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Year in Review: Server Processor Competition Heats Up

December 19, 2017

Author: Linley Gwennap

The past year saw Intel unveil a major new server platform while revamping its processor branding and numbering. These products, known as the Purley platform, all use the Skylake CPU, which offers a modest performance gain over the older Broadwell. But they increase the maximum core count to 28 and feature six DRAM channels, a 50% improvement. The biggest performance gains come for memory-bound applications and for high-performance-computing (HPC) software running on the high-end models.

After years of meager offerings, AMD made a strong comeback with its Epyc products. AMD’s Epyc chips match Xeon Scalable’s performance except for Intel’s most expensive models. Not all applications achieve this performance, however; Epyc’s multidie design causes delays for databases and other tasks that share large data structures among the CPUs. Still, for applications that fit Epyc’s design, AMD offers considerably lower pricing than Intel at the same performance level.

Qualcomm introduced its first server processor, Centriq, which delivers solid performance for cloud-service providers (CSPs) willing to port their software to ARM. The new design delivers the industry’s best performance per dollar and the best performance per watt. Centriq is optimized for jobs with many small threads.

Although these processors work well for most data-center applications, CSPs also seek specialized chips to accelerate their growing deployment of deep learning. Nvidia continues to dominate this segment with its GPU-based accelerators, but both Google and Microsoft have developed their own internal architectures for deep learning. We expect several other companies, including Intel, to deliver custom deep-learning chips in 2018. Using its new Volta architecture, Nvidia is also gaining ground in traditional HPC and supercomputer designs while Intel struggles with its roadmap for Xeon Phi.

Subscribers can view the full article in the Microprocessor Report.

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