Next year, Intel is going to join the cloud-native processor revolution with Sierra Forest. That will be the first generation of chips bringing Intel’s E-cores into high-core count CPUs for the server market. When many hear E-cores, and words like “Atom” they immediately think weak. That is not the case these days, and given we are ten years past the launch of the Intel Atom C2000 series, we wanted to take a quick look at the evolution of the series in simple terms.
Intel E-Core Evolution 2013-2023
Intel has had three major generations of its Cx000 series processors since 2023. In 2013 we had Avoton and Rangeley. The Intel Atom C2758 was the second Atom C2000 series 8-core CPU we tested in the first few days of 2014. This was Intel’s 1GbE generation of embedded processors.
Fast forward to the Intel Atom C3000 launch in 2017 to such little fanfare that when we published the launch piece, several other large online publications were perplexed that the line had officially launched. In 2019, we finally got the Intel Atom C3758 to test from that line. Like the C2758 before it, the chip has 8 cores and Intel QuickAssist (QAT) onboard. The Atom C3000 series was designed for the 10GbE generation of network appliances.
In 2022, we saw the Intel Atom C5000 series stealthily launched. It took us until early 2023 to review the Supermicro A3SPI-4C-LN6PF with the Intel Atom C5315 Parker Ridge processor. The 8-core versions of Parker Ridge are the Atom C5320 and C5325. Snow Ridge and Parker Ridge were designed for the 25GbE era of networking devices and built on Intel’s 10nm process.
While we do not have an update to these E-core CPUs, we saw a bit one with the Intel i3-N305 Alder Lake-N processor. This only has a single DDR5 channel, no QuickAssist, no built-in high-speed networking. The N305, however, has eight E-cores and onboard graphics. Still, this shows where Intel’s E-cores are currently at so we are going to use this as a comparison point.
Putting some numbers behind this, since it is Christmas week, let us use something simple like Geekbench 6. We had all of these numbers, and although Geekbench 6 is not a great benchmark for modern multi-core systems, it is a quick and easy benchmark suite.
Just looking at the CPU performance both on a single-core and multi-core basis, we can see that the C3000 and C5000 lines followed a similar formula. The new Alder Lake-N Intel Core i3-N305 is in a different league.
Adding these improvements up, one can quickly see just how far the new E-cores are versus the older E-core generations.
Putting this on a time scale, we can see how the new cores are much faster. Another way to look at it is that an Intel Core i3-N305 now gets scores more in line with an Intel Xeon E5-2650 V4 12-core CPU from 2016 (or thereabouts.) It can also go toe-to-toe with a 2019-era Intel Xeon Gold 5217.
That shows the trajectory of Intel’s E-cores. Of course, there are features like AVX-512 on the P-cores that give outsized gains. Those missing features are also infrequently used on cloud-native workloads.
There is, of course, more going on here. The N305 enjoys higher clock speeds, while the Atom Cx000 lines are designed with features like significantly more I/O, high-speed networking, and built-in QAT accelerators. Still, Alder Lake-N can be scary fast.
We recently looked at the 1st and 2nd Gen Intel Xeon to 5th Gen Intel Xeon Consolidation. That is a precursor to 2024’s cloud-native processors. Ampere’s Altra (Max) and AmpereOne generations will compete against Intel E-cores, not the Intel Xeon P-cores. The AMD EPYC “Bergamo” parts are already delivering consolidation. As Intel is set to unleash new process technology and E-cores, there will be large sets of applications that will run best on E-cores.
2024 is set to be a really cool year in server processors.