When Impressive Hardware Is Not So Impressive

Introduction

I recently noticed (and responded to) a Tweet about a two-socket workstation that is apparently used for rendering work. Actually, I responded to a re-tweet from an Intel software evangelist of the original post. He did not appreciate my input…

Original Post

Here is the text of the original post:

“Now this is a beast… Dual Intel #Xeon Platinum 8280M, 56 cores/ 112 threads @ boosted 2.95 GHz, Nvidia Quadro RTX 5000, 196 GB RAM… scoring at 18824 #Cinebench R20 points. :-O #intelinnovator @IntelGraphics @IntelSoftware @maxon3d

Photo From Original Post
Photo From Original Post

That sounds pretty impressive, right? This appears to be a “white-box” system built by a system integrator. Or it could be a DIY system, or even a large vendor system with the nameplate removed. That really doesn’t matter, except that I am curious about the reasoning behind the component choices. The total hardware cost of this system is probably between $30K and $35K, depending on the rest of the component choices.

From the Tweet, we know several facts:

  • It has two 28C/56T Intel Xeon Platinum 8280M processors
    • This is a discontinued server SKU that supports 2TB of RAM per socket
    • This processor had an RCP of about $13,000.00 each
  • It has an NVIDIA Quadro RTX 5000 GPU
    • This is a high-end professional GPU that costs roughly $2,000.00
  • It has 196GB of RAM
    • They probably meant 192GB
  • It scores 18,824 on the Maxon Cinebench20 tile-based rendering benchmark
    • This is a very good score that does sound quite impressive

So What is Wrong With This System?

Due to competitive pressure from AMD, Intel reduced the prices of their top-end “L” suffix Xeon SKUs back in January of 2020. They also discontinued their “M” suffix SKUs.

Intel Xeon Naming Standards
Intel Xeon Naming Standards

The Intel Xeon Platinum 8280L (which supports 4.5TB of RAM per socket) went from about $17K down to $13K. At the same time, the Intel Xeon Platinum 8280M (which supports 2TB of RAM per socket) was selling for $13K, so it was discontinued. The base Intel Xeon Platinum 8280 (which only supports 1TB of RAM per socket) still sells for $10K.

The system in question has two Intel Xeon Platinum 8280M processors, but only 192GB of RAM. There was no reason to select the higher memory “M” SKU variant, and doing so cost about $6,000 extra (for both processors). Intel Xeon Platinum processors do support up to eight-socket servers, but that level of support is not needed here.

In February of 2020, Intel released their Cascade Lake-SP Refresh SKUs, which was a very positive move. One of the SKUs in this release was the 28C/56T Intel Xeon Gold 6258R, which has a recommended customer price of $3950.00. The Xeon Gold 6268R is otherwise identical to the Platinum 8280, except that it only supports two-socket servers. Since this system only has two-sockets, there is no reason not to use the Gold 6258R. Doing this would save about $12K on the system.

So, to recap, the two Xeon Platinum 8280M processors in the system had a recommended customer price of about $26K combined. Two Intel Xeon Gold 6258R processors with identical specs (except for total memory support and socket count) have a recommended customer price of about $8K combined. Making a better Intel processor choice would have saved $18K, and had the exact same performance.

What About AMD?

Well, we could probably spec out a one-socket AMD EPYC system with the 64C/128T AMD EPYC 7742 that might beat this two-socket Intel system. Or we could get a little crazy with an AMD EPYC 7H12 (which requires water cooling). The cost of either of those CPUs will certainly be much lower than two Intel Platinum 8280M processors. It will probably even be lower than two Intel Xeon Gold 6268R processors.

But to be honest, I think a 64C/128T 3rd Generation AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X would be a much better choice. It has much higher clock speeds than the same core count AMD EPYC server processors, and it is also unlocked (so you can boost your memory and CPU core speeds if you want to). These AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X processors are extremely popular with professional content creators. This processor only costs about $3500 on Amazon right now.

There are also readily available Cinebench 20 benchmark scores from sources I trust. One good example is Hardware Unboxed, which has this review of the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X.

At 8:44 in their video, they show their Cinebench R20 results. Here are some comparative numbers:

  • (1) AMD Threadripper 3990X 24,675
  • (2) Intel Xeon Platinum 8280M 18,824
  • (1) AMD Threadripper 3970X 17,045
  • (1) AMD Ryzen 9 3950X 9,228
  • (1) Intel Core i9-10980XE 8,782
Hardware Unboxed Screenshot
Hardware Unboxed Screenshot

So we see the original two-socket Intel system (that cost about $26K just for the processors) being beaten quite badly by the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X system (with a $3.5K processor cost). This is 7.43 times the cost for 76% of the performance.

An equivalent Intel Xeon Gold 6258R system would cost $8K for the processors, which is not quite so bad. Only 2.26 the cost for 76% of the performance.

Final Thoughts

I don’t really mean to dunk on the original Tweet here. Perhaps this system was purchased or built sometime before February of 2020. If that is the case, then the Intel Xeon Gold 6258R and the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X would not have been available.

I guess I have two main points here. First, whoever picked the processors for this system did a poor job that made the system much more expensive than it should have been. Second, Intel is in a terrible competitive position in this market segment right now.

It is basically impossible to build an Intel-based system that will beat an AMD Threadripper system for this type of workload. The Intel system will cost more and have less performance.

If you have any questions about this post, please ask me here in the comments or on Twitter. I am pretty active on Twitter as GlennAlanBerry. Thanks for reading!

Categories AMD, Intel, PC HardwareTags

2 thoughts on “When Impressive Hardware Is Not So Impressive

  1. Great write up and a great example of ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’. It it amazing at where AMD has taken the CPU lately. What consumers can build for home and work computers rivals enterprise servers now.

    1. Thanks, Tim. It is amazing what you can build now compared to a few years ago. Look at how well a Ryzen 9 3950X does compared many of those other systems.

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