Does Intel Just Like To Confuse People?

Introduction

Back on June 18th 2020, Intel announced the release of their 3rd Generation Intel Xeon Scalable Processors, otherwise known as “Cooper Lake”. Nearly ten months later, on April 6th, 2021, Intel held the launch event for their new 3rd Generation Intel Xeon Scalable Processors, otherwise known as “Ice Lake-SP”, which I discussed here. Cooper Lake and Ice Lake-SP are completely different processor families that have very little in common, yet Intel lumps them both together under the “3rd Generation Intel Xeon Scalable Processor” umbrella. So my question is, does Intel just like to confuse people?

Does Intel Just Like To Confuse People?
Intel Xeon Scalable Roadmap

3rd Generation Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

For reasons known only to Intel marketing, there are two separate, completely incompatible families of Xeon server processors that share the same “3rd Generation Intel Xeon Scalable Processors” branding. These two families require different server models and use different sockets. They are not physically or electrically compatible. These processors are even manufactured with different process technologies. Finally, they have very similar SKU names. For example, Intel Xeon Platinum 8380 vs. Intel Xeon Platinum 8380H.

All of this is needlessly confusing, even for someone who follows this space pretty closely. I can only imagine what a more casual observer will make of it…

Intel Server Family History

Back in 2017, Intel confused everyone a little bit by adopting a completely new Xeon naming convention. The first iteration was called the “Intel Xeon Scalable Processor” family. It was segmented into Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze families (with two separate Gold families for good measure).

The first two generations shared the same platform, and would work in the same model servers (with a BIOS update). With each of the two different third generation branches, you need a different server platform.

Here is a recap of the family history so far:

  • 1st Generation: Intel Xeon Scalable Processors
    • Intel Xeon Platinum 8180 (Skylake-SP)
    • Q3 2017 – 14nm
  • 2nd Generation: 2nd Generation Intel Xeon Scalable Processors
    • Intel Xeon Platinum 8280 (Cascade Lake-SP)
    • Q2 2019 – 14nm
  • 3rd Generation (2020): 3nd Generation Intel Xeon Scalable Processors
    • Intel Xeon Platinum 8380H (Cooper Lake-SP)
    • Q2 2020 – 14nm
  • 3rd Generation (2021): 3nd Generation Intel Xeon Scalable Processors
    • Intel Xeon Platinum 8380 (Ice Lake-SP)
    • Q2 2021 – 10nm

Intel Ice Lake-SP

The new 10nm Intel Ice Lake-SP family consists of thirty-five SKUs ranging from 8C to 40C. These processors use Sunny Cove cores, have eight-channel memory controllers and can have up to 4TB of DDR4-3200 DRAM per socket. They also support sixty-four PCIe 4.0 lanes and have three 11.2 GT/s Ultra Path Interconnect (UPI) links. Ice Lake-SP only works in one and two-socket servers. This is true even for Xeon Platinum SKUs.

Ice Lake has some useful improvements on several fronts, but I think that it’s real-world performance for most workloads will be hobbled pretty significantly by low base and turbo clock speeds. I have not seen enough benchmarks to make a final determination, but I think many if not most SQL Server workloads will be better off on the older Cascade Lake Refresh processors.

Cooper Lake

The older 14nm Intel Cooper Lake family consists of fifteen SKUs ranging from 8C to 28C. These processors have six-channel memory controllers and can have up to 4.5TB of DDR4-2933 DRAM per socket. Some of the top SKUs can reach DDR4-3200 in 1DPC mode. They also support forty-eight PCIe 3.0 lanes and have six 10.4GT/s Ultra Path Interconnect (UPI) links.

Cooper Lake works in one, two, four, and eight-socket servers, although you will need a Platinum SKU for eight-sockets. One of the main reasons that Cooper Lake was released is Facebook, which wanted bfloat16 support.

All Cooper Lake processors have an “H” or “HL” suffix on the model number. The “HL” suffix means 4.5TB of RAM per socket, fo about a $3,000.00 premium. Otherwise, the “H” SKU is limited to 1.12TB of RAM per socket.

Does Intel Just Like To Confuse People?

If you recall, these two different groups of “3rd Generation Intel Xeon Scalable Processors” require different sockets and different model servers. The compatible server models for these two lines will also be different than what was used by the older Skylake-SP and Cascade Lake-SP processors.

For example, “Cooper Lake” works in a four-socket Lenovo ThinkSystem SR860 V2 server.

Does Intel Just Like To Confuse People?
Lenovo ThinkSystem SR860 V2

If you want a newer “Ice Lake” processor, you could use a two-socket Lenovo ThinkSystem SR650 V2 server or a two-socket Dell PowerEdge R750 server. These are definitely not the only choices, but just some common examples.

Does Intel Just Like To Confuse People?
Lenovo ThinkSystem SR650 V2

Final Words

It didn’t have to be this way. In my humble opinion, Intel could have made this much easier to understand by just calling Ice Lake the “4th Generation Intel Xeon Scalable Processor” family. This is especially true since Ice Lake is the first generation of Intel server processors to have PCIe 4.0 support. When “Sapphire Rapids” is released (with PCIe 5.0 support), it could be the “5th Generation Intel Xeon Scalable Processor” family. This would make the naming easier to understand and remember.

This reminds me of some images from a famous Monty Python film. Do you know which one?

See the source image
What Monty Python Film Was This From?

After reading this, I hope you are a little less confused by this Intel naming convention.

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 GlennAlanBerryThanks for reading!

HW News, Intel, PC Hardware, SQL Server

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