We have been spoiled. Since the introduction of the Xeon "Nehalem" 5500 (Xeon 5500, March 2009), Intel has been increasing the core counts of their Xeon CPUs by nearly 50% almost every 18 months. We went from four to six (Xeon 5600) on June 2010. Sandy Bridge (Xeon E5-2600, March 2012) increased the core count to 8. That is only 33% more cores, but each core was substantially faster than the previous generation. Ivy Bridge EP (Xeon E5-2600 v2, launched September 2013) increased the core count from 8 to 12, the Haswell-EP (Xeon E5-2600 v3, sept 2014) surprised with an 18-core flagship SKU.

However it could not go on forever. Sooner or later Intel would need to slow down a bit on adding cores, for both power and space reasons, and today Intel has finally pumped the brakes a bit.

Launching today is the latest generation of Intel's Xeon E5 processors, the Xeon E5 v4 series.Fifteen months after Intel's Broadwell architecture and 14nm process first reached consumers, Broadwell has finally reached the multi-socket server space with Broadwell-EP. Like past EP cores, Broadwell-EP is the bigger, badder sibling of the consumer Broadwell parts, offering more cores, more memory bandwidth, more cache, and more server-focused features. And thanks to the jump from their 22nm process to their current-generation 14nm process, Intel gets to reap the benefits of a smaller, denser process.

Getting back to our discussion of core counts then, even with the jump to 14nm, Intel has played it more conservatively with their core counts. Compared to the Xeon E5 v3 (Haswell-EP), Xeon E5 v4 (Broadwell-EP) makes a smaller jump, going from 18 cores to 24 cores, for an increase of 33%. Yet even then, for the new Xeon E5 v4 "only" 22 cores are activated, so we won't get to see everything Broadwell-EP is capable of right away.

Meanwhile the highest (turbo) clockspeed is still 3.6 GHz, base clocks are reduced with one or two steps and the core improvements are very modest (+5%). Consequently, performance wise, this is probably the least spectacular product refresh we have seen in many years.

But there are still enough paper specs that make the Broadwell version of the Xeon E5 attractive. It finds a home in the same LGA 2011-3 socket. Few people will in-place upgrade from Xeon E5 v3s to Xeon E5 v4s, but using the same platform means less costs for the server vendors, and more software maturity (drivers etc.) for the buyers.

They look very different but fit in the same socket: Xeon E5 v4 on top, Xeon E5 v3 at the bottom

Broadwell also has several features that make it a more attractive processor for virtualized servers. Finer granular control over how applications share the uncore (caches and memory bandwidth) to avoid scenarios where low priority applications slow down high priority ones. Meanwhile quite a few improvements have been made to make the I/O intensive applications run smoother on top of a virtualized layer. Most businesses run their applications virtualized and virtualization is still the key ingredient of the fast growing cloud services (Amazon, Digital Ocean, Azure...), and more and more telecom operators are starting to virtualized their services, so these new features will definitely be put to good use. And of course, Intel made quite a few subtle - but worth talking about - tweaks to keep the HPC (mostly "simulation" and "scientific calculation software) crowd happy.

But don't make the mistake to think that only virtualization and HPC are the only candidates for the new up-to-22-cores Xeons. The newest generation of data analytics frameworks have made enormous performance steps forward by widening the network and storage bandwidth bottlenecks. One example is Apache Spark, which can crunch through terabytes of data much more efficiently than its grandparent Hadoop by making better use of RAM. To get results out of a massive hump of text data, for example, you can use some of most advanced statistical and machine learning algorithms. Mix machine learning with data mining and you get an application that is incredibly CPU-hungry but does not need the latest and fastest NVMe-based SSDs to keep the CPU busy.

Yes, we are proud to present our new benchmark based upon Apache Spark in this review. Combining analytics software with machine learning to get deeper insights is one of the most exciting trends in the enterprise world. And it is also one of the reason why even a 22-core Broadwell is still not fast enough.

Broadwell-EP: The 14nm Xeon E5
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  • patrickjp93 - Friday, April 1, 2016 - link

    Knight's Landing: 730 mm^2, also on the 14nm platform
  • extide - Friday, April 1, 2016 - link

    Is it really that big..? Wow, I knew it was big, but didn't know it was that big. Got a source on that?
  • Kevin G - Friday, April 8, 2016 - link

    I'll second a link for a source. I knew it'd be big but that big?
  • extide - Friday, April 1, 2016 - link

    I know you meant Reticle, but that was a pretty funny typo, heh.
  • Kevin G - Friday, April 8, 2016 - link

    Autocorrect has gotten the best of me yet again.
  • extide - Friday, April 1, 2016 - link

    And, I know how big GM200 and Fiji are, but I am talking about big GPU's on 14/16nm. All signs are currently pointing to <300mm^2 for the first round of 14/16nm GPU's.
  • lorribot - Thursday, March 31, 2016 - link

    Given the way Microsoft and others are now licensing by the core and in large non splitable packages (Windows 2016 Datacenter is in blocks of 16 cores, a dual socket server with 44 cores would need 48 core licences) the increasing core count has limited appeal over small numbers of faster cores when looking at virtualised environments.
    Those still in the physical world will still have to pay per core but may have to buy 4 std Windows licenses.
    when it comes to doing your testing, it should reflect these costs and compare total bang per buck when dealing with performance.
    Red Hat still licences per socket but don't be surprised if they go per core too.
  • JohanAnandtech - Friday, April 1, 2016 - link

    Back in 2008, I had a sales person explaining the license models of Microsoft to me in our lab. From that point on, we have invested most of our time and resources in linux server software. :-D
  • extide - Friday, April 1, 2016 - link

    Enterprise linux isn't free, either ya know
  • rahvin - Friday, April 1, 2016 - link

    Support isn't free on the FOSS side but the software is. Redhat is never going to charge more per "cores" for support, that's ridiculous and would result in rivals stealing their support contracts. If licensing costs are that bad that you are dumping hardware you really should be looking at moving services to Linux and Visualizing the windows servers so you can limit the core count and provide more horsepower.

    Anyone putting Microsoft on bare hardware these days is nuts. Although the consolation is that they get to pay MS's exorbitant tax on software. Linux should be the core component of any IT services and virtualized servers where you need proprietary server software.

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