On May 5, 2015, Intel announced the new E7 v3 Product Family, which is also known as the Haswell-EX, which is meant for four and eight-socket servers. This 22nm processor is a Tock release (which means that it is using a new processor microarchitecture compared to the previous 22nm Ivy Bridge-EX). An updated graphic that outlines the Tick-Tock development history for the Xeon 7xxx and E7 families is shown in Figure 1.


Figure 1: Intel Tick-Tock Development Model

Intel only has 12 different processors in this product family, and of these, only four are really good choices from a licensing cost and performance perspective for SQL Server 2012 and newer. These are shown in Table 1.

Processor Cores Base Clock Turbo Clock L3 Size QPI Speed
E7-8893 v3 4 3.2 GHz 3.5 GHz 45 MB 9.6 GT/s
E7-8891 v3 10 2.8 GHz 3.5 GHz 45 MB 9.6 GT/s
E7-8867 v3 16 2.5 GHz 3.3 GHz 45 MB 9.6 GT/s
E7-8890 v3 18 2.5 GHz 3.3 GHz 45 MB 9.6 GT/s

Table 1: Preferred Xeon E7 v3 Family Processors for SQL Server 2012/2014/2016

I make this assertion because of how SQL Server 2012 and newer core-based licensing works. You pay for the number of physical cores in your system (on non-virtualized servers), and Microsoft does not care whether your processor cores are slow or fast, the license price is the same either way. Given this basic fact, you really should pick processors with faster cores (better single-threaded performance) at the same physical core count, to get the most performance possible for a given licensing cost. In some cases, you may be able get away with a lower core count processor that has faster individual cores, and still be able to support a similar overall total workload at a much lower SQL Server licensing cost.

The other eight processors in the E7 v3 Product Family all have lower specifications (at the same core count) than the four in my preferred list, so they are bad choices in my opinion. If you or someone else in your organization picks one of those other eight processors, you are not making a good choice. I am guessing that some people may argue that the slower processors at a given core count are less expensive, so they make sense in some situations.

My response would be that when you are talking about four or eight, high core count processors, the SQL Server 2012 and newer license costs are going to far outweigh the relatively small difference in the cost of a given processor. The single-threaded performance difference between a 2.1 GHz Xeon E7-8870 v3 ($7,175 each) and a 2.5 GHz Xeon E7-8890 v3 ($4,672 each) is likely to be about 20%, while the difference in total system cost will be much less than 20%.

You may notice that all of my recommended E7 v3 processors are E7-88xx processors, which means they are designed for eight-socket servers. That does not mean that you have to use them in an eight-socket server. You can actually use those E7-88xx processors in four-socket servers, which are much more common and much less expensive.