Published in PC Hardware

Ice Lake Xeons disappoint

by on18 June 2021

Chew more power than Cascade Lake

Intel’s latest Ice Lake Xeons are likely to be a huge disappointment to data centre customers as they suck up more power than the previous Cascade Lake generation.

Uptime Institute research director Daniel Bizo told Data Centre Dynamics  that Ice Lake SP Xeons pack a much bigger punch than the previous generation, with up to 40 enhanced processor cores on a single chip (28 in the previous generation, Cascade Lake), and deliver a 30 percent to 50 percent performance uplift across a wide range of workloads — even more for vector operations, making them attractive for high-performance computing.

However, while these processors are great for workload consolidation and demanding business applications, such as transaction processing and analytics, they were delivered late and come with no energy-efficiency benefit.

“In fact, the industry-standard server power efficiency benchmark SPECpower (established by the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation) shows significant regression in efficiency compared with the previous generation. Some of this is due to recent code changes in the Java engine the benchmark uses, but even when this is factored in, the change in efficiency (or rather the lack thereof) does not paint a favourable view”, Bizo wrote.

Basically, Ice Lake SP is unusually power-hungry for a chip made with more advanced 10-nanometer manufacturing technology.

Intel has been forced to push beyond the new chip’s electrical comfort zone in a drive for higher speeds to match or exceed previous generation products. This, in turn, drives supply voltages and currents disproportionately higher — literally dissipating any energy efficiency advantage it might have started with, Bizo said.

This is a huge own goal as the data centre IT sector has been focusing on power efficiency for some time. Cloud operators, in particular, will find the lack of efficiency progress unpleasant, as it directly affects their bottom lines, while they are at the same time under enormous pressure from their own management, and from regulators in Washington, Brussels, Singapore and Tokyo, to demonstrate progress in sustainability.

AMD (along with its manufacturing partner TSMC) has risen to challenge Intel in the data centre at the right time. Its processors offer far greater energy efficiency and performance density — more than 50 percent higher total performance for about 20 percent less energy than Ice Lake-SP in the SPECpower benchmark — making it ideal for cloud and aggressive enterprise workload consolidation.

Hyperscale cloud provider Amazon Web Services (AWS) has ramped up mass deployments of servers using its own chip family, Graviton, in a bid to vertically integrate more of its technology stack for differentiation and, longer-term, to drive costs further down.

While there is no publicly available efficiency data on Graviton2, the AWS chips are made with the same TSMC technology as AMD’s server chips, which indicates low energy use and strong efficiency for select applications.

Intel appears to be cruising with its vast lead in processor making capacity, while AMD is restrained by chip supply for the time being as it gradually increases production orders at TMSC.

For this reason many cloudy providers will be hoping Intel pulls its socks up in 12 months when the next generation of chips is released, Bizo said.

Last modified on 18 June 2021
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