Glenn’s Tech Insights for March 6, 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).

DRAM Prices Declining in 1H 2019

Market analyst firm DRAMeXchange, expects DDR4 Server DRAM prices to decline by roughly 30% in Q1 of 2019. They also expect another 15% price drop in Q2 of 2019. DRAM inventory levels have been climbing since Q4 of 2018, and most DRAM suppliers are holding a huge six weeks supply of inventory. This trend is should continue until at least Q3 2019.

Intel has 14nm manufacturing bottlenecks that are causing a shortage of processors for some parts of the processor market. This has the effect of depressing demand for DRAM, which puts downward pressure on DRAM prices. This Intel CPU shortage will probably continue for the rest of 2019, even after Cascade Lake-SP is released.

This is especially good news if you are planning any new database server purchases in the coming year.  Ideally, you would do this as part of a data platform upgrade. Checking today, I see 32GB DDR4-2666 RDIMMs selling for $275.99, which is $8.63/GB. That is the lowest pricing that I have seen in 2-3 years. This makes it much less expensive to get an appropriate amount of memory for your database server.

For example, for a typical two-socket server with 512GB of RAM, sixteen 32GB DIMMs would only cost about $4,460.00. This is nearly a 50% reduction from about a year ago.


Figure 1: Cost Breakdown of a Two-Socket Server

As you can see in Figure 1, the cost of an adequate amount of memory is now one of the lower contributors to the total cost of a database server.

3rd Generation AMD Ryzen Threadripper Processor in 2019

AMD recently had a special presentation for investors, where they revealed some more details about their product roadmap. This included some rough release dates for several upcoming product lines. These include the 2nd generation Ryzen Pro mobile processors, 3rd generation Ryzen desktop processors, and the 3rd generation Ryzen Threadripper processors.

The fact that AMD included the 3rd Generation Ryzen Threadripper processor family of this roadmap very likely means a release date in 2019.


Figure 2: AMD Product Roadmap

The 7nm 3rd Generation Ryzen desktop processors have been rumored to be released on July 7, 2019. I am looking forward to the release of the 7nm 3rd Generation Ryzen Threadripper processor family later in 2019. When that happens, I should be able to do yet another CPU upgrade on my existing system.

Alternatively, I may be able to build a completely new system with a new motherboard using an X499 chipset (which is only a rumor at this point). There was talk of the X499 chipset being released at CES 2019, but that didn’t happen. If it does happen, I would expect improvements such as PCIe 4.0 support, Thunderbolt 3 support, and better USB connectivity.

This is pretty exciting stuff if you want to see a viable competitor to Intel, both in the mainstream desktop and HEDT space. What do you think about this? I would really like to hear your thoughts!

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.



Glenn’s Tech Insights For February 21, 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).

PCIe 5.0 Nears Release

On January 17, 2019, the PCI-SIG ratified version 0.9 of the PCIe 5.0 standard, with version 1.0 of the standard expected to be ratified later in Q1 of 2019. PCIe 5.0 doubles the bandwidth of PCIe 4.0, going from 64GB/s with sixteen lanes to 128GB/s with sixteen lanes. The PCIe 4.0 standard also doubled the bandwidth of PCIe 3.0, which was “only” 32GB/s with sixteen lanes.

Currently, no released AMD or Intel processors have PCIe 4.0 support, but the upcoming 7nm AMD Ryzen 3000 desktop processors and the AMD EPYC “Rome” server processors will both have PCIe 4.0 support. The upcoming Intel Cascade Lake-SP server processors will NOT have PCIe 4.0 support.

After you have processor support for PCIe 4.0 and greater, you will need storage devices that support PCIe 4.0 and greater.

The first public PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD was demoed by Phison at CES. It was a Phison PS5016-E16. This SSD did 4069MB/sec for sequential reads and 4268MB/sec for sequential writes on CrystalDiskMark. Phison claims that the released version will have speeds up to 4.8/4.4 GB/s of read/write sequential throughput. This card is due to go on sale in Q3 of 2019.


AMD EPYC Market Share Analysis

ServeTheHome has a thoughtful article looking at the market share gains in the server space by the current generation AMD EPYC “Naples” processor. This processor was first released in mid-2017. AMD has gone from 0.8% in Q4 of 2017 to 3.2% in Q4 of 2018. That is still a small number, but I believe that market share will start to increase at a much faster rate during 2019 and 2020.

This is because both HPE and Dell EMC have multiple AMD EPYC systems on the market. Another reason is because the 7nm AMD EPYC “Rome” processors are due to be released in mid-2019. I think the AMD EPYC “Rome” processor is going to be a huge success. Rome will have PCIe 4.0 support, very high memory density, and possibly better single-threaded performance than Intel Cascade Lake-SP. This could make the AMD EPYC “Rome” processor a better choice for SQL Server OLTP usage than Intel Cascade Lake-SP. We will see as we get closer to release, and start to see more benchmark results.


AMD Ryzen 3000 Series Release Date Rumors

RedGamingTech reports that the upcoming 7nm AMD Ryzen 3000 “Matisse” mainstream desktop processors (and a new, optional X570 chipset) are going to be released by AMD on July 7, 2019. This will happen during Computex 2019. The expectation is that these AMD processors will initially have twelve physical cores. There will be a 16-core SKU being released later in the year.  This SKU will counter the expected release of the 10nm 10-core Intel Comet Lake desktop processors.

It is possible that AMD will then have both a single-threaded CPU performance and a core count advantage. These processors will also sell at a lower price than the competing Intel mainstream desktop parts. This situation will probably true for at least nine-twelve months. This is not good news for Intel, and it will be interesting to see how they respond to this challenge.