Intel Xeon Silver 4208 Market Positioning
Thes chips are not released in a vacuum instead, they have competition on both the Intel and AMD sides. When you purchase a server and select a CPU, it is important to see the value of a platform versus its competitors.
Intel Xeon 4208 v. Intel Alternatives
In the previous generation where there were two eight-core Silver SKUs with marginal clock speed differences, the Intel Xeon Silver 4108 and the Silver 4110. In this generation, one goes from the 6 core / 6 thread 1.9GHz Intel Xeon Bronze 3204 to the 8 core / 16 thread 2.1GHz to 3.2GHz Intel Xeon Silver 4208. Moving up the stack to the Intel Xeon Silver 4210 now means one gets two more cores and a higher base clock.
Here is a quick look at what the Intel Xeon Silver 4208 value analysis looks like compared to the previous generation as well as other mainstream Xeon Silver SKUs in this generation:
As one can see, the Intel Xeon Silver 4208 provides the second most cores * clocks per dollar of the four “mainstream” Intel Xeon Silver 4200 parts. It is also much better than the previous version.
Given this, we think the only way we can recommend the Bronze 3204 over the Silver 4208 is if one wants the absolute minimum cost and performance in a server. If any performance is required from the CPU cores, the Intel Xeon Silver 4208 has more cores that are running at higher speeds.
That leads to a slippery slope. Moving to the Intel Xeon Silver 4210 presents a $84 upgrade for two more cores and four more threads, along with higher clock speeds. That is an excellent value when looking at the Xeon Scalable range and we would suggest looking at that option in any configurator when deciding between the Xeon Silver 4208 and Silver 4210.
Intel Xeon Silver 4208 v. AMD EPYC Alternatives
We are publishing this review the quarter before AMD EPYC “Rome” next-generation CPUs will launch. As a result, Intel has its updated line that is more competitive with the AMD EPYC “Naples” platform in terms of performance and price/ performance.
The AMD EPYC 7251 costs more, uses more power, and has four NUMA nodes, but it has more PCIe I/O and RAM capacity. On the other hand, if you are in this segment, you are probably not trying to maximize CPU performance and are more cost-conscious. We still think that AMD needs an EPYC 7001 part that can go below the EPYC 7251 in terms of pricing.
With this review, the Intel Xeon Silver 4208 surprised us. We got better performance than we were expecting as Intel moved the 4208 segment performance above the previous Intel Xeon Silver 4110. In terms of percentages, the cost reduction of the chip in the context of a server is not enormous, but Intel certainly made an effort to provide substantially more performance at the same price point.
One of the most heralded features of the 2nd Generation Intel Xeon Scalable family is support for Intel Optane DCPMM. The Intel Xeon Silver 4208 does not support Optane DCPMM. If you were thinking of using the lower-end CPU as an inexpensive redis platform or with DCPMM log devices, Intel took that into account in their product segmentation. You will need to buy a more expensive CPU for Optane DCPMM support. One also cannot use DDR4-2933 memory with these chips so there are some big constraints. There is support for VNNI which may help some future edge AI inferencing applications.
For our money, we recommend this over the Intel Xeon Bronze 3204 in all but the most budget-constrained cases. If you are pondering between the two, get the Xeon Silver 4208. While you are at it, we also recommend taking the $84 upgrade and getting two more cores and a slightly higher base clock with the Intel Xeon Silver 4210. On one side we are recommending this chip, on the other, we are saying buy one up in the stack.