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Intel 3rd Gen Xeon Scalable (Ice Lake SP) Review: Generationally Big, Competitively S
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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 3[sup]rd[/sup] 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 3[sup]rd[/sup] 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 2[sup]nd[/sup] 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.

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 1[sup]st[/sup] 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.
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