Intel has recently released two, new “flagship” Xeon processors, one for the E7 v4 product family, and one for the E5 v4 product family. The new Intel Xeon E7-8894 v4 processor has 24 physical cores, and runs at a slightly higher base clock speed of 2.4GHz, compared to the 2.2GHz base clock speed of the previous flagship Intel Xeon E7-8890 v4 processor.
All of the other specifications of the E7-8894 v4 are identical to the earlier E7-8890 v4. One big difference between these two processors is the price. The new Xeon E7-8894 v4 is $8898.00 while the older Xeon E7-8890 v4 is $7174.00, which is a 24% price increase. While this seems like a pretty significant price increase by Intel, I think that most organizations that have a need for this type of hardware are not going to be very sensitive to that difference in hardware cost.
From a SQL Server 2016 Enterprise Edition license cost perspective, each physical core license is $7128.00. A four-socket Dell PowerEdge R930 server would require 96 core licenses, which would cost $684,288.00. The added $6,896.00 hardware cost of four E7-8894 v4 processors vs. four E7-8890 v4 processors is pretty trivial. The base clock speed increase is 9%, which means better single-threaded performance, which actually makes that large investment in SQL Server 2016 licenses more acceptable. Getting 9% more CPU capacity and 9% better single-threaded performance for less than 1% of the total hardware and license cost is actually a pretty good ROI. Table 1 shows some comparative metrics for a four-socket system using either of these two processors.
Table 1: Comparative Metrics for Xeon E7-8894 v4 vs. Xeon E7-8890 v4 Processors
Back in Q4 of 2016, Intel made a similar new flagship model introduction in the Xeon E5 v4 product family with the rollout of the Intel Xeon E5-2699A v4 processor. This new flagship SKU has 22 physical cores and a base clock speed of 2.4GHz, compared to the 2.2GHz base clock speed of the previous flagship Intel Xeon E5-2699 v4 processor. Again, all of the other specifications for the E5-2699A v4 are identical to the earlier E5-2699 v4. There was also a significant price increase for this new flagship processor, with the new SKU costing $4938.00 vs. $4115.00 for the older flagship SKU, which represents a 20% price increase. This also seems like a case of price gouging from Intel, but is is actually acceptable from a SQL Server 2016 license cost perspective.
A two-socket Dell PowerEdge R730 server would require 44 core licenses, which would cost $313,632.00. The added $1,646.00 hardware cost of two E5-2699A v4 processors vs. two E5-2699 v4 processors is even more trivial. Table 2 shows some comparative metrics for a two-socket system using either of these two processors.
Table 2: Comparative Metrics for Xeon E5-2699A v4 vs. Xeon E5-2699 v4 Processors
In both cases, my standard guidance about selecting the fastest available processor for a given physical core count for SQL Server usage still stands. The added hardware cost for getting the fastest processor core is really insignificant compared to the total system cost, including licensing costs.
The fact that Intel feels justified in charging 20-24% more for just 9% more performance is just a sad fact that stems from them not currently having any viable competition in the server CPU space from AMD. I really do hope that the next round of AMD Opteron processors based on the Zen microarchitecture are successful, and start to give Intel some decent competition.
Still, as a SQL Server DBA, getting 9% more capacity and 9% better single-threaded CPU performance for less than 1% higher system cost is actually a pretty good deal.