4th Gen Intel Xeon Scalable Sapphire Rapids Leaps Forward

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4th Generation Intel Xeon Scalable Sapphire Rapids 4
4th Generation Intel Xeon Scalable Sapphire Rapids 4

Today we have the launch of the 4th Generation Intel Xeon Scalable. We have been testing the new chips for months, and it is now time to go in-depth into what Sapphire Rapids is, and why it is important for the industry. Without a doubt, the Sapphire Rapids launch is an enormous step forward for Intel. At the same time, the competitive landscape has changed. The answer to “how good is this new processor?” has changed significantly over the last decade from a black-and-white answer to shades of “it depends.” With that introduction, let us get to it.

4th Gen Intel Xeon Scalable Sapphire Rapids: The Video

If you want to learn more, here is the video for this piece.

We have a lot more detail in this article, but if you want to put that one on as a podcast (you can even speed it up) for later, feel free to get an accessible overview. As always, we suggest opening this video in another window, tab, or app for a better viewing experience.

Intel Sapphire Rapids Xeon Context: Today’s Market

We wanted to take a moment and just recognize where we are in the market today. About two months ago, we had theΒ AMD EPYC 9004 Genoa launch. While we have reviewed some Genoa platforms, OEMs have been slower to get us systems mostly because of availability. There is no doubt the AMD EPYC 9654 is the current king of per-socket x86 performance. AMD has 96 cores with decent clock speeds, while Intel is topping out this generation with 60 cores. With that said, the heart of the server CPU market is in the 16-64 core space.

Supermicro SYS 221H TNRR 2U Intel SPR CPU And Memory 5
Supermicro SYS 221H TNRR 2U Intel SPR CPU And Memory 5

Intel has a very interesting value proposition: acceleration. As you will see in this review, Xeon is fighting an asymmetric war with EPYC in this generation. Intel’s key bet is that by embedding a high degree of acceleration in its processors, the relative per-core performance becomes much higher than if it pursued higher clock speeds or x86 pipeline improvements alone.

4th Gen Intel Xeon Scalable Sapphire Rapids Network And Edge Overview
4th Gen Intel Xeon Scalable Sapphire Rapids Network And Edge Overview

To be clear, that is a risk Intel is taking in this generation on a number of fronts. First, investing transistors in on-chip acceleration, if that acceleration is not adopted, is an expensive burden to all customers. Second, in workloads where the acceleration is not used, those transistors are “dead weight”. Third, accelerators can offer new security surfaces that must be diligently vetted. Make no mistake, Intel is aware of these risks, and feels like the benefits outweigh the costs. As we will show, when these accelerators are used, the relative per-core performance pops. In a world of per-core licensed software, that is Intel’s secret weapon but also the biggest point of exposure.

4th Gen Intel Xeon Scalable Sapphire Rapids Acceleration Engines Enablement
4th Gen Intel Xeon Scalable Sapphire Rapids Acceleration Engines Enablement

In the launch materials Intel shows, and others discuss, you will hear the benefits of acceleration. That is Intel’s key benefit with this generation. At the same time, looking at three of the big four new accelerators, QAT, DLB, and IAA, less than 45% of SKUs actually have these turned on. DSA is the only accelerator on every SKU, but only 27% of the SKUs have the full DSA configuration, and most SKUs have only one-fourth as much acceleration capacity. Perhaps the strangest part of the launch is that Intel has been discussing acceleration in Sapphire Rapids for months, it is the company’s key competitive edge, yet more than half of the SKUs are either light on accelerators or do not have them enabled.

4th Generation Intel Xeon Scalable Sapphire Rapids 11
4th Generation Intel Xeon Scalable Sapphire Rapids 11

One of the most exciting parts of this launch is really the overall platform, and what a server is. With this generation, we get DDR5, PCIe Gen5, CXL, and 50% more cores per socket along with those accelerators. This is a massive jump in platform capability and performance beyond just the CPUs themselves, so we are going to get into that in this article as well.

Supermicro SYS 111C NR 1U Intel SPR Overview
Supermicro SYS 111C NR 1U Intel SPR Overview

In this article, we are going to get into as much as we possibly can, but there are market segments we will not be able to cover. For example, Intel has up to 60 cores per socket in this generation, AMD “Genoa” has up to 96 cores, but if someone asks which company has more cores per system, that is actually Intel. While our introduction will focus on single and dual-socket servers, Sapphire Rapids is a new 4-socket and 8-socket capable platform, and we were able to see an 8-socket platform about a month before launch. We also did not get to test the Intel Xeon Max series with onboard HBM2e memory. Still, performance per socket, performance per core with/ without acceleration, performance per node, and so forth are all valid ways to look at servers, but there is only so much we can cover in this review.

SPR Lstopo Platinum 8490H
SPR Lstopo Platinum 8490H

Usually, we would start our journey by looking at the core and platform. The product SKUs are so important to the discussion we must look at those first. Without that context, it is hard to understand the magnitude and impact of the systems. With that, let us get to the SKUs.

34 COMMENTS

  1. Wow … that’s a lot of caveats. Thanks for detailing the issues. Intel could really do with simplifying their SKU stack!

  2. Not sure what to think about power consumption.

    Phoronix has average power consumption reported by sensors that is ridiculously high, but here the peak power plug consumption is slightly less than Genoa.

    Someone needs to test average plug power on comparable systems (e.g. comparable nvme back-end).

  3. This is like BMW selling all cars with heated seats built into them and only enabling it if you pay extra.

    Intel On Demand is a waste of engineering, of silicon, of everything, to please shareholders.

  4. I’ve only made it to the second page but that SKU price list is straight up offensive. It feels like Intel is asking the customer to help offset the costs of their foundry’s missteps for the past four years.

    The segmentation is equally out of control. Was hoping Gelsinger was going to reign it in after Ice Lake but I got my answer loud and clear.

  5. New York Times: “Inside Intel’s Delays in Delivering a Crucial New Microprocessor

    The company grappled with missteps for years while developing a microprocessor code-named Sapphire Rapids. It comes out on Tuesday.”

    – NOT how you want to get free publicity for a new product!

  6. I was so focused on Intel having fewer cores than AMD with only 60 I forgot that there’s still a big market for under 205W TDP CPUs. That’s a good callout STH

  7. Intel did similar things when they lost track versus RISC/AMD back in the day. Itanium, Pentium IV (netburst), MMX and SSE were the answers they used to stay relevant.

    P4’s overheated all the time (think they have this solved today with better cooling, but power is still a heavy draw).

    MMX and SSE were good accelerations, complicating compilers and developers lives, but they existed on every Intel CPU, so you had a guaranteed baseline for all intel chips. Not like this mess of sku’s and lack of predictability. QAT has been around a while, and lots of software support, but the fact it’s not in every CPU holds it back.

    The one accelerator that doesn’t need special software is HBM yet they limit that to too few SKUs and the cost is high on those.

    This is not a win for Intel…this is a mess.

  8. I’ve just finished reading this after 90min.

    THAT is someone who’s got a STRONG understanding of the market. Bravo.

    Where’s the video tho?

  9. There is soomething wrong with the pricing for these products.

    Especially with accelerators there is a price thing going on:
    -QAT can’t compete with DPUs; as you mentioned those cost $300 more than a NIC
    -AMX on $10k+ CPUs (with 56 or 60 cores) can’t compete with a $1500 GPU while consuming much more power than a CPU with less workload plus the GPU.

    These sticker prices might not be end-prices. High core Genoa is also available now ~20% under MSRP from european retailers. I don’t really trust MSRP for this generation.

  10. @Lasertoe – What we’re seeing here is the first step towards the death of the DPU. What is going to be ending it is when Intel integrates networking fabrics on package and thus you can dynamically allocate cores towards DPU tasks. This provides the flexibility, bandwidth and latency that dedicated external cards will quickly disappear.

    Intel isn’t doing themselves a favor by having their on-die accelerators behind the On-Demand paywall.

  11. Hello Patrick
    I suspect you will earn lots of money if you could monetize your Intel SKU excel sheet πŸ™‚
    How on Earth I can pick the best CPU for my workloads ?
    Are there any tools that could identify which accelerations might be helpful for my workloads ?

    Whole concept of the On Demand is kinda rotten.
    I deploy the platform, I migrate the workloads, I realize that maybe some additional accel will be beneficial (how ?), I purchase the extra feature (and it won’t be cheaper if purchased from the get go), and then I need to trigger workload wide software refresh into acceleration enabled version ?
    Hard to see that.
    Sorry if the accelerators are meant to be decision factors there need to be widely adopted, they need to be a must, a no brainer. And they need to have guaranteed future.

  12. I’m extremely confused how NONE of the “Max” SKUs are being offered with ANY of the onboard accelerators! (other than DSA, which seems like the least helpful accelerator by far.)

    Is that a typo? The Max SKUs don’t even offer “on demand”?

  13. @Kevin G:

    I don’t think that will happen. I think Intel and AMD will both integrate DPU-like structures into their server CPUs.

    Allocationg cores “towards DPU tasks” is already possible when you have an abundance of cores like Genoa (and even more with bergamo). The DPU advantage is that those (typically ARM) cores are more efficient, don’t need a lot of die area and don’t share many resources with the CPU (like caches and DRAM).

    I can see a future where efficient coress with smaller die area like Zen4c or Atom (or even ARM/RISC-V) work along high-performance cores for DPU tasks but they need independent L3 caches and maybe DRAM.

  14. Well, have to admit, I didn’t think there would be anything below the $1,500 mark. Granted, there’s not much, but a few crumbs. Now to see if you can actually get those SKUs.

    Not buying the power levels until I see some actual test results. Frankly the lack of accelerators on so many of the high end SKUs definitely raises a few doubts as well. Why leave the thing you’ve been hyping up all this time from so many SKUs, and does this mean that there are, 4-5 different chip lines being manufactured? Thought one of the main angles was that they could just make a single line and bin those to make your variations and offer the unlocks to all the models?

    Just waiting for all the “extras” to become a recurring subscription. You want the power efficiency mode turned on? That’s $9.99/hr/core.

  15. “4th Gen Intel Xeon Scalable Sapphire Rapids Leaps Forward in Lead Times” Fixed the title for you πŸ˜‰

  16. Can anyone explain the difference between the Gold 5000 and Gold 6000 series? I can’t find any rhyme or reason to the distinction.

    Adding to the confusion, the Gold 5415+ actually appears to be substantially worse than the Silver 4416+, and the Silver 4416+ costs $110 more. Why would a Silver processor cost more than a Gold processor and be better? There’s a pretty meaningless-looking distinction in base clocks, but given where the all-core turbo is at, I would bet that loading 8 cores on the 4416+ would yield clock speeds that aren’t far off from the all-core turbo clock speed of the 5415+… and then you still have another 12 cores you can choose to load up on the 4416+, with over 50% more cache!

    The SKU matrix doesn’t seem very well considered. I also agree with Patrick’s comments on the confusing state of the accelerators; I think Intel should have enabled 1 of every accelerator on every single SKU, at a minimum. If they still wanted to do “On Demand”, that could allow users to unlock the additional accelerators of each type, but even having 1 would make a significant performance difference in workloads that can use them, and it would be an effective way to draw the customer into buying the licenses for additional accelerators once they are already using them.

  17. Will be interesting to see The hedt platform later how it Will perform campare to rapid lake ryzen and of course threadripper and also IF they have some new things outside of pci-e5 ddr5 or IF they cripple it as they did with x266

  18. What an absolute mess. The naming has been awful since the whole “Scalable” marketing debacle but this is taking it to the next level. Was hoping they would sort it this generation. Sigh.

  19. Accelerators have a chicken vs. egg adoption challenge. Intel hedged their bet with “on demand,” which makes adoption failure a self-fulfilling prophecy

  20. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but in the chart on page 12 where Intel basically denounces the SPEC benchmarks they put “Gaming” twice in the “Customer workloads” set in relation to the release of a Xeon line.

  21. A lot of games require servers for multiplayer gaming, don’t they? Then of course you have cloud gaming, which is much smaller, I’d imagine.
    It does seem odd that they selected two customers with gaming workloads when there aren’t so many total.

  22. “On Demand” is bullshit. It’s nothing more than artificial scarcity, a.k.a the Comcast model. I would be very angry if I paid for all of those transistors and over half of them were locked behind an additional paywall.

  23. Thanks for the nice article. Unfortunately on general purpose computing it seems Intel is still trying to catch AMD and not successfully.
    I’m using phoronix benchmarks geometric means (from set of benchmarks) comparison here with the specified CPU TDP, E.g. benchmark number / TDP = X. so this basically shows efficiency of processing in comparison with declared TDP. Higher number, better efficiency.
    Intel 8280: 1.35
    Intel 8380: 1.46 — looks like 14nm -> 10nm transition was moderately successful
    Intel 8490H: 1.7 — again 10nm -> Intel 7 although it should be basically same, it looks like Intel did their homework and improved quite a lot.
    AMD 9554: 2.3 — and this is from completely different league. TSMC simply rocks and AMD is not even using their most advanced process node.

  24. Not sure if I get it right. It does seems like 8490H and 8468H had all accelerators enabled from the table you compiled

  25. I don’t find these particularly compelling vs. AMDs offerings. The SKU stack is of course super complicated, and the accelerator story doesn’t sound very compelling – also raises the question if one can even use these with virtualization. And I don’t think most software supports the accelerators out of the box with the possible exception of QAT. The on-demand subscription model also bears the risk that Intel might not renew your subscription at some point.

  26. Those SPECint numbers are ******* BRUTAL for Intel. I’m sure that’s really why they’re saying it’s not a good benchmark. If it’d been reversed, Intel will say it’s the best.

  27. I’d agree on the speccpu #’s.

    I read this. It took like 2hrs. I couldn’t decide if you’re an intel shill or being really critical of intel. I then watched the video, and had the same indecision.

    I’d say that means you did well presenting both sides. There was so much garbage out there at least there’s one place taking up the Anandtech mantle.

  28. Amazing review. It’s by far the most balanced on the Internet on these. I’ll add my time, it took me about 1.25 hours over 3 days to get through. That isn’t fast, but it’s like someone sat and thought about the Xeon line and the market and provided context.

    Thx for this.

  29. I think Intel is on the wrong path.
    They should be making lower powered CPU’s.

    Their lowest TDP CPU is 125W and its a measly 8 core, with a 1.9Ghz max boost frequency – I think something is wrong in Intel’s development department.

    1.9Ghz boost frequency should not require 125W TDP.

  30. Patrick’s SKU tables show the 8452Y as MCC, but that’s clearly impossible since it has 36 cores. It should be XCC (which would also match Intel’s table).

    I didn’t try to check all the others. πŸ™‚

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