Intel Cascade Lake-SP Specifications Leaked!

As the upcoming Intel Cascade Lake-SP server processors are getting closer to their official release date (which my sources tell me is April 2, 2019), some more specifications are starting to leak out.

The Cascade Lake-SP Leak

Not directly from Intel, but from their system integrator partners, in this case HP, which leaked some Cascade Lake-SP SKUs and their detailed specifications. This was in some online documentation about the HP Z6 G4 Workstation, which was posted on February 22, 2019. HP quickly removed this information, but the information is out there now.

The leaked Cascade Lake-SP SKUs and their relevant specifications are shown for the most interesting SQL Server choices (at each core count) on the right side of Figure 1. This is important information if you are planning a SQL Server upgrade in the coming months!


Figure 1: Comparative Skylake-SP and Cascade Lake-SP Specifications

As you can see in Figure 1, the equivalent Cascade Lake-SP SKUs have fairly minor base clock speed increases (100-300MHz). They also have fairly minor Turbo clock speed increases (200-300MHz). The 24-core Xeon Platinum 8260 also gets an L3 cache size increase to 35.75MB. That processor is still not a good choice for SQL Server usage due to its low base clock speed.

New Features in Cascade Lake-SP

To be sure, Cascade Lake-SP does have at least two useful new features compared to Skylake-SP. The first is hardware-level protection from many Spectre/Meltdown vulnerabilities. These will perform better than existing software or firmware-level fixes. The second is support for Intel Optane DC Persistent Memory (Apache Pass). This may be useful for some SQL Server workloads.

So far, there seem to be some gaps in the Cascade Lake-SP SKU lineup, with no direct replacement for the Gold 6128 or Gold 6146. I have been told that Cascade Lake-SP will be a phased rollout from Intel, with not all SKUs being immediately announced.


ServeTheHome captured a .PDF version of the leaked page before HP took it down.


Intel is being less than forthcoming about the available Cascade Lake-SP SKUs and their detailed specifications. This makes it more difficult for you to do informed planning about your exact Cascade Lake-SP CPU choices, and to decide whether you should wait for Cascade Lake-SP to be available or not. Another factor is the upcoming release of the 7nm AMD EPYC “Rome” processors.

Intel is probably very concerned about AMD’s upcoming product release (as well they should be), which gives them even more incentive to be as secretive as possible about the details of Cascade Lake-SP. If you are planning a SQL Server upgrade in 2019, I can help you understand how to use this information to make an informed decision.

What do you think about this? Are you willing to wait for Cascade Lake-SP? Please let me know in the comments.

CPU Upgrade to AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X

About a year ago, I built a high-end desktop (HEDT) workstation based on the then, top-of-the-line 14nm AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X processor. This is the machine that I use for most of my daily work. I have been quite happy with it over the past year.  Here are the main components that I used to build this system:

By design, the system used 100% PCIe 3.0 NVMe NAND flash or Intel Optane storage. All AMD Ryzen Threadripper processors support 64 PCIe 3.0 lanes (with 4 reserved for the chipset), so I wanted to take advantage of that to get excellent total storage performance. This system has 16 physical cores (32 threads), 96GB of RAM, about 3.7TB of storage, and 10 Gbps Ethernet connectivity. It has two empty memory slots, so I can easily go to 128GB of RAM.

New CPU is Released

On August 31, 2018, AMD released the second generation 12nm AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X processor (AnandTech has a great review here). This processor uses the improved Zen+ microarchitecture that offers the Precision Boost 2 and XFR2 features to more aggressively boost more processor cores more quickly, based on available voltage and operating temperature. There is about a 3% IPC improvement and some minor base and boost clock speed increases.

Finding an Open Box CPU

After waiting a bit, I managed to find an “open-box” special for an AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X for $765.00 at my local Micro Center, where it looked like someone had purchased the processor, opened the box, but they had not actually installed the processor (since it had no thermal grease residue or even any fingerprints on the heat spreader). Normally, Micro Center sells that processor for $849.99, which is $50.00 less than Newegg or Amazon.

While I was at it, I swapped out the original NZXT Kraken X62 CPU cooler for a Noctua NH-U14S TR4-SP3 CPU cooler, that was actually made for the huge Threadripper CPU size. This Noctua cooler is quieter than the old cooler, and it keeps the CPU roughly 20 degrees Celsius cooler, both at idle and under a full load. The temperature difference is important for the XFR2 feature, which boosts the clock speed of more cores more aggressively if you have a high-end CPU cooler.

The CPU-swap went even more smoothly than I expected. The hardest part was removing the old NZXT CPU cooler and its associated wiring. I was expecting to have to go into the BIOS setup during the first boot and confirm a CPU change, and then I expected that Windows would also want a reboot. I also thought I might even have to re-activate Windows 10 because of the new CPU, but none of this was required. The system booted right into Windows 10 Pro for Workstations with no complaints at all.

Benchmark Scores After the Upgrade

Here are the old and new CPU-Z and Geekbench 4 scores for this system.


Figure 1: Comparative Benchmark Scores

Subjectively, the system seems noticeably quicker for everyday common tasks. It’s hard to say how much of that is because I want the system to be faster after the upgrade…

Economically, its hard to make the case for this particular upgrade. If I sell the old Threadripper 1950X, that would make it much easier to justify. Another argument is that AMD is planning on maintaining full backwards compatibility with existing AMD X399 motherboards when the 7nm Zen 2 Threadripper processors are released in mid-2019.


Figure 2: AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X


Figure 3: HWiNFO64 System Summary

Here is an AMD diagram of the architecture of the processor.

See the source image

Figure 4: AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X Architecture


I really think that an AMD Threadripper system is the best choice for a general purpose, HEDT workstation, especially from a performance/dollar perspective. Intel still has a small single-threaded performance advantage with some of their processors, but the gap is pretty close now. You will have to spend quite a bit more money to get a comparable Intel-based system.

AMD EPYC 7371 Processor in Q1 2019

At the Supercomputing 2018 Conference, AMD announced a special high-frequency SKU in their first-generation 14nm AMD EPYC “Naples” line of server processors.  This SKU will be the AMD EPYC 7371 processor. This upcoming processor will have 16C/32T, with a base clock speed of 3.1 GHz. It will boost up to 3.6 GHz on all 16 cores and up to 3.8 GHz on eight cores. It also has a 64MB L3 cache.

This is a significant clock speed increase over the existing AMD EPYC 7351  processor. The EPYC 7351 has a base clock speed of 2.4 GHz, with a max boost speed of 2.9 GHz. This is especially relevant for SQL Server 2017 usage. This is because SQL Server 2017 licensing is based on core counts, not clock speeds or actual performance.

Because of this, you want to get the most performance and capacity possible for each licensed CPU core. A base clock speed increase of 29.2% is going to be quite noticeable on a typical SQL Server instance.

I hope that mainstream vendors like Dell offer this SKU in their existing systems. For example, the Dell PowerEdge R7415 and R7425 would be great choices.

Anandtech has some more details here. ServeTheHome calls this SKU “the fastest 16-core processor” here.