New Flagship Xeon E5 and E7 Processors

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

More Intel Broadwell Server Processor Families Available

Back on March 31, 2016 (the last day of Q1 2016), Intel released the 14nm Xeon E5-2600 v4 Product Family (Broadwell-EP), which is currently the highest single-threaded performance product family for two-socket servers. You can read about some of the specific enhancements in this family in this document: Intel® Xeon® Processor E5-2600 V4 Product Family Technical Overview. These processors are socket compatible with the previous Haswell-EP family, so they work with (and are currently available for) existing server models from all of the major server vendors.

If you are going to purchase a new Xeon E5-2600 v4 system (which I think is the best choice for most people), then the model numbers shown in Table 1 are your best choices for SQL Server usage, for each physical core count. The eight-core Xeon E5-2667 v4, the six-core Xeon E5-2643 v4 and the four-core Xeon E5-2637 v4 are the “frequency-optimized” models that would be my preferred choices in most situations for SQL Server usage.

 

ModelCores/L3 CacheBase ClockTurbo ClockPrice
Xeon E5-2699 v422/55MB2.20 GHz3.60 GHz$4,115.00
Xeon E5-2698 v420/50MB2.20 GHz3.60 GHz$3,226.00
Xeon E5-2697 v418/45MB2.30 GHz3.60 GHz$2,702.00
Xeon E5-2697A v416/40MB2.60 GHz3.60 GHz$2,891.00
Xeon E5-2690 v414/35MB2.60 GHz3.50 GHz$2,090.00
Xeon E5-2687W v412/30MB3.00 GHz3.50 GHz$2,141.00
Xeon E5-2640 v410/25MB2.40 GHz3.40 GHz$939.00
Xeon E5-2667 v48/25MB3.20 GHz3.60 GHz$2,057.00
Xeon E5-2643 v46/20MB3.40 GHz3.70 GHz$1,552.00
Xeon E5-2637 v44/15MB3.50 GHz3.70 GHz$996.00

Table 1: Preferred Xeon E5-2600 v4 Family Processors (Broadwell-EP)

 

On June 6, 2016, Intel released the 14nm Xeon E7 v4 Product Family (Broadwell-EX), for four-socket and larger servers. These processors are also socket compatible with the previous Haswell-EX family, so they work with (and are currently available for) existing server models from all of the major server vendors. I have to admit that this quick release of the Xeon E7 v4 took me by surprise, since I was not expecting it until late 2016 or early 2017, based on Intel’s past release history. Typically, there is anywhere from a six to eighteen month delay between the release of a new generation Xeon E5-2600 processor family, and an equivalent generation Xeon E7 processor family.

If you are going to purchase a new Xeon E7 v4 system, then the model numbers shown in Table 2 are your best choices for SQL Server usage, for each physical core count. The eighteen-core Xeon E7-8867 v4, the ten-core Xeon E7-8891 v4 and the four-core Xeon E7-8893 v4 are the “frequency-optimized” models that would be my preferred choices in most situations for SQL Server usage.

 

ModelCores/L3 CacheBase ClockTurbo ClockPrice
Xeon E7-8890 v424/60MB2.20 GHz3.40 GHz$7,174.00
Xeon E7-8880 v422/55MB2.20 GHz3.30 GHz$5,895.00
Xeon E7-8870 v420/50MB2.10 GHz3.00 GHz$4,672.00
Xeon E7-8867 v418/45MB2.40 GHz3.30 GHz$4,672.00
Xeon E7-4850 v416/40MB2.10 GHz2.80 GHz$3,003.00
Xeon E7-4830 v414/35MB2.00 GHz2.80 GHz$2,170.00
Xeon E7-8891 v410/60MB2.80 GHz3.50 GHz$6,841.00
Xeon E7-4809 v48/20MB2.10 GHz2.10 GHz$1,223.00
Xeon E7-8893 v44/60MB3.20 GHz3.50 GHz$6,841.00

Table 2: Preferred Xeon E7 v4 Family Processors (Broadwell-EX)

 

On June 20, 2016, Intel released the 14nm Xeon E5-4600 v4 Product Family (Broadwell-EP), for four-socket servers, which was also somewhat of a surprise. To be honest, I am not a big fan of the E5-4600 v4 Family. The Xeon E5 is really meant for two-socket systems, and it does not seem to scale very well in a four-socket system. If you really need the higher total core counts and higher total memory limit that you would get from a Xeon E5-4600 v4 vs. a Xeon E5-2600 v4 system, I think you are better off to make the jump to a Xeon E7 v4 system (which will also get you more RAS features).

All of the Xeon E5-4600 v4 Family processors have relatively low base clock speeds, and the higher core count SKUs are actually quite expensive, basically in the same range as similar core count Xeon E7 v4 processors. If you really want a Xeon E5-4600 v4 system, then the model numbers shown in Table 3 are your best choices for SQL Server usage, for each physical core count. The ten-core Xeon E5-4627 v4 and eight-core Xeon E5-4655 v4 would be my preferred choices in most situations, since they are somewhat “frequency-optimized”, and have lower overall core counts, which will dramatically reduce your SQL Server 2016 licensing costs.

 

ModelCores/L3 CacheBase ClockTurbo ClockPrice
Xeon E5-4669 v422/55MB2.20 GHz3.00 GHz$7,007.00
Xeon E5-4667 v418/45MB2.20 GHz3.00 GHz$5,729.00
Xeon E5-4660 v416/40MB2.20 GHz3.00 GHz$4,727.00
Xeon E5-4650 v414/35MB2.20 GHz2.80 GHz$3,838.00
Xeon E5-4640 v412/30MB2.10 GHz2.60 GHz$2,837.00
Xeon E5-4627 v410/25MB2.60 GHz3.20 GHz$2,225.00
Xeon E5-4655 v48/30MB2.50 GHz3.20 GHz$4,616.00

Table 3: Preferred Xeon E5-4600 v4 Family Processors (Broadwell-EP)

In many situations, you would be much better off to get two, very fast Xeon E5-2600 v4 based two-socket database servers rather than one Xeon E7 v4 based four-socket database server, assuming you can split your workload across two database servers.

Recommended Intel Xeon E5-2600 v4 Processors for SQL Server

Updated March 31, 2016: Today, Intel has released the fourth generation, 14nm Xeon E5-2600 v4 processor family, code-named “Broadwell-EP”. This is a Tick release from Intel, taking the existing Haswell microarchitecture, and shrinking it from 22nm to 14nm. This new family of processors has more physical cores, a larger total shared L3 cache size, and support for up to DDR4-2400 memory. There will doubtless be a few other minor improvements, as part of the Tick release.

These processors are socket compatible with the current Intel Xeon E5-2600 v3 family, “Haswell-EP”, so they should just need an updated BIOS to work in existing model servers that currently support Haswell-EP. What that means for most people is that existing model servers from your server vendor of choice will be able to use these new processors as soon as they are available, meaning less delay to market.

From the official Intel ARK database, I have put together a list of what I think are the best models at each core count for SQL Server usage.

 

ModelCoresBase Clock SpeedTurbo Clock SpeedL3 Cache
Xeon E5-2637 v443.5 GHz3.7 GHz15 MB
Xeon E5-2643 v463.4 GHz3.7 GHz20 MB
Xeon E5-2667 v483.2 GHz3.6 GHz25 MB
Xeon E5-2640 v4102.4 GHz3.4 GHz25 MB
Xeon E5-2687W v4123.0 GHz3.5 GHz30 MB
Xeon E5-2690 v4142.6 GHz3.5 GHz35 MB
Xeon E5-2697A v4162.6 GHz3.6 GHz40 MB
Xeon E5-2697 v4182.3 GHz3.6 GHz45 MB
Xeon E5-2698 v4202.2 GHz3.6 GHz50 MB
Xeon E5-2699 v4222.2 GHz3.6 GHz55 MB

Table 1: Recommended Intel Xeon E5-2600 v4 Family Processors for SQL Server

Notice the dramatic drop in base clock speeds as you go with higher core count models than the eight core Xeon E5-2667 v4 model. Also notice the amount of L3 cache per core decreasing with the higher core count models. It is not clear whether the Xeon E5-2687W v4 (which is meant for workstation use) will be available for server from the major vendors or not. The previous E5-2687 v3 was available, just requiring higher wattage power supplies.

What this means is that most people are going to be much better off from a pure performance perspective with the eight core or lower core count models. They will have much better single-threaded processor performance and much lower SQL Server 2014/2016 licensing costs. The downside is less total CPU capacity, meaning less scalability, as long as you don’t run into storage or memory bottlenecks before you run into CPU bottlenecks.

If your workload can be split across multiple, two-socket database servers, you would be much better off with two or even three database servers, with lower core count, “frequency-optimized” processors (especially the Xeon E5-2643 v4 and the Xeon E5-2667 v4) rather than a single two-socket database server with a much higher core count processor model.

For example, two Dell PowerEdge R730 servers with the eight-core Xeon E5-2667 v4 would be far superior to one Dell PowerEdge R730 server with the sixteen-core Xeon E5-2683 v4 processor. You would have much faster processor cores, more total L3 cache, twice the memory capacity, and twice the number of PCIe 3.0 slots, for the same SQL Server 2014/2016 licensing cost. The cost of the extra server would be pretty negligible compared to the total cost of the hardware and SQL Server licenses. You could probably even go down to the six core Xeon E5-2643 v4 in each of the two servers, dropping your total SQL Server 2014/2016 licensing costs by over $50K.