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Intel Xeon Platinum Inside Black

During the Intel Xeon Scalable release (Skylake-SP) in 2017, we covered the new naming conventions. Out were the Xeon E5 and Xeon E7 designations and in rushed the precious metals of Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. You can read more about the different names here Intel Xeon Scalable Processor Family: Platinum Gold Silver Bronze Naming Conventions. During the process, the high-end “E7” line was essentially merged into the same line as the company’s mainstream processors. At a platform level, it is great for users as it means one can use the same socket to scale from one to eight processors. From a  marketing standpoint, the Intel Xeon Platinum CPUs are the number one item competitors focus on. nvidia quadro m2000

We want our readers to be well informed about what they read and share why we have been taking a stance against using Intel Xeon Platinum 8100 series CPUs in many of our comparisons.

Why Intel Xeon Platinum is a Marketing Headache

You can run a 205W 28C/ 56T Intel Xeon Platinum 8180 CPU in most single-socket servers without issue. Frankly, this is not something you want to do. The Intel Xeon Platinum 8180 SKUs is meant for maximizing per socket performance for programs with high-cost per socket licensing and for systems that need to go beyond dual socket configurations. The Intel Xeon Platinum line scales to 8 CPUs in a single server. In a quad socket server, Intel Xeon Platinum 8100 (and Gold 6100) CPUs have a direct link to the other three CPUs in a server

The problem is that the Intel Xeon Platinum series is priced for 4 socket and 8 socket configurations where the systems are much more costly, but also designed to be discounted more heavily. The CPUs still function in dual socket servers so we have review systems such as our Dell EMC PowerEdge R640 Review and Dell EMC PowerEdge R740xd Review where Dell EMC sends us dual-socket servers with two Platinum 8180’s. This is because the company wants to ensure its systems perform well. We understand this posture but it has become a marketing headache for Intel.

Quad Intel Xeon Platinum 8180 Test System

Now that there are alternative CPUs in the market such as the AMD EPYC 7001 and Cavium ThunderX2, that offer 32 cores per socket, more than the Platinum 8180’s 28, the comparison is natural as Intel’s top offering in the dual socket segment. Sure, the 8180’s are intended for different markets, but that does not stop the comparisons from rolling in.

An easy task is to take a benchmark and the CPU’s list price and arrive at a performance per dollar calculation. Perhaps intra-family this makes some sense addressing initial purchase prices since you could use the same system for the different SKUs or see pricing methodologies, but architecture-to-architecture it simply does not work. This is doubly true for the Intel Xeon Platinum range since you get results like this:

Intel Xeon Gold 6136 V Platinum 8158 GROMACS STH Small Benchmark

We covered this in our piece Intel Xeon Platinum 8158 v Intel Xeon Gold 6136 Differences. What you can see above is the impact of a “Platinum” SKU with a list price of $7007 and a Gold 6136 with a list price of $2460. The CPUs have essentially the same clock speeds, cores, and cache which drives the similar performance levels. This is true across different workloads including AVX-512.

Commercially, one of the only reasons to pick the Platinum 8158 over the Gold 6136 is if you want to scale to 8 sockets. Otherwise, you get over 2.8x the performance per dollar with the Gold SKU over the Platinum SKU. Even the HPC segment, primarily two CPUs per node, overwhelmingly pick the more cost-effective Xeon Gold over Xeon Platinum as we showed in our recent Top500 June 2018 Edition New Systems Analysis.

AMD uses its core, memory, and I/O advantages to push Intel further by suggesting a single socket AMD EPYC can match favorably with dual Intel Xeon Scalable CPUs (it can.) We discussed the Platinum premium in the context of how Intel Xeon Scalable pricing compares to AMD EPYC 7000 series pricing. You can see there is a large divergence here.Intel Xeon Platinum has another issue. The “M” series designation. Instead of having a clean model delineation like with the Intel Xeon E7 series, where one could move up the range to get more memory per socket. Now, there are SKUs with “M” designations.

Intel Skylake SP Value Comparison High Memory Capacity Analysis

These are derivative parts that essentially cost $3000 more than their non-M siblings. Sure, using 128GB DIMMs means that the CPU prices are dwarfed by memory cost, but it is not a clean break. Instead of using Platinum as the designation for the higher memory capacity parts, there are Xeon Gold SKUs that support 1.5TB of RAM. That brings us to the next point, aside from 8 socket operation and holding the top performance parts, the Intel Xeon Gold line does not help the matter.

Intel Xeon Gold is Not Helping

During the press briefing before the formal launch, I suggested that the Gold 5100 series should be called “Jade” or something else. The Intel Xeon Gold 5100 line is frankly inferior to the Gold 6100 line on so many levels that perhaps it should be called Xeon Pyrite. Pyrite is what one may buy at a gift shop for a five-year-old child and tell them it is gold. Sure, it has some of the same colors and shines when polished, but it is not gold in the same way that there are massive differences between Gold 5100 and Gold 6100 processors.

Here is a quick comparison of the Xeon Silver 4100 v. Gold 5100 v. Gold 6100 v. Platinum 8180 series on four key fronts:

Four Intel Xeon Scalable Skylake SP Differentiators

As you can see, in terms of the key differentiators, the Xeon Gold 5100 series does not have features to push it well beyond the Xeon Silver series. For the Gold 5100 series CPUs, the 2 UPI links essentially relegate it to dual socket configurations since in quad socket configurations you would want 3x UPI links.

At the same time, adding to the confusion is that the Intel Xeon Gold and Platinum features here are very similar. Intel claims better RAS features for Platinum and scalability to 8 socket systems. At the same time, Intel is catering to a very specific set of use cases with Intel Xeon Platinum. These are use cases that competitors like AMD EPYC and Cavium ThunderX2 are not catering to at this point.

This is a simplified model that excludes RAS features, for example, but it is what a lot of customers see. The fact that the Intel Xeon Gold brand is used for chips that are essentially Xeon Silver, save for a crippled 4-socket implementation (Gold 5100 series) and the fact that the main features of Gold 6100 are similar to the Xeon Platinum features that most buyers see, means that the Platinum has a tough time standing out.

Final Words

The Intel Xeon Platinum 8180 is actually a great chip. It has 28 x86 cores on a single die with six memory channels per die. It is designed to scale to 4-way and 8-way servers. While AMD EPYC 7000 and Cavium ThunderX2 have higher core counts and more memory channels, they are not directly competitive with the Intel Xeon Platinum 8180 and Platinum 8176 parts. As a result, at STH we are going to refrain from utilizing these higher-end chips in our direct comparisons unless it is specifically to show the pinnacle of a chip technology. You will notice in our Cavium ThunderX2 review we used the Intel Xeon Gold 6100 series to stay true to this stance.

What the company missed was delivering Intel Optane Persistent Memory support to the Intel Xeon Platinum line which would have been a clear differentiator in the Skylake-SP generation. Along with Apache Pass Intel would have needed to increase the Xeon Platinum memory limits. That feature alone, albeit an arbitrary delineation, would have put an even bigger gap between the Xeon Gold and Xeon Platinum along with Xeon Platinum to other competitors in the market. With that feature miss due to the Optane timeline (remember SAP Sapphire last year Intel Xeon Scalable Processor Family shown off with 3D XPoint) the first generation of Intel Xeon Platinum ran into its marketing issue.

When it came time for launch, albeit an impressive engineering feat, the divergence of Xeon segmentation from the E5 and E7 lines has been a marketing headache. The Intel Xeon Platinum launched with a high price tag and insufficient differentiation for customers to understand the price premium associated with it.

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