Glenn’s Technical Insights For December 3, 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 new hardware and software developments that are generally relevant for SQL Server). It also can just be other technically-oriented items that I find interesting.

Intel Releases Cascade Lake-X HEDT Processors

On November 25, Intel released their new line of 14nm high-end desktop (HEDT) processors which is the Cascade Lake-X family. This is the latest iteration of Intel’s Core X-series Processors which have traditionally been their most expensive non-Xeon processors. This release includes four SKUs, ranging from 10C/20T up to 18C/36T.

Intel Core i9-10980XE       18C/36T      $979.00

Intel Core i9-10940X         14C/28T      $784.00

Intel Core i9-10920X         12C/24T      $689.00

Intel Core i9-10900X         10C/20T      $590.00

These prices are roughly 50% lower than the previous generation Skylake-X Refresh HEDT processors. Given Intel’s poor competitive position right now, a large price cut was about they best they could do to try to make this release more attractive. Even a 50% price cut doesn’t actually seem to be enough given the benchmark results for these processors.


Figure 1: Intel Cascade Lake-X Details


Interestingly, there is no 16C/32T SKU in this generation (which would replace the previous generation Core i9-9960X). I think it is pretty likely that Intel purposely skipped that SKU because it would not compare very well to the new 16C/32T AMD Ryzen 9 3950X.

The reviews (and benchmark results) for these four new HEDT processors have been almost universally negative. These processors use the pretty ancient X299 chipset, which is lacking several modern features. What is really bad for Intel is that their new “flagship” Core i9-10980XE HEDT processor is beaten by the new AMD Ryzen 9 3950X mainstream desktop processor in many benchmarks, even though it costs about $200 more. It is also completely dominated by the new, more expensive 7nm AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X and 3970X HEDT processors in most benchmarks.

Here are a few reviews:


In my mind, there are really not too many scenarios where these processors would be a good choice for a new machine build. They do not compare well to to the less expensive mainstream desktop Ryzen 9 processors for single-threaded or multi-threaded performance (or platform features). They also do not fare very well against the more expensive 3rd Generation AMD Threadripper processors for more serious content creation workloads.

I would argue that semi-serious content creators would be better off with a 12C/24T AMD Ryzen 9 3900X or a 16C/32T AMD Ryzen 9 3950X instead of any of these Cascade Lake-X processors. If you literally make your living off of content creation tasks, it is an easy decision to step up to a 3rd Generation AMD Threadripper system.




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.




Glenn’s Technical Insights For November 4, 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 and Intel Financial Results for Q3 2019

Normally the financial results of tech companies is not that interesting (unless you work there or own stock in the company). In this case, looking at how AMD and Intel are doing, and comparing their relative size is relevant from an technical perspective since it may help you understand what they are doing with their products and pricing.

AMD has had their best financial quarter since 2005, with 1.8 billion dollars in revenue, and while this sounds impressive, they are still dwarfed by Intel with 19.2 billion dollars in revenue for the quarter. From a net earnings perspective, the picture is even more in Intel’s favor, with Intel posting 6.0 billion in GAAP net income, while AMD posted 120 million in net income for the quarter.

There are a couple of reasons why this matters. First, a resurgent AMD will have more money available for R & D and new product development than they did in the past, which will allow them to maintain their competitive pressure on Intel. On the other hand, Intel has the financial resources and very high margins that will let them lower prices in order to maintain their market share. In the recent past, they haven’t had to do this due to lack of competition from AMD in most market segments.

Since the release of the Zen 2 architecture (with the Ryzen 3000 series desktop processors and EPYC 7002 series server processors), AMD has been reclaiming some market share in those two segments. They have also done well with the Ryzen Threadripper 2000 series HEDT processors, and should do even better with upcoming Zen 2 based Ryzen Threadripper 3000 series HEDT processors. Intel is still doing very well in the mobile segment, which is very important to them.

We have already seen a pretty massive price decrease (over 50%) with the new Intel Cascade Lake-X HEDT processors, as I discussed here. There are pretty strong rumors that Intel is going to announce some price cuts on their mainstream desktop processors pretty soon. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Intel announce some official price cuts on their Xeon processors in the next few months.

The point here is that AMD has developed into a serious competitor in the mainstream desktop, HEDT, and server market, while Intel is maintaining their dominance in the mobile market. This relative weakness in some segments has already caused Intel to reduce prices on some products, and their financial resources will allow them to do more of that if they want to. Intel has actually touted their financial strength as a key competitive advantage vs. AMD, which makes it even more likely they will announce price cuts on more products. This is good for consumers, but perhaps not so much for Intel stockholders.


AMD AGESA Begins Rolling Out for Ryzen 3000 Series Processors

AGESA stands for AMD Generic Encapsulated Software Architecture. This is a procedure library that AMD developed and maintains, that is supplied to their partner motherboard vendors for use as part of the BIOS of the motherboard. AMD periodically releases new AGESA versions that contain bug fixes and performance enhancements. The motherboard vendors then take this AGESA code and incorporate it into a new BIOS version that you have to download and install on your system.

Even though this may sound trivial, it is actually pretty important if you want to get the best performance and reliability out of your system. Keeping your BIOS up to date is important, whether is is for your laptop, gaming machine, or database server. AGESA improves system boot times by 20-30%, improves turbo clock speed performance and improves NVMe device compatibility, on top of having many other small bug fixes. If you have an AMD desktop system, you should check with your motherboard vendor over the next couple of weeks to get an updated BIOS.

This reminds me of how Tesla pushes out free OTA software updates. They recently pushed out version 2019.36.1, which included a 5% peak power increase for the Model 3, among other new features and improvements. This is the second 5% power increase they have enabled with a software update. Getting extra performance for free is a great thing, whether it is for your car or for your computer.


Intel Delays Release of Cascade Lake-X HEDT Processors

According to WCCFTech (which has a somewhat mixed record regarding rumors and leaks), Intel has decided to slightly delay the planned release of Cascade Lake- X from November 5 to November 25. The supposed reason for this is so Intel can see the pricing for the upcoming AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3000 series HEDT processors, and then decide whether they want to make any pricing adjustments to Cascade Lake-X.

Speaking of that, AMD has scheduled a “Meet The Experts” webinar on November 6, 2019, where they will cover “AMD plans for high-end desktop systems” and “The future of the high-end desktop market”, meaning it is pretty likely they will release more information about the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3000 series during the webinar.