At Computex 2019, we had some fun controversy in the server space. During the AMD Keynote, AMD showed off the upcoming 64-core AMD EPYC “Rome” generation performance in NAMD versus dual 28-core Intel Xeon Platinum 8280 CPUs. After the keynote, Intel quickly followed with a response showing results with its Intel Xeon Platinum 9200 series, followed by results with its Platinum 8280s. Behind the scenes, I was giving feedback to Intel and AMD. I wanted to present our readers with my feedback.
AMD EPYC Rome NAMD Keynote Presentation
The presentation looked innocent enough. 128 AMD EPYC Rome cores for a ~102% performance increase over a 56 core Intel Xeon platform. Over twice the cores and just over twice the performance was the message.
If this was 2016, Intel would likely not have responded. Instead, this is 2019 and we now are starting to see Intel understandably wanting to protect its position, especially since it knows Xeon is vulnerable in Q3/ Q4 2019.
Intel Offers Platinum 9200 Results
The first benchmark Intel offered was of the Intel Xeon Platinum 9200 series. Let us be clear, a 64 core AMD EPYC Rome part we expect to be in the 200-300W range, not at 400W. AMD will have broad ecosystem support. We saw several dozen Rome platforms at Computex 2019 alone. Conversely, we explained why the Intel Xeon Platinum 9200 series lacks mainstream support. For our readers, we suggest disregarding Intel Xeon Platinum 9200 benchmarks wholesale for competitive analysis. Virtually the only time they are better than the Intel Xeon Platinum 8200 is if you need extreme density where you can have 4x 400W CPUs per 1U.
Just after the keynote, I had a discussion with Forrest Norrod SVP and GM of AMD’s server and embedded businesses. I asked if AMD was using gcc instead of icc and was told they were using icc and the best they knew how. Frankly, asking someone of Forrest’s level benchmark details is not something I like to do. Asking an executive detailed benchmark setup questions is a bit unfair if they do not have supporting materials on hand. Doing so means they are commenting on something someone on their team did.
Fair enough, AMD maintains it attempted to present a fair assessment.
Intel Fires Back with Intel Xeon Platinum 8280 Figures
At the same time, I was pushing Intel for Intel Xeon Platinum 8280 figures. I was first sent the Platinum 9200 series benchmarks and I said, something along the lines of “great, but not comparable. Get me your Platinum 8280 numbers.” Intel did.
A quick aside: NAMD is an old, well-known HPC benchmark. That means folks have high levels of optimizations for it. This is a benchmark Intel has queued up in their lab with suggested BIOS settings, compiler flags, and etc. Intel even has an article published on optimization here.
As many folks witnessing this had suspected, Intel was able to get better performance from the Intel Xeon Platinum 8280.
Where AMD Missed
Using NAMD is good because a lot of people know it. On the other hand, there is a danger presenting an absolute figure when someone else has better hand tuning experience. NAMD optimizations on Intel Xeon have happened over countless runs.
Second, AMD needed a picture like this:
The bigger place that AMD missed was in using NAMD in the first place. From our November 2018, Top500 analysis here is the CPU breakdown of the new computers on that list.
Intel Xeon does well, largely due to how companies like Lenovo use hyperscale web server installations split into blocks and then running Linpack just to pad their stats on the list. Still, Intel Xeon is pervasive on the Top500 and NAMD is a workload that many Ph.D. students have spent meticulous hours learning to optimize on Intel Xeon CPUs. At SC17 I overheard a heated exchange about the best BIOS settings for NAMD.
AMD could have chosen a less well-optimized application, but it takes gusto to charge into the bullpen and challenge Intel head-on.
Taking Stock on Post-Intel Numbers
Taking Intel’s slide, we are going to break it down to something workable for Q3/ Q4 2019 server buyers.
First, we need to remove the niche Intel Xeon Platinum 9200 SKUs. As we previously mentioned, they are not competing with 64-core AMD EPYC mainstream processors. The Intel Xeon Platinum 9242 is a 350W TDP part. If Intel is offering a PCIe 3.0 solution with half the lanes as a dual AMD EPYC Rome solution at 350W TDP per socket and claiming similar performance, you will think that is abysmal Xeon efficiency when Rome launches. Rome details are not public, but we will simply say that 350W is not competitive.
That leaves us with a picture that looks like this:
If we take AMD’s best number that they have shared along with Intel’s best number, AMD is slightly later to market but is offering 55% more performance than Intel’s mainstream top-end part that is shipping today. That is a massive improvement. Combine this with more memory channels, memory capacity, PCIe lanes, PCIe Gen4 bandwidth, and we are no longer in the realm of this being close given Intel’s Cascade Lake family launch two months ago. Then again, one can buy an Intel Xeon Platinum 8280 today, and not a 64 core AMD EPYC Rome part (unless you are a large AMD early ship customer.)
AMD did not show power consumption or TDP of the chips used. Our sense is that it will end up somewhere between the 205W TDP Intel Xeon Platinum 8280 and the 350W Intel Xeon Platinum 9242.
The key takeaways are this:
- AMD showed a benchmark that Intel is fluent in, and where the market expects high levels of optimization
- Intel tried using “halo” products that are 350W-400W TDP per sockets that are not readily available on the market to claim equal or better performance
- Intel’s numbers show AMD will still have a massive lead later in 2019 with Rome in one of its home court benchmarks
- Both companies are using a healthy dose of marketing spin
Overall, 2019 is going to be a lot of fun in the server space. Stay tuned for a first-hand view of what is to come.