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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  • jhh - Thursday, March 31, 2016 - link

    The article says TSX-NI is supported on the E5, but if one looks at Intel ARK, it say it's not. Do the processors say they support TSX-NI? Or is this another one of the things which will be left for the E7?
  • JohanAnandtech - Friday, April 1, 2016 - link

    Intel's official slides say: "supports TSX". All SKUs, no exceptions.
  • Oxford Guy - Thursday, March 31, 2016 - link

    Bigger, badder, still obsolete cores.
  • patrickjp93 - Friday, April 1, 2016 - link

    Obsolete? Troll.
  • Oxford Guy - Tuesday, April 5, 2016 - link

    Unlike you, propagandist, I know what Skylake is.
  • benzosaurus - Thursday, March 31, 2016 - link

    "You can replace a dual Xeon 5680 with one Xeon E5-2699 v4 and almost double your performance while halving the CPU power consumption."

    I mean you can, but you can buy 4 X5680s for a quarter the price of a single E5-2699v4. It takes a lot of power savings to make that worthwhile. The pricing in the server market's always seemed weirdly non-linear to me.
  • warreo - Friday, April 1, 2016 - link

    Presumably, it's not just about TCO. Space is at a premium in a datacenter, and so being able to fit more performance per sq ft also warrants a higher price, just like how notebook parts have historically been more expensive than their desktop equivalents.
  • ShieTar - Friday, April 1, 2016 - link

    But you don't get 4 1366-Systems for the price of one 2011-3 System. Depending on your Memory, Storage and Interconnect Needs, even two full Systems based on the Xeon 5680 may cost you more than one system based on the E5-2699 v4. One less Infiniband-Adapter can easily save you 500$ in Hardware.

    And you are not only halving the CPU power consumption, but also the power consumption of the rest of the system that you no longer use, so instead of 140W you are saving probably at least 200W per System, which can already add up to more than 1k$ in electricity and cooling bills for a 24/7 machine running for 3 years.

    And last, but by no means least, less parts means less space, less chance for failure, less maintenance effort. If you happily waste a few hours here or there to maintain your own workstation, you don't do the math, but if you have to pay somebody to do it, salaries matter quickly. With an MTBF for an entire server rarely being much higher than 40.000, and recovery/repair easily taking you a person-day of work, each system generates about 1.7 hours of work per year. Cost of work (it's more than salaries, of course) probably comes up to 100$ for a skilled technical administrator, thus producing another 500$ over 3 years of added operational cost.

    And of course, space matters as well. If your data center is filled, it can be more cost effective to replace the old CPUs with new expensive ones, rather than build a new facility to fill with more old Systems.

    If you add it all up, I doubt you can get a System with an Xeon 5680 and operate it over 3 years for anything below 20.000$. So going from two 20.000$-Systems to a single 24.000$ Dollar System (because of an extra 4000$ for the big CPU) should save you a lot of money in the long run.
  • JohanAnandtech - Friday, April 1, 2016 - link

    Where do you get your pricing info from? I can not imagine that server vendors still sell X5680s.
  • extide - Friday, April 1, 2016 - link

    Yeah, if you go used. No enterprise sysadmin worth his salt is ever going to put used gear that is not in warranty, and in support into production.

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