Glenn’s Tech Insights For May 15, 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).

Microarchitectural Data Sampling in Intel Processors

On May 14, 2019, news broke that a new series of speculative execution side-channel flaws are present in most existing Intel mobile, desktop, and server processors. These newly announced exploits are detailed in this advisory from Intel. Jon Masters from Red Hat has a pretty detailed explanation of these vulnerabilities here.  Here are the four CVEs:

CVE-2018-12126 Microarchitectural Store Buffer Data Sampling (MSBDS)

CVE-2018-12127 Microarchitectural Load Port Data Sampling (MLPDS)

CVE-2018-12130 Microarchitectural Fill Buffer Data Sampling (MFBDS)

CVE-2019-11091 Microarchitectural Data Sampling Uncacheable Memory (MDSUM)

For affected Intel processors, you will need OS patches plus microcode updates (BIOS updates) from your hardware vendor. You may want to consider disabling hyper-threading on affected processors. Microsoft has updated their guidance on this subject here:

SQL Server guidance to protect against Spectre, Meltdown and Micro-architectural Data Sampling vulnerabilities

Intel has a deep dive on this subject here:

Deep Dive: Intel Analysis of Microarchitectural Data Sampling

Microsoft has already released an updated PowerShell script that you can use to check your current OS and hardware status regarding these exploits. This article walks you through how to download the PowerShell script and run it to check your patching status:

How to test MDS (Zombieload) patch status on Windows systems

Figure 1 shows the results on my AMD Threadripper 2950X system (which is intrinsically less vulnerable to these types of attacks). This is after I patched Windows 10 yesterday.

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Figure 1: Get-SpeculationControlSettings Results

BTW, the SQL Server 2017 security update for SSAS that was released on May 14, 2019 is for a completely different issue.


AMD Ryzen 3000 Series Speculation

As Computex Taipei 2019 gets closer (May 27), there are an increasing number of leaks and rumors about the exact specifications and features of the upcoming AMD Ryzen 3000 series desktop processors. This family of 7nm mainstream desktop processors will supposedly have SKUs starting with 6C/12T, going up to 16C/32T. Ryzen 3000 series processors will also have PCIe Gen 4.0 support. These processors are supposed to work in most existing 300 and 400 series AM4 socket motherboards. There will also be new 500 series motherboards that will offer additional features.


See the source image

Figure 2: 2019 AMD Client Lineup

The main unknowns at this point are the exact specifications in terms of base and max boost speeds and how much instructions per clock (IPC) improvement we will see compared to the existing AMD Ryzen 2000 series processors. Depending on what the answers to these are, we may see these processors actually having better single-threaded CPU performance compared to Intel. If that happens, it will further establish AMD as a viable competitor to Intel from nearly every perspective in this market segment. This would be great for the consumer.

Here are some videos that cover the latest rumors and leaks:

The Full Nerd ep. 93: AMD Ryzen 3000 and Radeon Navi rumors, Computex predictions, Q&A

AMD Ryzen 3000 16c specs LEAKED, RX 600 series, Nvidia SUED | Awesome Hardware #0187-A

HW News – Intel Shortage Ending, Ryzen 9 16-Core, & AMD Supercomputer

You might be thinking that this is interesting, but what does it have to do with SQL Server? If the Ryzen 3000 series performs as expected, and is successful in the marketplace, it will be a good precursor to the upcoming 7nm AMD EPYC “Rome” server processors. It will give us some hint about the IPC and clock speed increases that we can expect from the Zen 2 architecture. We should also get much more detail about the Rome processors at Computex.



Glenn’s Tech Insights For April 29, 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).

SSMS 18.0 Goes GA

SQL Server Management Studio 18.0 became generally available on April 24, 2019. This means that it is the final release version (as opposed to being a preview or release candidate version). It is Build 15.0.18118.0. The Release Notes detail all of the new features, improvements and bug fixes in SSMS 18.0.


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Figure 1: SSMS 18.0 About Form


It is officially supported on Windows 10 version 1607 Windows Server 2016, Windows Server 2012 R2 (64-bit), Windows Server 2012 (64-bit), and Windows Server 2008 R2 (64-bit). Older preview versions worked on 64-bit Windows 7 SP1.

If you have a preview or release candidate version of SSMS 18.0 installed, you should uninstall it before you install the GA release version.You can download it here.


SQL Server 2019 CTP 2.5 Available

On April 24, 2019,  Microsoft also released SQL Server 2019 CTP 2.5. Many of the new features in this release are focused on making it easier to deploy and manage “big data clusters”.  This is how Microsoft describes a big data cluster:

Starting with SQL Server 2019 preview, SQL Server big data clusters allow you to deploy scalable clusters of SQL Server, Spark, and HDFS containers running on Kubernetes. These components are running side by side to enable you to read, write, and process big data from Transact-SQL or Spark, allowing you to easily combine and analyze your high-value relational data with high-volume big data.

Kubernetes Cluster

Figure 2: Kubernetes Cluster

There are also improvements in sys.dm_exec_query_plan_stats, including a new database scoped configuration option that lets you control whether last query plan statistics are available at the database level (as opposed to instance-wide with TF 2451).

I think Microsoft must be pushing pretty hard to get SQL Server 2019 to GA status by July 9, 2019, which is when SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2 fall out of extended support. This is just my own common sense speculation. That’s what I would be pushing for if I were in charge!


AMD Ryzen 7 2700X 5oth Anniversary Edition

AMD is releasing a special 50th Anniversary Ryzen 7 2700X desktop processor. This processor will have the same exact specifications as a normal AMD Ryzen 7 2700X processor, but will come in special gold colored packaging. It will also have a laser engraved signature from AMD President and CEO  Dr. Lisa Su on the heat spreader as shown in Figure 3. This will be covered up when you install the processor.

50th Anniversary Ryzen

Figure 3: 50th Anniversary AMD Ryzen 7 2700X Processor

To be fair, AMD is including a few other things to help justify the cost of this processor compared to a typical Ryzen 7 2700X processor. These include a coupon for a AMD 50th Anniversary T-Shirt, and a special AMD sticker signed by Dr. Su.

AMD Ryzen 7 2700X Package

Figure 4: AMD 50th Anniversary AMD Ryzen 7 2700X Packaging

Some retailers are also adding game bundles to the deal.

Personally, I wouldn’t buy this. It is interesting as a collector’s item, but I am not that much of a collector. It would have been much more interesting if AMD had decided to offer higher specifications on a cherry-picked version of this processor, similar to what Intel did with the special Intel Core i7-8086K processor.




New HP Spectre x360 Laptop

Introduction

Earlier this week, I bought a new HP Spectre x360 13-AP0023DX convertible laptop at Best Buy. I have often criticized Best Buy as a bad place to buy a computer, but in this case I ignored my own advice for some good reasons. First, this was a great deal for $1050.00. This particular laptop has an Intel Core i7-8565U “Whiskey Lake” processor, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB Toshiba XG5 M.2 NVMe SSD, a 13.3” IPS 4K touchscreen, Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics, two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports, and one USB-A 3.0 port. Second, I was planning on swapping out the 512GB Toshiba M.2 NVMe drive for a bigger and faster 1TB Samsung 970 EVO Plus.

The Best Buy computer buying experience has dramatically improved over what it was several years ago. Back then, if you bought a computer, they would doggedly insist that a “Geek Squad” tech needed to unbox your machine, power it on, and “configure” it for you. That service might have been well suited for a non-technical person, but since I am my own Geek Squad, I didn’t need or want it back then.

The main remaining problem with buying a laptop from Best Buy is that their machines will have whatever bloatware the OEM decided to add to their standard Windows 10 Home image. You can try to uninstall everything you don’t want, or you can just install a fresh copy of Windows 10 Professional. If you go with the latter route, you will also need to download and install all of the HP and Intel-specific drivers from the HP Support website. You will probably need to update your main system BIOS and any other firmware that is out of date. You can avoid most of this hassle if you buy a laptop from a Microsoft Store, where they use a very clean, bloatware-free image on their machines. This is called Microsoft Signature Edition.


Performance

After getting everything reinstalled and fully updated, I ran a few quick performance tests. This machine is pretty speedy from a CPU and storage perspective. Since it has two PCIe 3.0 x4 Thunderbolt 3 ports, I can use some very fast external storage if I need to. I do wish it had 32GB of RAM.

The purpose of this machine is to be a backup for my main work laptop (a 15” Dell Precision 5520), just in case I ever have problems with it when I am on the road. It only weighs 2.8 pounds, and it came with a touch pen that you can use to draw with as a tablet. It also has a 12-hour battery life, which is very handy. This machine is actually faster than my two-year old Dell Precision 5520 with an Intel Xeon E3-1505M v6 processor.


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Figure 1: Intel Core i7-8565U Information

This processor compares pretty well to the old (Q3 2015) Intel Core i7-6700K desktop processor, which is pretty impressive for a mobile processor with only 15W TDP. I have confirmed that it is using Intel Speed Shift in combination with Windows 10. This means that it throttles up it’s clock speed much more quickly.


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Figure 2: Intel Core i7-8565U Benchmark Results

It was pretty easy to get to the SSD, after removing six small Philips screws that are hidden under two rubber strips on the bottom of the machine. After swapping out the OEM Toshiba SSD for the 1TB Samsung 970 EVO Plus SSD, I ran CrystalDiskMark, with the results shown below.


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Figure 3: CrystalDiskMark 6.0.2 Results


I am very impressed by the 1TB Samsung 970 EVO Plus. I am still waiting for the 2TB model to become available.

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Figure 4: 1TB Samsung EVO Plus


Here are a few reviews of this machine:

HP Spectre x360 (13-inch, 2019) Review

HP Spectre x360 13 (2019)

HP Spectre 13 review