techniques and optimizations that increase the bandwidth up to 100% with another + 25% efficiency. The network connection between the cores also uses updated algorithms to feed IO to and from the cores, and Intel promotes better power management through independent power management agents inside each IP block.

On top of this, Intel adds several acceleration features, saying that software optimized for these accelerators over the raw performance will see a better boost than the generation. This starts with the basic kernel layout, especially as it pertains to SIMD commands such as SSSE, AVX, AVX2 and AVX-512: Intel enables better cryptography support across its ISA, enabling AES, SHA, GFNI and other instructions to run simultaneously across all vector instruction sets. The AVX-512 has improved frequencies during more complex bit operations for ICX with smarter mapping between instructions and power draw, providing an additional 10% frequency for all 256-bit instructions. On top of this are Intel’s Speed ​​Select Technologies, such as Performance Profile, Base Frequency enhancements, Turbo Frequency enhancements and Core Power assistance to ensure maximum performance per second. Core or service quality under a heavily used system depending on customer requirements. Other new features include Software Guard Extensions, which enable enclave sizes up to 512 GB per socket with select models.

Ice Lake’s Sunny Cove Core: Part 2

The Sunny Cove core has actually already been on the market. Intel has made a consumer variant of the kernel and a server variant of the kernel. 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 portable form. Sunny Cove is part of Intel’s Ice Lake notebook processor portfolio, which we reviewed the performance back on August 1stSt. 2019, as 614 days ago. The time between activating a core for laptops and activating the same core (with upgrades to servers) at the company is almost unheard of, but a sign of Intel’s problems in production.

Nevertheless, in our notebook test of the Ice Lake core we saw a raw + 17-18% performance compared to the previous generation, but this was at the expense of 15-20% in frequency. Where the product really excelled was in memory-limited scenarios where a new memory controller delivered better lift than generation. When it comes to this generation of Xeon scalable processors with the new core that you see in the review, we get in non-accelerated workloads a very similar story. That said, consumer hardware is very often TDP-limited, especially laptops! With the new Ice Lake Xeon platform, Intel peak TDP increases from 205 W to 270 W, which also provides additional performance benefits.

Headline Act: Intel Xeon Platinum 8380

The main prefect of Intel’s new processor line is the Platinum 8380 – a full-fat 40-core behemoth. If we put it side by side with the previous generation processors, there are some key specifications to note.

Intel Xeon Comparison: 3rd Gen vs. 2nd Gen
Peak vs Peak
Xeon Platinum
8380
AnandTech Xeon Platinum
8280
40/80 Cores / threads 28/56
2900/3400/3000 Base / ST / MT freq 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
+ 2 TB DRAM
Recording capacity
Per socket
1 TB DDR4-2666
+ 1.5 TB
512 GB SGX Enclave None
1P, 2P Socket Support 1P, 2P, 4P, 8P
3 x 11.2 GT / s UPI Links 3 x 10.4 GT / s
$ 8099 Price (1ku) $ 10099 *
6258R, 2P variant
is only $ 3950

Between these processors, the new flagship has a number of positive things:

  • + 43% more kernels (40 vs. 28),
  • almost doubling the cache,
  • + 33% more PCIe lanes (64 vs. 48),
  • 2x PCIe bandwidth (PCIe 4.0 vs PCIe 3.0)
  • 4x memory support (4 TB vs 1 TB)
  • SGX Enclave support
  • + 7% higher socket-to-socket bandwidth
  • DDR4-3200 Optane DCPMM 200 Series Support
  • The price is down 20% … or up 100% if you compare with the 6258R

Although we might have to highlight some of the negatives:

  • TDP is up + 32% (270 W versus 205 W)
  • ST frequency is down (3400 MHz vs 4000 MHz)
  • MT frequency is down (3000 MHz vs 3300 MHz)

If we combine the specification sheet cores and the all-core (MT) frequency, Ice Lake actually has about the same efficiency here as the previous generation. Modern high-performance processors often operate well outside the peak efficiency window, but Ice Lake, which is at a lower frequency, will usually suggest that Ice Lake needs to operate closer to the peak efficiency point to remain within an appropriate shelf TDP than previous generations. This is similar to what we saw in the space on the laptop.

Features across all Ice Lake Xeon scalable processors

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

  • All Ice Lake Xeons support eight channels DDR4-3200 at 2DPC
  • All Ice Lake Xeons support 4 TB DRAM per. Power outlet
  • All Ice Lake Xeons support SGX Enclaves (size varies)
  • All Ice Lake Xeons support 64x PCIe 4.0 lanes
  • All Ice Lake Xeons support three UPI links of 11.2 GT / s
  • All silver / gold / platinum Xeons support 200-series Optane DC continuous memory

In the past, Intel has often produced some of these features to sell those that are more capable at a higher price. This segmentation is often driven by a lack of competition in the market. This time, however, Intel has seen fit to unite some of its segmentation for consistency. The most important thing in my mind is memory support: In the beginning of the Xeon Scalable family, Intel started charging extra for high-capacity memory models. But in light of the competition, which now offers 4 TB / socket at no extra cost, it seems that Intel has decided to unite the stack with a memory support option.

Intel 3rd Generation Xeon scalable: New socket, new motherboards

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

This actually brings us to a point about Intel’s portfolio. Technically, 10nm Ice Lake is not the only member of the 3rd Gen Xeon Scalable Family – Intel has found it appropriate to bring together both 14 nm Cooper Lake and 10 nm Ice Lake under the same heading. Intel separates the two by saying that Cooper Lake is focused on several specific high-volume customers who want to implement quad-socket and eight-socket systems with specific AI workloads. By comparison, Ice Lake is for the mass market and limited to two shelf systems.

Ice Lake and Cooper Lake both have ‘3’ in the processor name indicating third generation. Users can tell which ones are Cooper Lake because they end up in either H or HL – Ice Lake processors (as we will see on the next page) never have H or HL. Most Cooper Lake processors are Platinum models with a pair of Xeon Gold anyway. As we review this review, we focus exclusively on Ice Lake, as this is the platform that Intel sells to mainstream.

This review

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

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


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