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Xeon Scalable Reshapes Server Line

July 18, 2017

Author: David Kanter

The new Xeon Scalable processors (formerly Skylake-SP) cover a lot of ground, from low-end servers to high-performance-computing (HPC) designs. To capture the breadth of new offerings, Intel has rolled out a new branding scheme that replaces the Xeon E5 and E7 with five families of increasing capabilities and prices, ranging from $200 “Bronze” processors to $13,000 “Platinum” processors. For the premium models, the new Xeon promises 35–70% greater performance on certain workloads.

Naturally, Intel hopes this new lineup will entice customers to buy more-expensive products. It’s reserving for the top tiers many of the most interesting new features, such as additional AVX-512 execution units and integrated Omni-Path. This restriction, however, will unfortunately limit adoption of some of these features, especially AVX-512. Intel is also taking the opportunity to charge a price premium for models with high memory capacity.

Skylake-SP, part of the new Purley platform, is a significant upgrade to last year’s Broadwell-EP/Grantley platform (Xeon E5v4), delivering more per-core performance, more cores, more memory channels, and more PCIe lanes. Compared with the Broadwell-EX/Brickland platform (Xeon E7v4), the elimination of external memory buffers eases board design and reduces power, but it reduces the memory capacity as well. The new processors also enable an in-package 100Gbps Omni-Path fabric and accelerators such as FPGAs. The south bridge now offers up to four 10G Ethernet ports with iWARP RDMA.

Despite some minor shortcomings, the Xeon Scalable processors are technically impressive and show considerable benefits, especially in the premium 6100- and 8100-series. Historically, Intel has been generous with the bounty of Moore’s Law and always seemed to split performance gains with customers while gradually increasing prices. The new product stack generally follows this trend. Thus, the new processor is a solid and long-awaited upgrade for most customers.

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