Glenn’s Technical Insights For October 23, 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.

AMD Threadripper 3000 Series

More information has been leaking regarding the upcoming release of the 3rd generation, Zen 2 AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3000 processors. These 7nm HEDT processors are supposed to be officially announced on November 5, 2019, and two of the SKUs are rumored to be available for sale on November 19, 2019. The series will start with a 24C/48T Ryzen Threadripper 3960X and a 32T/64C Ryzen Threadripper 3970X. These will be accompanied by new TRX40 chipset motherboards that will be available at the same time.

The initial announcement and release will be followed by one or two higher-end SKUs that will be released in January 2020. These would be the 48C/96T Ryzen Threadripper 3980X and the flagship 64C/128T Threadripper 3990X.  So far, we don’t know other specifications like clock speeds, cache sizes, or how much IPC gain these processors will have compared to the previous 2nd generation Threadripper processors. They are supposed to have PCIe 4.0 support, and will likely have more PCIe lanes and higher memory capacity than their predecessors.

Needless to say, I am pretty excited about 3rd Generation Threadripper. I think it is going to extend AMD’s dominance in the HEDT market. The “entry-level” 7nm 24C/48T AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X HEDT processor should compare very favorably with the recently released “high-end” 14nm 18C/36T Intel Core i9-10980XE Extreme Edition HEDT processor. The AMD processor will definitely have better multi-threaded performance, as you would expect from having 24 vs. 18 cores.

It is also likely to have better single-threaded performance than Intel. It will also have more PCIe bandwidth (from a combination of Gen 4 support and having more total lanes). The AMD processor will probably cost about the same as the Intel processor, and it will be using a more modern, feature-rich TRX40 chipset compared to Intel’s refreshed X299 chipset. This is pretty amazing, with the entry-level AMD HEDT SKU beating the high-end Intel HEDT SKU in nearly every measure.

Building one of these very powerful desktop machines is still going to be fairly expensive, typically in the $3000-$5000 range depending on exactly what components you choose. That is a lot of money, but for people who actually make money using the full horsepower of a HEDT machine, it will be worth it. If you don’t need that much horsepower, you will also have another, less expensive choice from AMD

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Processor

Intel’s woes will continue when the 16C/32T AMD Ryzen 9 3950X mainstream desktop processor is released in November. This is the flagship Zen 2 desktop processor that has a base clock speed of 3.5GHz, a max boost clock speed of 4.7GHz and 64MB of L3 cache. AMD is said to be binning better quality Zen 2 processor cores for the $749.00 flagship 3950X compared to the lower-end SKUs in that product family. This means that they will reliably run at higher max boost speeds more often.


Figure 1: AMD Ryzen 9 3950X

Another advantage is that Zen 2 has been out since July 7, 2019, so there has been time for AMD to improve the AMD Generic Encapsulated Software Architecture (AGESA) firmware and their chipset drivers compared to the initial release versions, which has improved performance. Remember, you want to make sure you have the latest BIOS version, latest AMD chipset drivers, and Windows 10 Version 1903 (or later) to get the best performance from a Zen 2 processor.

There have been some leaked benchmarks showing the mainstream Ryzen 9 3950X beating the HEDT Intel Core i9-10980XE processor. These leaked benchmarks are not on exactly comparable systems (with different video cards and different memory speeds), so keep that in mind.

The bottom line for me is that for most desktop workloads, you can get much better overall performance for much less money with an AMD Zen 2 system compared to an Intel system. One exception is 1080P gaming, where your video card is not a bottleneck. In this scenario, the fastest, most expensive Intel desktop processors, such as the Intel Core i9-9900K and upcoming Intel Core i9-9900KS will have higher frame rates on some, but not all games. If you are gaming at 2K or 4K, you will be better off with a more affordable AMD Ryzen 7 3700K, and then spending the money you saved on the processor on a better video card.

For general desktop usage and content creation scenarios, having more cores (such as the 12C/24T AMD Ryzen 9 3900X or the 16C/32T AMD Ryzen 9 3950X) is going to be much more useful most of the time. If you are on a budget, the 6C/12T AMD Ryzen 5 3600 or the 8C/16T AMD Ryzen 7 3700X are excellent choices.

Glenn’s Technical Insights For October 11, 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 related items that I find interesting.

Microsoft SQL Server Cumulative Updates

Microsoft has recently released (and then removed) SQL Server 2016 SP2 CU9. There was nothing wrong with the actual payload of SQL Server 2016 SP2 CU9, but there was a problem if you tried to uninstall it. To be fair, uninstalling a CU doesn’t happen that often, but if you want/need to do it, it should work properly. It was quickly replaced with SQL Server 2016 SP2 CU10, which is identical to CU9, except that the uninstall issue has been fixed.  Since SQL Server 2016 SP1 is no longer supported, there was no CU for that branch.

Microsoft also released SQL Server 2017 CU17 on October 8, 2019. This is Build 14.0.3238.1, with 34 public hotfixes. So far, there are no reported issues with this CU. I wrote more about this CU here. Despite some recent stumbles by Microsoft, I am still a big proponent of trying to keep your SQL Server instances as up to date as possible. That does not mean throwing a new CU into Production the day it is released, but it also does not mean avoiding patching SQL Server indefinitely either.

Intel Cascade Lake-X HEDT Processors

On October 7, 2019, Intel released a new line of high end desktop (HEDT) processors for the existing X299 chipset. This is the 14nm Core i9-10900 Series that is meant for HEDT and workstation usage on the LGA2066 platform on existing X299 and new X299X motherboards. There are four SKUs in this release, ranging from 10C/20T up to 18C/36T.

These processors have slightly higher base and Turbo Boost clock speeds than the previous Skylake-X HEDT processors, with support for up to 256GB of DDR4-2933 memory. They also have several other minor improvements compared to Skylake-X. Overall, the majority of the enthusiast tech community seems to be pretty underwhelmed by this product family.

The big news with this release is a rather dramatic price reduction compared to Skylake-X, especially on the higher core count SKUs. For example, the new 18C/36T Core i9-10980XE has a launch price of $979.00 compared the previous 18C/36T Core i9-9980XE that went for about $2000.00.

New Intel Core I9 X Series Refresh SKUs LGA 2066

Figure 1: Intel Core i9-10900 Series SKUs

These price cuts seem to be a pretty obvious response to what AMD has been doing over the past year (and what they are going to release in November). AMD is due to release the 7nm 16C/32T mainstream desktop Ryzen 9 3950X for $750.00 in November, along with the 7nm 3rd Generation Threadripper processors. The 3rd Generation Threadripper processors are rumored to have between 24C/48T at launch, up to possibly 64C/128T later. There are also strong rumors of new TRX40 and TRX80 chipsets that may have additional memory channels and more PCIe 4.0 lanes compared to 2nd Generation Threadripper. We don’t know clock speeds or pricing yet.

This is another example of why viable competition between Intel and AMD is good for the market and for consumers. AMD seems to be winning a lot of battles in different market segments lately, but Intel has many talented engineers and lots of resources that they can throw into the fight. Intel will eventually have a better response than drastic price cuts, so this will be an interesting fight over the next couple of years.




Glenn’s Tech Insights for March 6, 2019

(Glenn’s Tech 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).

DRAM Prices Declining in 1H 2019

Market analyst firm DRAMeXchange, expects DDR4 Server DRAM prices to decline by roughly 30% in Q1 of 2019. They also expect another 15% price drop in Q2 of 2019. DRAM inventory levels have been climbing since Q4 of 2018, and most DRAM suppliers are holding a huge six weeks supply of inventory. This trend is should continue until at least Q3 2019.

Intel has 14nm manufacturing bottlenecks that are causing a shortage of processors for some parts of the processor market. This has the effect of depressing demand for DRAM, which puts downward pressure on DRAM prices. This Intel CPU shortage will probably continue for the rest of 2019, even after Cascade Lake-SP is released.

This is especially good news if you are planning any new database server purchases in the coming year.  Ideally, you would do this as part of a data platform upgrade. Checking today, I see 32GB DDR4-2666 RDIMMs selling for $275.99, which is $8.63/GB. That is the lowest pricing that I have seen in 2-3 years. This makes it much less expensive to get an appropriate amount of memory for your database server.

For example, for a typical two-socket server with 512GB of RAM, sixteen 32GB DIMMs would only cost about $4,460.00. This is nearly a 50% reduction from about a year ago.


Figure 1: Cost Breakdown of a Two-Socket Server

As you can see in Figure 1, the cost of an adequate amount of memory is now one of the lower contributors to the total cost of a database server.

3rd Generation AMD Ryzen Threadripper Processor in 2019

AMD recently had a special presentation for investors, where they revealed some more details about their product roadmap. This included some rough release dates for several upcoming product lines. These include the 2nd generation Ryzen Pro mobile processors, 3rd generation Ryzen desktop processors, and the 3rd generation Ryzen Threadripper processors.

The fact that AMD included the 3rd Generation Ryzen Threadripper processor family of this roadmap very likely means a release date in 2019.


Figure 2: AMD Product Roadmap

The 7nm 3rd Generation Ryzen desktop processors have been rumored to be released on July 7, 2019. I am looking forward to the release of the 7nm 3rd Generation Ryzen Threadripper processor family later in 2019. When that happens, I should be able to do yet another CPU upgrade on my existing system.

Alternatively, I may be able to build a completely new system with a new motherboard using an X499 chipset (which is only a rumor at this point). There was talk of the X499 chipset being released at CES 2019, but that didn’t happen. If it does happen, I would expect improvements such as PCIe 4.0 support, Thunderbolt 3 support, and better USB connectivity.

This is pretty exciting stuff if you want to see a viable competitor to Intel, both in the mainstream desktop and HEDT space. What do you think about this? I would really like to hear your thoughts!