Glenn’s Technical Insights For November 17, 2019

(Glenn’s Technical Insights… used to be part of our bi-weekly newsletter but we decided to make it a regular blog post instead so it can get more visibility. It covers interesting new hardware and software developments that are generally relevant for SQL Server). It also can just be technically-oriented items that I find interesting.

New Intel Processor Security Vulnerabilities Revealed

Intel has disclosed two new processor security vulnerabilities, including the TSX Asynchronous Abort (TAA) issue and a Jump Conditional Code (JCC) Erratum. These two issues affect most recent Intel processors, including the most recent Intel Cascade Lake-SP server processors.

The continued emergence of these types of issues (and the firmware and software fixes required to mitigate them) has an increasing negative effect on the performance of Intel processors.

Intel Reveals TAA Vulnerabilities in Cascade Lake Chips and a New JCC Bug

Zombieload V2 TAA Performance Impact Benchmarks On Cascade Lake

Deep Dive: Intel® Transactional Synchronization Extensions (Intel® TSX) Asynchronous Abort

Benchmarks Of JCC Erratum: A New Intel CPU Bug With Performance Implications On Skylake Through Cascade Lake

Intel vs AMD Processor Security: Who Makes the Safest CPUs?

Microsoft’s official guidance for SQL Server for these types of issues is here. Microsoft has released a KB article that shows how to change a Registry setting to disable TSX (which is one way to prevent the TAA issue).


Microsoft Offers New Azure VMs Running AMD EPYC 7002 Processors

Microsoft recently introduced fourth-generation D-series instances (Da_v4 and Das_v4) which target enterprise-grade applications, relational databases, in-memory caching and analytics. These VMs use 32C/64T AMD EPYC 7452 processors that support up to 96 vCPUs, 384GB of DDR4 RAM and 2.4TB of SSD-based temporary storage for each VM.

Microsoft has new fourth-generation E-series VMs (Ea_v4 and Eas_v4) that target business-critical workloads that need large amounts of memory. These VMs also run on AMD EPYC 7452 processors, supporting up to 96 vCPUs, 674GB of DDR4 RAM and 2.4TB SSD-based temporary storage for each VM.

The Das_v4 and the Eas_v4 series offer premium SSD managed disks, which have much better performance for I/O intensive workloads, such as SQL Server.

Explore all Virtual Machine options

Microsoft also has Azure NVv4 instances for virtual desktops using the 64C/128T AMD EPYC 7742 processor and AMD Radeon Instinct MI25 GPUs. AMD had an announcement about this during the Ignite conference.




AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Processor Released


On November 14, 2019, the review embargo for the AMD Ryzen 9 3950X mainstream desktop processor expired. As a result, there were a flood of written and video reviews of AMD’s new flagship processor for the mainstream market segment. This 7nm processor has 16C/32T with a base clock speed of 3.5GHz, a max boost clock of up to 4.7GHz, a 64MB L3 cache, a 105W TDP, and PCIe 4.0 support. The SRP is $749.99.

It is essentially the same Zen 2 processor as the 12C/24T AMD Ryzen 9 3900X (with two CCX) with four more cores and slightly different base and max boost clock speeds that has a SRP of $499.99. One important difference is that the 3900X comes with an included Wraith Prism CPU cooler, while the 3950X does not include a CPU cooler. AMD actually recommends an all-in-one liquid cooler with a 280mm radiator (or greater) for the 3950X.

This is actually a strange recommendation, since according to several reviews, the 3950X runs cooler than the 3900X (in an otherwise identical system). I suspect that you would also be fine with a high quality, large air cooler from Noctua. This apparent paradox is due to better binning of the chiplets used in the 3950X, which lets them run at lower voltage at the same clock speeds compared to the 3900X. This reduces energy usage and reduces the heat output.


Figure 1: AMD Ryzen 9 3950X

My Analysis

After reading and watching multiple reviews of the Ryzen 9 3950X, I am very impressed, more so than I thought I would be. It’s single-threaded performance is comparable to the 8C/16T Intel Core i9-9900K and 9900KS on most benchmarks, while its multi-threaded performance is far superior to those two flagship Intel desktop processors on nearly every benchmark. To make matters worse for Intel, the 3950X has significantly better single-threaded performance than Intel’s much more expensive current  Skylake-X HEDT processors and comparable or better multi-threaded performance on most benchmarks.

The Ryzen 9 3950X also dominates the existing 12nm 16C/32T AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X HEDT processor in both single and multi-threaded performance. It does have less memory capacity (two memory channels and four DIMM slots vs. four memory channels and eight DIMM slots), but it supports faster memory. It has fewer PCIe lanes, but PCIe 4.0 lanes have twice the bandwidth of PCIe 3.0 lanes.

Intel really doesn’t have a viable competitive response in the mainstream or HEDT segments available now, or on the short-term horizon (meaning the next six to twelve months). About all Intel can do to try to minimize the damage is to reduce their prices pretty significantly. They have the financial resources to do that if they want to, and I predict they will. If you simply must have an Intel processor, I suggest you wait a month or two to take advantage of this.

Who Is This Processor For?

Despite AMD’s marketing, you don’t really need an AMD Ryzen 3950X for gaming. If all you do is game, you can use a less expensive AMD or Intel processor, and spend the savings on a better video card. If you are a hard-core content creator, where rendering and encoding time is a really big deal, where time is literally money, then you would be better off waiting for the upcoming 3rd Generation AMD Ryzen Threadripper processors that will have more cores, more memory channels and capacity, and more PCIe 4.0 capacity.

The target audience for this processor is someone who does some content creation, some development, perhaps likes to run multiple VMs or containers, and also likes to do some gaming. It is a versatile, relatively affordable mainstream consumer processor (compared to an HEDT system) that has the performance and capacity to handle most common workloads very well.

To be clear, most people don’t really need to go this high up in the desktop stack to get great general purpose desktop performance. You can use something like an 8C/16T AMD Ryzen 7 3700X or even a 6C/12T AMD Ryzen 5 3600 for a lot less money. If you are running an older Intel 4C/8T desktop processor including as new as a Core i7-7700K, moving to even a lower-end AMD Zen 2 processor system is going to be a substantial upgrade.

Selected Reviews

Here are some reviews to watch and read.

Intel Could Take YEARS to Catch Up… – Ryzen 9 3950X Review

Ryzen 9 3950X Review, The New Performance King!

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Review & Benchmarks – The Intel Destroyer

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Review: Premiere, Blender, Overclocking, & Gaming CPU Benchmarks

Ryzen 3950X Review & Benchmarks: 16-Core Dominance!

RYZEN 3950X vs. TR 2950X, i9-9900KS – Gaming, Rendering, OC

Ryzen 9 3950X review: AMD’s 16-core CPUs is an epic end-zone dance over Intel

The AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Review: 16 Cores on 7nm with PCIe 4.0

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Review: 16 Cores Muscles Into the Mainstream

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Review: A 16-Core Zen 2 Powerhouse

Windows 10 Version 1909 Available

Microsoft has started making Windows 10, version 1909 generally available through Windows Update as an optional update, as you can see in Figure 1. This just started happening on November 12. I have already seen it on multiple systems with both AMD and Intel processors. This is notable, because there was a substantial delay for AMD systems when Windows 10, version 1903 became available earlier this year.


Figure 1: Windows Update Offering Windows 10, version 1909

Unlike previous Windows 10 semi-annual feature updates, the installation of Version 1909 goes pretty quickly. Having a fast NVMe SSD or Intel Optane NVMe storage and a modern, fast processor still matters as far as installation speed goes, but it is much faster than it was in 1903 or earlier versions.

I also noticed that it does not need as much disk space, and does not generate as much extra file usage that needs to be cleaned up with the Windows Disk Cleanup utility. You will only see this faster, more streamlined update process if you are coming from Windows 10, version 1903, as explained here.

Figure 2 shows what you will see in WinVer after upgrading to 1909.


Figure 2: WinVer Output Showing Version 1909

Here is some initial information about the improvements in 1909:

What’s new in Windows 10, version 1909

These are the two most interesting improvements from that document:

  • We have made general battery life and power efficiency improvements for PCs with certain processors.

  • A CPU may have multiple “favored” cores (logical processors of the highest available scheduling class). To provide better performance and reliability, we have implemented a rotation policy that distributes work more fairly among these favored cores.