Although the AMD EPYC is definitely a worthy contender in the server space, AMD's technical marketing of the new CPU has been surprisingly absent, as the company not published any real server benchmarks. The only benchmarks published were SPEC CPU and Stream, with AMD preferring for its partners and third parties to promote performance. And, as our long-time readers know, while the SPEC CPU benchmarks have their merits and many people value them, they are a very poor proxy of most server workloads.

In every launch, we expect companies to offer an element of competitive analysis, often to show how their platform is good or better than the rest. At the launch of Intel's latest Xeon-SP platform, analysis to EPYC was limited to a high-level, as the systems were not as freely available as expected. AMD was able to do so on Broadwell-E at the time of the EPYC announcement because it was out and available - Intel wasn't able to do it on EPYC because AMD were several months away from moving it from a cloud-only ramp up program. This is partly the effect of AMD's server market implementation and announcement roadmap, although it didn't stop Intel from hypothesising about the performance deficits in ways that caught the attention of a number of online media.

Throughout all of this, AMD could not resist but to continue to tell the world that the "EPYC SoC Sets World Records on SPEC CPU Benchmarks". In the highly profitable field that is server hardware, this could not be left unanswered by Intel, who responded that the Intel Xeon Scalable has great "momentum" with no less than 110 performance records to date. 

Jumping to the present time, in order to to prove Xeon-SP dominance over the competition, Intel's data center engineering group has been able to obtain a few EPYC systems and has started benchmarking. This benchmarking, along with justifications of third-party verification, was distributed to the small set of Xeon-SP launch reviewers as a guide, to follow up on that high-level discussion some time ago. The Intel benchmarking document we received had a good amount of detail however, and the conference call we had relating to it was filled with some good technical tidbits.

Our own benchmarks showed that the EPYC was a very attractive alternative in some workloads (Java applications), while the superior mesh architecture makes Intel's Xeon the best choice in other (Databases for example).

A Side Note About SPEC

A number of these records were achieved through SPEC. As mentioned above, while SPEC is a handy tool for comparing the absolute best tweaked peak performance of the hardware underneath, or if the system wants to be analysed close to the metal because of how well known the code base is, but this has trouble transferring exactly to the real world. A lot of time the software within a system will only vaguely know what system it is being run on, especially if that system is virtualised. Sending AVX-512 commands down the pipe is one thing, but SPEC compilation can be tweaked to make sure that cache locality is maintained whereas in the real-world, that might not be possible. SPEC says a lot about the system, but ultimately most buyers of these high-end systems are probing real-world workloads on development kits to see what their performance (and subsequent scale-out performance) might be.

For the purposes of this discussion, we have glossed over Intel's reported (and verified over at results.

Pricing Up A System For Comparison

Professionals and the enterprise market will mention, and quite rightly, that Intel has been charging some heavy premiums with the latest generation, with some analysts mentioning a multiple jump up in pricing even for large customers, making it clear that the Xeon enterprise CPU line is their bread and butter. Although Intel's top-end Xeon Platinum 8180 should give the latest EPYC CPU a fit of trouble thanks to its 28 Skylake-SP cores running at 2.5 to 3.8 GHz, the massive price tag ($10009 for the standard version, $13011 for the high-memory model) made sure that Intel's benchmarking team had no other choice than also throwing in a much more modest Xeon Platinum 8160 (24 cores at 2.1 - 3.7 GHz, $4702k) as well as the Xeon Gold 6148 (20 cores at 2.4-3.7 GHz, $3072).

SKUS Tested
  Intel Xeon
Platinum 8180
Intel Xeon
Platinum 8160
Intel Xeon
Gold 6148
EPYC 7601
Release Date Early Q3, 2017   Late Q2, 2017*
Microarchitecture Skylake-SP with AVX-512   Zen
Process Node Intel 14nm (14+)   GloFo 14nm
Cores / Threads 28 / 56 24 / 48 20 / 40   32 / 64
Base Frequency 2.5 GHz 2.1 GHz 2.4 GHz   2.2 GHz
Turbo 3.8 GHz 3.7 GHz 3.7 GHz   3.2 GHz
L2 Cache 28 MB 24 MB 20 MB   16 MB
L3 Cache 38.5 MB 33.0 MB 27.5 MB   64 MB
TDP 205 W 150 W 150 W   180 W
PCIe Lanes 48 (Technically 64 w/ Omni-Path Versions)   128
DRAM 6-channel DDR4   8ch DDR4
Max Memory 768 GB   2048 GB
Price $10009 $4702 $3072   $4200

As a result of this pricing, one of the major humps for Intel in any comparison will be performance per dollar. In order to demonstrate that systems can be equivalent, Intel offered up this comparison from a single retailer. Ideally Intel should have offered multiple configurations options for this comparison, given that a single retailer can intend for different margins on different sets of products (or have different levels of partnership/ecosystem with the manufacturers).

Even then, price parity could only be reached by giving the Intel system less DRAM. Luckily this was the best way to configure the Intel based system anyway. We can only guess how much the benchmarking engineers swore at the people who set the price tags: "this could have been so much easier...". All joking apart, the document we received had a good amount of detail, and similar to how we looked into AMD's benchmarking numbers at their launch, we investigated Intel's newest benchmark numbers as well.

Enterprise & Cloud Benchmarks
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  • Johan Steyn - Monday, December 18, 2017 - link

    I have stated before that Anandtech is on Intel's payroll. You could see it especially with the first Threadripper review, it was horrendous to say the least. This article goes the same route. You see, two people can say the same thing, but project a completely different picture. I do not disagree that Intel has it strengths over EPYC, but this article basically just agrees with Intel,s presentation. Ha ha, that would have been funny, but it is not.

    Intel is corrupt company and Anandtech is missing the point on how they present their "facts." I now very rarely read anything Anandtech publishes. In the 90's they were excellent - those were the days...
  • Jumangi - Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - link

    Maybe you have herd of Google..or Facebook. Not only d9 they build but they design their own rack systems to suit their massive needs.
  • Samus - Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - link

    Even mom and pop shops shouldn't have servers built from scratch. Who's going to support and validate that hardware for the long haul?

    HP and Dell have the best servers in my opinion. Top to bottom. Lenovo servers are at best just rehashes of their crappy workstations. If you want to get exotic (I don't) one could consider Supermicro...friends in the industry have always mentioned good luck with them, and good support. But my experience is with the big three.
  • Ratman6161 - Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - link

    You are both wrong in my experience. These days the software that runs on servers usually costs more (often by a wide margin) than the hardware it runs on. I was once running a software package the company paid $320K for on a VM environment of five two socket Dell servers and a SAN where the total hardware cost was $165K. But that was for the whole VM environment that ran many other servers besides the two that ran this package. Even the $165K for the VM environment included VMWare licensing so that was part software too. Considering the resources the two VMs running this package used, the total cost for the project was probably somewhere around 10% hardware and 90% software licensing.
    For my particular usage, the virtualization numbers are the most important so if we accept these numbers, Intel seems to be the way to go. The $10K CPU's seem pretty outlandish though. For virtualization purposes it seems like there might be more bang for the buck by going with the 8160 and just adding more hosts. Would have to get down to actually doing the math to decide on that one.
  • meepstone - Thursday, December 7, 2017 - link

    So I'm not sure who has the bigger e-peen between eek2121 and CajunArson. The drama in the comments were more entertaining than the article!
  • ddriver - Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - link

    Take a chill pill you intel shill :)

    Go over to servethehome and check results from someone who is not paid to pimp intel. Epyc enjoys ample lead against similarly priced xeons.

    The only niche it is at a disadvantage is the low core count high clock speed skus, simply because for some inexplicable reason amd decided to not address that important market.

    Lastly, nobody buys those 10+k $$$ xeons with his own money. Those are bought exclusively with "others' money" by people who don't care about purchase value, because they have deals with intel that put a percent of that money right back into their pockets, which is their true incentive. If they could put that money in their pockets directly, they would definitely seek the best purchase value rather than going through intel to essentially launder it for them.
  • iwod - Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - link

    This. Go to servethehome and make up your own mind.
  • lazarpandar - Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - link

    It's one thing to sound like a dick, it's another thing to sound like a dick and be wrong at the same time.
  • mkaibear - Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - link

    Er, yes, if you want just 128Gb of RAM it may cost you $1,500, but if you actually want to use the capacity of those servers you'll want a good deal more than that.

    The server mentioned in the Intel example can take 1.5Tb of ECC RAM, at a total cost of about $20k - at which point the cost of the CPU is much less of an impact.

    As CajunArson said, a full load of RAM on one of these servers is expensive. Your response of "yes well if you only buy 128Gb of RAM it's not that expensive", while true, is a tad asinine - you're not addressing the point he made.
  • eek2121 - Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - link

    Not every workload requires that the RAM be topped off. We are currently in the middle of building our own private cloud on Hyper-V to replace our AWS presence, which involves building out at multiple datacenters around the country. Our servers have half a terabyte of RAM. Even with that much RAM, CPUs like this would still be (and are) a major factor in the overall cost of the server. The importance for our use case is the ability to scale, not the ability to cram as many VMs into one machine as possible. 2 servers with half a terabyte of RAM are far more valuable to us than 1 server with 1-1.5 terabytes due to redundancy.

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