Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

Intel's 12-Core Xeon With 30 MB Of L3: The New Mac Pro's CPU?

Intel's 12-Core Xeon With 30 MB Of L3: The New Mac Pro's CPU?
By

Disclaimer: As with our recent Core i7-4960X preview, the following story is based on an early engineering sample Xeon E5-2697 V2. Intel was not involved in the story, and was not asked for comment prior to its publication.

It’s in vogue to rag on the desktop market and point to analyst data that shows tablet and smartphone shipments accelerating. So begins another race to the bottom, where form factors shrink and ASPs drop.

Yeah, sure, those small touch-oriented devices are great for a lot of the tasks that used to require a PC. But they don’t replace PCs. And despite the financial services companies responsible for prophesying the continued contraction of desktop computing (or perhaps because of them), enthusiasts want assurance that they’ll always have high-end hardware options.

The problem is that enthusiast-class gear represents a sliver of what companies like Intel, AMD, and Nvidia sell, even if the technologies that go into those components filter down into higher-volume products. Every manufacturer, including Intel, claims that it's still looking out for the small but elite group of power users. To say otherwise is blasphemous. But my early look at the enthusiast-oriented Ivy Bridge-E configuration (Intel Core i7-4960X Preview: Ivy Bridge-E, Benchmarked) turned up a distinct lack of progress in this upcoming generation.

In the company’s defense, it’s simultaneously fighting higher-stakes battles on other fronts that require financial resources and engineering talent, which have to come from somewhere. Silvermont (Intel Silvermont Architecture: Does This Atom Change It All?) has the makings of an ARM-killer, and that’s where Intel is focusing its attention.

That’s not to explain away two successive desktop launches that left enthusiasts feeling a little underwhelmed, or to recommend that you buy a new system when your coming-up-on-three-year-old Sandy Bridge-based box is still plenty fast. Ivy Bridge and Haswell were both decidedly mobile-focused. So, in light of IDC's forecast that that tablet shipments will outpace desktops and laptops combined by 2015, it's really no wonder that Intel's emphasis is on low power and new form factors.

Simply, that’s where most of the innovation is happening right now. From Intel’s work with power to Nvidia’s computational photography, and Qualcomm’s emphasis on tightly integrating a broad portfolio of IP, there’s still a ton of differentiation going on. Meanwhile, what is keeping power users at their desks and buying high-end hardware? Gaming, largely. The recent Worldwide PC Gaming Hardware Market report from Jon Peddie Research confirms this. Occasionally I’ll get to write something like Next-Gen Video Encoding: x265 Tackles HEVC/H.265, where we catch a glimpse of an upcoming workload that’s going to make you want faster hardware. But even then, a relative few need powerful workstations for encoding 3840x2160 video.

Whatcha Got There, Mac Pro?

Intel introduced its Sandy Bridge-E architecture almost two years ago to much enthusiast excitement. The platform wasn’t for everyone—after all, the least-expensive LGA 2011-compatible chip sold for more than $300. But if you bought one, it held you over through the mainstream Ivy Bridge and Haswell launches.

The company plans to launch Ivy Bridge-E at this year’s IDF in September. But don’t hold your breath for the same magnitude of fanfare. While our aforementioned Core i7-4960X preview turned up some really cool efficiency data, minor performance improvements won’t compel you to upgrade. And if you held off onSandy Bridge-E altogether, you can look forward to building a new PC with X79 Express—a chipset that even lacks native USB 3.0 support. What’s more, we can’t even blame the lack of enthusiast appeal on Intel’s new phone and tablet focus. The fact that its top-end Ivy Bridge-E chip is a six-core processor with 15 MB of shared L3 cache, just like Sandy Bridge-E, is really a marketing call.

Sandy Bridge-EP featured as many as eight cores and 20 MB of L3 (we tested it in Core i7-3970X Extreme Review: Can It Stomp An Eight-Core Xeon?). But with the Xeon E5-2687W selling for $2000, Intel was under no pressure to introduce an equivalent Core i7. Soon we’re going to start seeing 12-core Ivy Bridge-EP CPUs (at lower 130 W TDPs, no less), but those are likewise turning into server- and workstation-oriented Xeon E5s.

Source: apple.comSource: apple.com
Rather than turning its next Mac Pro into a big dual-socket affair, Apple is capitalizing on the fact that Ivy Bridge-EP will ship in 12-core configurations, and it’s consolidating the platform into a 9.9-inch-tall cylinder with up to one Xeon E5-2697 V2 CPU. Regardless of whether you love or hate the “wastebasket” design, the system’s specs are very impressive for the volume of space it occupies.

Display all 47 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
  • -6 Hide
    Someone Somewhere , August 12, 2013 9:16 PM
    Quote:
    The 32-bit build of Geekbench uses x87 code


    Typo, top of page two.
  • 0 Hide
    jimmysmitty , August 12, 2013 9:44 PM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    The 32-bit build of Geekbench uses x87 code


    Typo, top of page two.


    Where is the typo? Do you mean the x87? That's not a typo.

    This is interesting but not uncommon. The server market needs the boosts while most consumer desktop CPUs are already faster than most software can go.

    Of course in 5 years a SB i5 will be no longer relevant but until then it will serve just fine. Even a x58 i7 is still a viable option for a CPU and its been out for at least 4 years.
  • 8 Hide
    vmem , August 12, 2013 9:57 PM
    Interesting article. Must admit though, while the Mac Pro's performance is certainly impressive, the overall pace of development in the high-end has been rather boring for the past 2 years. can't wait to see what Haswell-E can do late next year.

    "Regardless of whether you love or hate the “wastebasket” design, the system’s specs are very impressive for the volume of space it occupies."

    And this remark touches on the core of the problem. these are a specialized, niche market of professionals who're buying this uber-expensive desktop for PRODUCTIVITY. sure it should look nice, especially in the office of a professional designer. but must it be SMALL? honestly, build a giant aluminum bookshelf if you have to. make it look elegant and artistic, maybe give people some power to customize it's looks, but ultimately give people the ability to customize the machine and buy the level of productivity they need. Apple, you've done some great things, as well as some things that I don't particularly like. but watching you kill the freedom of the small group of designers who love your products is rather sad...
  • 6 Hide
    Someone Somewhere , August 12, 2013 10:45 PM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    Quote:
    The 32-bit build of Geekbench uses x87 code


    Typo, top of page two.


    Where is the typo? Do you mean the x87? That's not a typo.


    Hmm, on a quick Wikipedia read, x87 was the instruction set used for the floating point instruction sets in the 8087 and later FP co-processors. Interesting.

    Oops... sorry.
  • 4 Hide
    natoco , August 12, 2013 11:35 PM
    In a years time with the haswell refresh and series 9 chipset it will still make everyone yawn even if it was this year. Everything has been going into mobile since Nehalem. On the bright side, phones and tablets will start slowing down very soon once they too reach the same manufacturing node as enthusiast pc's, since the node determines the power envelope achievable, thus mobile is about to hit the same wall.
  • -5 Hide
    CommentariesAnd More , August 13, 2013 12:30 AM
    What I expected for the Mac Pro's CPU was a different CPU optimized for the Mac Pro. Would be surprised if the temps of made by this 12Core beast keep things cool. But hey , this isn't final , right ? Lets hope for the best ( and an affordable Mac Pro :)  )
  • 0 Hide
    PreferLinux , August 13, 2013 1:10 AM
    http://www.mouser.com/ProductDetail/Intel/CM8063501288843S-R171/?qs=sGAEpiMZZMvqxsBVy5ZiuowErqth9imUwPY6%2fY0Um1w%3d
    Guess what?
    "Description: CPU - Central Processing Units Xeon E5-2697v2 12 CR 2.7GHz FCLGA2011"

    "Pricing (USD)
    1: $3,249.19
    2: $3,127.04"
  • 7 Hide
    Someone Somewhere , August 13, 2013 1:54 AM
    Quote:
    What I expected for the Mac Pro's CPU was a different CPU optimized for the Mac Pro. Would be surprised if the temps of made by this 12Core beast keep things cool. But hey , this isn't final , right ? Lets hope for the best ( and an affordable Mac Pro :)  )


    Nobody optimizes CPUs for anything. The set up costs are ridiculous. The closest you'll get is a custom config, like a chip with (for example) both multi-socket support and overclocking or something, but you'd have to show up to intel with a truck full of cash.
  • 1 Hide
    Someone Somewhere , August 13, 2013 3:16 AM
    Intel can't really do much about forcing the industry to use more threaded apps.

    Not their job to write code, other than drivers. They do make x86 Android though, because the drivers are pretty much hardcoded.

    Do agree on the 1366x768 though. It's the same number of lines as XGA, just with a few pixels on the side. Maybe Intel should have forced a PPI measurement on Ultrabooks - that might have helped.
  • 5 Hide
    Vorador2 , August 13, 2013 3:54 AM
    For the extremely limited market that want's the higher performance per node in x86-64 code no matter the cost, this processor exists.

    For the rest of us, i'm fine with two 6-core Xeon instead of one 12-core that is 4x the price.
  • -2 Hide
    Daniel Vekslender , August 13, 2013 3:58 AM
    Intel Xeon? That's a server-class CPU.
  • 1 Hide
    AndrewJacksonZA , August 13, 2013 4:32 AM
    "The solution was to REM out Sandra from the power run"
    Program DOS batch files much? :-)

    Once again, thanks for including the Visual Studio compilation benchmark runs. I find it quite interesting to see the trends with core count and how it impacts build times.
  • -5 Hide
    CaedenV , August 13, 2013 10:19 AM
    The really interesting stuff will be coming out in another year or two. Next gen consoles are all x86 with 8 cores (4 modules) and may give AMD a little edge on performance. Unless games somehow start supporting hyperthreading technology (HA!) then Intel may very well need an 8 core offering for desktop systems. Not sure that it needs to be a full Xenon offering with all of that floating point goodness... but perhaps a straight 8 core offering with no iGPU, no HT, no HSF, no multi-CPU support, and perhaps no visualization support would be called for. Make it a viable option for next gen game rigs, but just neuter it enough so that it does not eat into server and workstation markets.
    Perhaps a locked 2-2.9GHz option for ~$400, and a 4+GHz capable K skew for ~$600?
  • -2 Hide
    zachster , August 13, 2013 10:27 AM
    So would folks recommend building a 4th gen haswell for general everyday computing and mid-midhigh gaming?
  • 0 Hide
    hardcore_player , August 13, 2013 11:38 AM
    impressive, though i thought that 12 cores will double the performance at least of an intel 3930k. I'm saving for haswell e can't wait to have it next year.
  • 1 Hide
    ammaross , August 13, 2013 12:02 PM
    Quote:
    as usual the folk running intel have become lazy and stupid and the developments in the desktop have gone down the hole. They just add some extra cache and extra threads and then act like they did something.Wow. ( at the stupidity).

    Instead of pushing out code or getting the rest of the industry to use more threading applications and develop it to make it more stable and useable. Nothing.


    Actually, Intel has done quite a bit toward pushing the industry into multi-threaded applications. Intel Threaded Building Blocks is one such example:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intel_Threading_Building_Blocks
    or even their Automatic threading built into their compilers (or did you not know Intel releases compilers?):
    http://software.intel.com/en-us/articles/automatic-parallelization-with-intel-compilers

    Either way, your comment is uninformed and ignorantly misleading. Except the incremental upgrades to the IPC. It's not nothing, but it's not a P4 -> Core2 jump either.
  • -2 Hide
    wussupi83 , August 13, 2013 12:31 PM
    I don't want to be like BIll Gates and say that nobody needs more than 640k of memory.

    But I do have to say, as disappointing as it is to be a tech enthusiast right now and just seeing so little jumps in the industry, our current tech is pretty frigin good. I have a 3770k, 7970ghz, 1866 and an SSD, and there's just not too many things that I find myself waiting around for or craving better performance..

    However, everyone benefits when the enthusiast benefits (i.e. low end CPUs that are in a lot of computers get faster too)....

    It's really a rock and a hard place right now I feel for the industry, I think we all want Intel to be that leader that just stays committed to making all CPU life better for everyone and constantly strives to make the best improvements it can. But Intel's just a business and a business needs customers. And most customers are fine with mobile CPU computing power and 5-6 year old system performance....

    And then there's always that finger crossing that AMD will just surprise the world and release the next big thing...

    It's a tough time to be an enthusiast right now for sure
  • 4 Hide
    bambiboom , August 13, 2013 3:58 PM
    Gentlemen?,

    For those of us handcuffed to workstations for eternity, a new top end Xeon is always interesting- we can begin the delightful process of imagining how fast animations of 8,000 part CATIA assemblies will run and the painful process of imagining the eventual price and how to pay for it.

    But, and I say it reluctantly, the thorough tests and considerations by Chris Angelini fall a bit short as it only included comparison to one processor that resembles a competitor to the E5-2697 V2, which is the 8-core and $1,950 E5-2687W.

    I can't think that anyone using a i7-3770K will wake up one day and realize that, instead of a $325 quad core, what they really need is a $2,800-$3,100 (guessing) 12-core- and 256GB of ECC Ram. The E5-2697 V2 will be considered by those with single CPU LGA 2011 workstations using the lowly E5-1650, E5-1660, E5-2XXX six core and the E5-2643 and E5-2687W 8-core, as a way to have 12 cores / 24 threads for without starting over and more probably, by those making the calculations for and against having to buy a dual CPU system with two $1,500-$2,000 CPUs. And, because multi-core applications are still so rare- rendering is the most common, plus scientific like MATLAB and certain custom code scientific modeling, and mathematical / financial analytics, the market will be specialized and limited.

    What would be very useful would be to compare the E5-2697 V2 to various dual four, six, and eight-core systems. There are a lot of advantages to dual CPU's as they support more memory and have more PCIe lanes, which can add CUDA or Xeon Phi co-processors, RAID controllers, and etc, but importantly, the fewer the cores on a CPU, the higher the clock speed. The quad core $360 E5-1620 has a base clock speed of 3.6GHz, a similar amount of cache per core, and runs on the first core at 3.8. One could argue that on the majority of applications including most of Autodesk, Dessault, and Adobe, the 1620 at 1/8 the price could perform in the realm of the E5-2697 having a base speed of 2.7 and on one core up to 3.5Ghz. The next step up is the six-core E5-1650 at 3.2 / 3.8 at $600 and it takes the $1,100 E5-1660 to have both six cores and the 3.6 speed of the 1620 at 1/3 the cost. Then, one can move into the realm of dual six-core Xeons which can have higher clock speeds than the 2697 and may be temptingly near in cost to the single one. This is only a sample of the difficulty in judging the usefulness and cost / performance of these very high-end CPU's. It has to be reverse analyzed from the applications and even then the cost may not be justified for only occasional bursts of maximum performance.

    The speculation as to the E5-2697 use in the new "dustbin" Mac Pro is interesting. The Dustbin Pro is entertaining and has some excellent thinking behind it in being airflow-centric, but it also has aspects of style over substance and exudes a sense, whether fair or not, of being static- that it can never be changed, or you have to find curved Quadros not more than 14cm long and hang additional drives off USB cables. Of course, it may be very flexible, as Apple must know that in the increasingly specialized and optimized world of high-end workstations, hot-rodding is absolutely essential. Still, it's bit sad to see Apple plodding in the decorative rather than the striking game-changing innovations of the Jobs era.

    So, the E5-2697 V2 is very welcome, but to run the complex equation that would determine if it's worthwhile- and the price- there needs to be a comparison with a variety of single and multiple quad, hex and octo-core Xeon systems running multi-core benchmark tests or better, the applications of the kind for which this category of CPU's was intended. And, all of that is academic and still limited until the cost is known.

    Oh, and one more thing, how well does a pair of E5-2697 V2's do? I need to make a dynamic 3D model of the entire atmosphere,...

    Cheers,

    BambiBoom

  • -1 Hide
    cangelini , August 13, 2013 5:06 PM
    Quote:
    Gentlemen?,

    For those of us handcuffed to workstations for eternity, a new top end Xeon is always interesting- we can begin the delightful process of imagining how fast animations of 8,000 part CATIA assemblies will run and the painful process of imagining the eventual price and how to pay for it.

    But, and I say it reluctantly, the thorough tests and considerations by Chris Angelini fall a bit short as it only included comparison to one processor that resembles a competitor to the E5-2697 V2, which is the 8-core and $1,950 E5-2687W.

    I can't think that anyone using a i7-3770K will wake up one day and realize that, instead of a $325 quad core, what they really need is a $2,800-$3,100 (guessing) 12-core- and 256GB of ECC Ram. The E5-2697 V2 will be considered by those with single CPU LGA 2011 workstations using the lowly E5-1650, E5-1660, E5-2XXX six core and the E5-2643 and E5-2687W 8-core, as a way to have 12 cores / 24 threads for without starting over and more probably, by those making the calculations for and against having to buy a dual CPU system with two $1,500-$2,000 CPUs. And, because multi-core applications are still so rare- rendering is the most common, plus scientific like MATLAB and certain custom code scientific modeling, and mathematical / financial analytics, the market will be specialized and limited.

    What would be very useful would be to compare the E5-2697 V2 to various dual four, six, and eight-core systems. There are a lot of advantages to dual CPU's as they support more memory and have more PCIe lanes, which can add CUDA or Xeon Phi co-processors, RAID controllers, and etc, but importantly, the fewer the cores on a CPU, the higher the clock speed. The quad core $360 E5-1620 has a base clock speed of 3.6GHz, a similar amount of cache per core, and runs on the first core at 3.8. One could argue that on the majority of applications including most of Autodesk, Dessault, and Adobe, the 1620 at 1/8 the price could perform in the realm of the E5-2697 having a base speed of 2.7 and on one core up to 3.5Ghz. The next step up is the six-core E5-1650 at 3.2 / 3.8 at $600 and it takes the $1,100 E5-1660 to have both six cores and the 3.6 speed of the 1620 at 1/3 the cost. Then, one can move into the realm of dual six-core Xeons which can have higher clock speeds than the 2697 and may be temptingly near in cost to the single one. This is only a sample of the difficulty in judging the usefulness and cost / performance of these very high-end CPU's. It has to be reverse analyzed from the applications and even then the cost may not be justified for only occasional bursts of maximum performance.

    The speculation as to the E5-2697 use in the new "dustbin" Mac Pro is interesting. The Dustbin Pro is entertaining and has some excellent thinking behind it in being airflow-centric, but it also has aspects of style over substance and exudes a sense, whether fair or not, of being static- that it can never be changed, or you have to find curved Quadros not more than 14cm long and hang additional drives off USB cables. Of course, it may be very flexible, as Apple must know that in the increasingly specialized and optimized world of high-end workstations, hot-rodding is absolutely essential. Still, it's bit sad to see Apple plodding in the decorative rather than the striking game-changing innovations of the Jobs era.

    So, the E5-2697 V2 is very welcome, but to run the complex equation that would determine if it's worthwhile- and the price- there needs to be a comparison with a variety of single and multiple quad, hex and octo-core Xeon systems running multi-core benchmark tests or better, the applications of the kind for which this category of CPU's was intended. And, all of that is academic and still limited until the cost is known.

    Oh, and one more thing, how well does a pair of E5-2697 V2's do? I need to make a dynamic 3D model of the entire atmosphere,...

    Cheers,

    BambiBoom



    We'll be able to answer all of those questions soon enough. This was more of a thought experiment/preview based on architecture (rather than specific SKUs and full-on workstation configurations). A full review will need to wait until after Intel's launch. I'm expecting to have a dual-proc configuration prior to then, and will make an effort to get my hands on more processor pairs to chart out in more workstation-specific benchmarks.
Display more comments