Section by Ian Cutress

The launch of Intel’s Ice Lake Xeon Scalable processors has been in the wings for a number of years. The delays to Intel’s 10nm manufacturing process have given a number of setbacks to all of Intel’s proposed 10nm product lines, especially the high performance Xeon family: trying to craft 660 mm2 of silicon on a process is difficult at the best of times. But Intel has 10nm in a place where it is economically viable to start retailing large Xeon processors, and the official launch today of Intel’s 3rd Generation Xeon Scalable is on the back of over 200,000+ units shipped to major customers to date. The new flagship, the Xeon Platinum 8380, has 40 cores, offers PCIe 4.0, and takes advantage of the IPC gain in Intel’s Sunny Cove processor core. We’re testing it against the best in the market.

Intel’s 3rd Generation Xeon Scalable: 10nm Goes Enterprise

Today Intel is launching the full stack of processors under the 3rd Generation Xeon Scalable Ice Lake branding, built upon its 10nm process. These processors, up to 40 cores per socket, are designed solely for single socket and dual socket systems, competing in a market with other x86 and Arm options available. With this new generation, Intel’s offering is aimed to be two-fold: first, the generational uplift compared to 2nd Gen, but also the narrative around selling a solution rather than simply selling a processor.

Intel’s messaging with its new Ice Lake Xeon Scalable (ICX or ICL-SP) steers away from simple single core or multicore performance, and instead is that the unique feature set, such as AVX-512, DLBoost, cryptography acceleration, and security, along with appropriate software optimizations or paired with specialist Intel family products, such as Optane DC Persistent Memory, Agilex FPGAs/SmartNICs, or 800-series Ethernet, offer better performance and better metrics for those actually buying the systems. This angle, Intel believes, puts it in a better position than its competitors that only offer a limited subset of these features, or lack the infrastructure to unite these products under a single easy-to-use brand.


An Wafer of 40-core Ice Lake Xeon 10nm Processors

Nonetheless, the launch of a new generation of products and an expanded portfolio warrants the product to actually be put under test for its raw base performance claims. This generation of Xeon Scalable, Intel’s first on 10nm, uses a newer architecture Sunny Cove core. Benefits of this core, as explained by Intel, start with an extra 20% raw performance increase, enabled through a much wider core with an improved front end and a more execution resources.  Outside of the core, memory bandwidth is improved both by increasing memory channels from six to eight, but also new memory prefetch techniques and optimizations that increases bandwidth up to 100% with another +25% efficiency. The mesh interconnect between the cores also uses updated algorithms to feed IO to and from the cores, and Intel is promoting better power management through independent power management agents inside each IP block.

On top of this, Intel is layering on accelerative features, stating that over the raw performance, software optimized for these accelerators will see a better-than-generational uplift. This starts with the basic core layout, especially as it pertains to SIMD commands such as SSSE, AVX, AVX2, and AVX-512: Intel is enabling better cryptography support across its ISA, enabling AES, SHA, GFNI, and other instructions to run simultaneously across all vector instruction sets. AVX-512 has improved frequencies during more complex bit operations for ICX with smarter mapping between instructions and power draw, offering an extra 10% frequency for all 256-bit instructions. On top of this is Intel’s Speed Select Technologies, such as Performance Profile, Base Frequency improvements, Turbo Frequency improvements, and Core Power assistance to ensure peak per-core performance or quality of service during a heavily utilized system depending on customer requirements. Other new features include Software Guard Extensions, enabling enclave sizes up to 512 GB per socket with select models.

Ice Lake’s Sunny Cove Core: Part 2

The Sunny Cove core has actually already been in the market. Intel has made a consumer variant of the core and a server variant of the core. Ice Lake Xeon has the server variant, with bigger caches and slightly different optimization points, but it’s the consumer variant that we have seen and tested in laptop form. Sunny Cove is part of Intel’s Ice Lake notebook processor portfolio, which we reviewed the performance back on August 1st 2019, which 614 days ago. That length of time between enabling a core for notebooks and enabling the same core (with upgrades for servers) on enterprise is almost unheard of, but indicative of Intel’s troubles in manufacturing.

Nonetheless, in our notebook testing of the Ice Lake core, we saw a raw +17-18% performance over the previous generation, however this was at the expense of 15-20% in frequency. Where the product truly excelled was in memory limited scenarios, where a new memory controller provided better-than-generational uplift. When it comes to this generation of Xeon Scalable processors with the new core, as you see in the review, in non-accelerated workloads we get very much a similar story. That being said, consumer hardware is very often TDP limited, especially laptops! With the new Ice Lake Xeon platform, Intel is boosting the peak TDP from 205 W to 270 W, which also gives additional performance advantages.

The Headline Act: Intel’s Xeon Platinum 8380

The head prefect of Intel’s new processor lineup is the Platinum 8380 - a full fat 40 core behemoth. If we put it side by side with the previous generation processors, there some key specifications to note.

Intel Xeon Comparison: 3rd Gen vs 2nd Gen
Peak vs Peak
Xeon Platinum
8380
AnandTech Xeon Platinum
8280
40 / 80 Cores / Threads 28 / 56
2900 / 3400 / 3000 Base / ST / MT Freq 2700 / 4000 / 3300
50 MB + 60 MB L2 + L3 Cache 28 MB + 38.5 MB
270 W TDP 205 W
PCIe 4.0 x64 PCIe PCIe 3.0 x48
8 x DDR4-3200 DRAM Support 6 x DDR4-2933
4 TB DRAM Capacity 1 TB
200-series Optane 100-series
4 TB Optane
+ 2 TB DRAM
Optane Capacity
Per Socket
1 TB DDR4-2666
+ 1.5 TB 
512 GB SGX Enclave None
1P, 2P Socket Support 1P, 2P, 4P, 8P
3 x 11.2 GT/s UPI Links 3 x 10.4 GT/s
$8099 Price (1ku) $10099*
6258R, 2P Variant
is only $3950

Between these processors, the new flagship has a number of positives:

  • +43% more cores (40 vs 28),
  • nearly double the cache,
  • +33% more PCIe lanes (64 vs 48),
  • 2x the PCIe bandwidth (PCIe 4.0 vs PCIe 3.0)
  • 4x the memory support (4 TB vs 1 TB)
  • SGX Enclave support
  • +7% higher socket-to-socket bandwidth
  • Support for DDR4-3200 Optane DCPMM 200-series
  • Price is down 20%... or up 100% if you compare to 6258R

Though we should perhaps highlight some of the negatives:

  • TDP is up +32% (270 W vs 205 W)
  • ST Frequency is down (3400 MHz vs 4000 MHz)
  • MT Frequency is down (3000 MHz vs 3300 MHz)

If we combine the specification sheet cores and all-core (MT) frequency, Ice Lake actually has about the same efficiency here as the previous generation. Modern high-performance processors often operate well outside the peak efficiency window, however Ice Lake being at a lower frequency would usually suggest that Ice Lake is having to operate closer to the peak efficiency point to stay within a suitable socket TDP than previous generations. This is similar to what we saw in the laptop space.

Features across all Ice Lake Xeon Scalable processors

We’ll dive into the different processors over on the next page, however it is worth noting some of the key features that will apply to all of Intel’s new ICL-SP family. Across the ~40 new processors, including all the media focused parts, the network focused processors, and all the individual optimizations used, all of the processors will have the following:

  • All Ice Lake Xeons will support eight channels of DDR4-3200 at 2DPC (new info)
  • All Ice Lake Xeons will support 4 TB of DRAM per socket
  • All Ice Lake Xeons will support SGX Enclaves (size will vary)
  • All Ice Lake Xeons will support 64x PCIe 4.0 lanes
  • All Ice Lake Xeons will support 2x FMA
  • Platinum/Gold Xeons will support 3x UPI links at 11.2 GT/s, Silver is 2x links at 10.4 GT/s
  • Platinum/Gold Xeons will support 200-series Optane DC Persistent Memory

In the past, Intel has often productized some of these features at will sell the ones that are more capable at a higher cost. This segmentation is often borne from a lack of competition in the market. This time around however, Intel has seen fit to unify some of its segmentation for consistency. The key one in my mind is memory support: at the start of the Xeon Scalable family, Intel started to charge extra for high-capacity memory models. But in light of the competition now offering 4 TB/socket at no extra cost, it would appear that Intel has decided to unify the stack with one memory support option.

Intel 3rd Generation Xeon Scalable: New Socket, New Motherboards

Ice Lake Xeons, now with eight memory channels rather than six, will require a new socket and new motherboards. Ice Lake comes with 4189 pins, and requires an LGA4189-4 ‘Whitley’ motherboard. This is different to the LGA4189-5 ‘Cedar Island’ in use for Cooper Lake, and the two are not interoperable, however they do share a power profile.

This actually brings us onto a point about Intel’s portfolio. Technically 10nm Ice Lake is not the only member of the 3rd Gen Xeon Scalable family – Intel has seen fit to bundle both 14nm Cooper Lake and 10nm Ice Lake under the same heading. Intel is separating the two by stating that Cooper Lake is focused at several specific high volume customers looking to deploy quad-socket and eight-socket systems with specific AI workloads. By comparison, Ice Lake is for the mass market, and limited to two socket systems.

Ice Lake and Cooper Lake both have the ‘3’ in the processor name indicating third generation. Users can tell which ones are Cooper Lake because they end in either H or HL – Ice Lake processors (as we’ll see on the next page) never have H or HL. Most Cooper Lake processors are Platinum models anyway, with a few Xeon Gold. As we go through this review, we’ll focus solely on Ice Lake, given that this is the platform Intel is selling to the mainstream.

This Review

In the lead up to this launch today, Intel provided us with a 2U system featuring two of the top models of Ice Lake Xeon: we have dual 40 core Xeon Platinum 8380s! At the same time, we have also spent time a dual Xeon Gold 6330 system from Supermicro, which has two 28-core processors, and acts as a good comparison to the previous generation Xeon Platinum 8280.

Our review today will cover the processor stack, our benchmarks, power analysis, memory analysis, and some initial conclusions.

Ice Lake Xeon Processor List and Competition
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  • mode_13h - Thursday, April 8, 2021 - link

    Please tell me you did this test with an ICC released only a couple years ago, or else I feel embarrassed for you polluting this discussion with such irrelevant facts. Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Sunday, April 11, 2021 - link

    It wasn't that long ago.

    If you want to increase the signal to noise ratio you should post something substantive.

    For instance, if you think think ICC no longer produces faster Blender builds why not post some evidence to that effect?
    Reply
  • eastcoast_pete - Tuesday, April 6, 2021 - link

    This Xeon generation exists primarily because Intel had to come through and deliver something in 10 nm, after announcing the heck out of it for years. As an actual processor, they are not bad as far as Xeons are concerned, but clearly inferior to AMD's current EPYC line, especially on price/performance. Plus, we and the world know that the real update is around the corner within a year: Sapphire Rapids. That one promises a lot of performance uplift, not the least by having PCI-5 and at least the option of directly linked HBM for RAM. Lastly, if Intel would have managed to make this line compatible with the older socket (it's not), one could at least have used these Ice Lake Xeons to update Cooper Lake systems via a CPU swap. As it stands, I don't quite see the value proposition, unless you're in an Intel shop and need capacity very badly right now. Reply
  • Limadanilo2022 - Tuesday, April 6, 2021 - link

    Agreed. Both Ice Lake and Rocket lake are just placeholders to try to make something before the real improvement comes with Saphire rapids and Alder Make respectively... I'm one that says that AMD really needs the competition right now to not get sloppy and become "2017-2020 Intel". I want to see both competing hard in the next years ahead Reply
  • drothgery - Wednesday, April 7, 2021 - link

    Rocket Lake is a stopgap. Ice Lake (and Ice Lake SP) were just late; they would have been unquestioned market leaders if launched on time and even now mostly just run into problems when the competition is throwing way more cores at the problem. Reply
  • AdrianBc - Wednesday, April 7, 2021 - link

    No, Ice Lake Server cores have a much lower clock frequency and a much smaller L3 cache than Epyc 7xx3, so they are much slower core per core than AMD Milan for any general purpose application, e.g. software compilation.

    The Ice Lake Server cores have a double number of floating-point multipliers that can be used by AVX-512 programs, so they are faster (despite their clock frequency deficit) for the applications that are limited by FP multiplication throughput or that can use other special AVX-512 features, e.g. the instructions useful for machine learning.
    Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Wednesday, April 7, 2021 - link

    'limited by FP multiplication throughput or that can use other special AVX-512 features, e.g. the instructions useful for machine learning.'

    How do they compare with Power?

    How do they compare with GPUs? (I realize that a GPU is very good at a much more limited palette of work types versus a general-purpose CPU. However... how much overlap there is between a GPU and AVX-512 is something at least non-experts will wonder about.)
    Reply
  • AdrianBc - Thursday, April 8, 2021 - link

    The best GPUs from NVIDIA and AMD can provide between 3 and 4 times more performance per watt than the best Intel Xeons with AVX-512.

    However most GPUs are usable only in applications where low precision is appropriate, i.e. graphics and machine learning.

    The few GPUs that can be used for applications that need higher precision (e.g. NVIDIA A100 or Radeon Instinct) are extremely expensive, much more than Xeons or Epycs, and individuals or small businesses have very little chances to be able to buy them.
    Reply
  • mode_13h - Friday, April 9, 2021 - link

    Please re-check the price list. The top-end A100 does sell for a bit more than the $8K list price of the top Xeon and EPYC, however MI100 seems to be pretty close. perf/$ is still wildly in favor of GPUs.

    Unfortunately, if you're only looking at the GPUs' ordinary compute specs, you're missing their real point of differentiation, which is their low-precision tensor performance. That's far beyond what the CPUs can dream of!

    Trust there are good reasons why Intel scrapped Xeon Phi, after flogging it for 2 generations (plus a few prior unreleased iterations), and adopted a pure GPU approach to compute!
    Reply
  • mode_13h - Thursday, April 8, 2021 - link

    "woulda, coulda, shoulda"

    Ice Lake SP is not even competitive with Rome. So, they missed their market window by quite a lot!
    Reply

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