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Intel Unveils New Xeon Roadmap, E-Cores Coming to the Data Center

Intel Roadmap
(Image credit: Intel)

Intel presented a new server roadmap at its Investor Day 2022, announcing several new data center chips and a 'dual-track' roadmap that includes new efficiency-focused models. These new Sierra Forrest chips mark the debut of the company's Efficiency cores (E-cores) in its Xeon data center lineup. Intel has also accelerated the rollout of its Intel 3 process in its roadmap, indicating its growing confidence in its revamped process technology. That will be needed, as AMD currently holds the performance leadership position in the data center, and as we'll outline below, it has an exceedingly competitive roadmap of its own. 

Additionally, Intel's new roadmap indicates that it has delayed its Granite Rapids processors by a year and it doesn't appear the company will use an EUV process for a data center chip until 2024.  

As odd as it may sound, it's important to note that even the existence of a public-facing server roadmap is a big step forward for Intel. Long the 800lb gorilla in the data center with upwards of 90% market share, the company issued its last roadmap with a new data center chip back in November 2019. That's probably because incessant delays and re-shuffled roadmaps continually highlighted the severe disarray that came as a byproduct of its laggardly (to put it lightly) transition to the 10nm node.

To be fair, Intel did provide updates on the delays as its 10nm Ice Lake chips made their way to market over the course of several years, but public-facing roadmap visibility eventually narrowed down to the only next generation of chips due — the oft-delayed Sapphire Rapids. As such, here's the first official Intel server roadmap we've seen with a new data center chip since 2019: 

Intel Roadmap

(Image credit: Intel)

AMD vs. Intel Roadmap202220232024
Intel P-CoresSapphire Rapids - Intel 7 - 56 CoresEmerald Rapids - Intel 7Granite Rapids - Intel 3
AMD P-CoresMilan-X - 7nm | Genoa - 5nm - 96 Cores??
Intel E-CoresSierra Forest - Intel 3
AMD E-CoresBergamo - 5nm - 128 Cores?

Contrary to some reports, Sapphire Rapids is apparently still on-schedule for general release in Q1, 2022. As we already know, this chip comes armed with 56 cores fabbed on the 'Intel 7' process. Emerald Rapids, also fabbed on the Intel 7 process, comes to market in 2023 and is platform compatible with Sapphire Rapids, implying this is a refresh generation that will not come with a new microarchitecture.

You'll notice that Intel has now split its roadmap into two distinct swim lanes. The P-Core (Performance Core) lane at the top represents what we perceive as a traditional Xeon data center processor — these models come equipped with only cores that can deliver the full performance of Intel's fastest architectures. The bottom lane represents Intel's new E-Core (Efficiency Core) lineup that consists of chips with only smaller efficiency cores, much like we see with Intel's Alder Lake chips. Intel hasn't revealed core counts, but these E-Core equipped processors are optimized for the utmost power efficiency and performance density, so they'll have the highest core counts. Intel says these chips were developed at the request of its largest customers, meaning hyperscalers and cloud service providers, for cloud-native deployments.

However, these two lineups will not have any chips with both P-cores and E-cores on the same silicon. Intel says that its customers prefer for the core types to remain isolated. As such, they will manage the different types of cores at a data center scale instead of on-chip, as we see with the Alder Lake lineup.

The P-core chips will be used primarily to ensure high performance-per-core for low-latency workloads, like AI, HPC, and databases. In contrast, the E-core equipped models are designed to maximize power efficiency for highly-parallel latency-tolerant workloads, like high-density VM deployments, data analytics, and front-end web services. In addition, by not blending the two types of cores on a single chip, Intel's customers can better optimize the ratio of P-core and E-core equipped systems based upon their needs. This approach also allows Intel to support different feature sets on each type of chip to target specific types of workloads.

Notably, Sierra Forest, the first E-core equipped family, will be socket compatible with the P-core-powered Granite Rapids; they even share the same BIOS and software. Intel enabled this by moving these chips to a tile-based design, with a central I/O tile handling memory and other connectivity features, much like we see with AMD's EPYC processors. This separates the core and uncore functions, so Intel creates different processor types by using different types of compute tiles. This provides multiple benefits, such as the ability to use the same systems to pack in more threaded heft with E-cores, but within the same TDP envelope as P-core models.

(Image credit: Intel)

Granite Rapids, the P-core model, comes to market in 2024 with a new microarchitecture and the 'Intel 3' process. Granite Rapids makes its debut in an Intel roadmap slide for the first time, but during the company's announcement that its Intel 4 (then named 7nm) process was fixed, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger had previously mentioned that this processor would ship in 2023. That was Intel's only mention of the processor until now, but it appears that the timeline has slipped by a year. Additionally, Intel now says this processor will come with Intel 3, which would have previously been known as 7nm+, which is a surprising change. In either case, that means that Intel won't transition to an EUV process tech for its data center chips until 2024. 

Intel says that its Intel 3 process is far enough ahead of schedule that it allowed the company to change the intercept point for use in its Xeon processors. This doesn't appear to mean that the Intel 4 process has been scrapped, as Intel's consumer Meteor Lake chips are still slated to use the node. Notably, even though Intel 3 is a 'tock' iteration of Intel 4 (or '+' equivalent), it still provides an additional 18% perf/watt gain over the Intel 4 process. Sierra Forest also arrives in 2024 on the Intel 3 node. 

202220232024
Intel P-CoresSapphire Rapids - Intel 7 - 56 CoresEmerald Rapids - Intel 7Granite Rapids - Intel 3
AMD P-CoresMilan-X - 7nm | Genoa - 5nm - 96 Cores??
Intel E-CoresSierra Forest - Intel 3
AMD E-CoresBergamo - 5nm - 128 Cores?

Intel's Xeon roadmap has a considerable foe: AMD's Zen 4 roadmap. As you can see above, Sapphire Rapids will grapple with Milan-X and Genoa, the former of which is already in the market, while the latter comes later this year. Genoa will have up to 96 high-performance Zen 4 cores and implement DDR5 and PCIe Gen 5.

AMD hasn't shared further timelines for its processor launches beyond 2023, but it does have its 128-core Bergamo chips coming to market in 2023. This is AMD's first chip with smaller cores, much like we see with Intel's e-cores, but it beats Intel's Sierra Forrest to market by a year. We do know that Bergamo will have 128 cores, but Intel hasn't shared the core counts for Sierra Forrest.

Intel has a tough road ahead as it looks to regain the performance leadership position in the data center. Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger has indicated that the company will fight a close battle with AMD for the next few generations, implying that we won't see a clear leadership position for the next few years. Intel does enjoy the benefits of its incumbency, along with its IDM status that affords it supply advantages that could help it weather the storms to come. In either case, Intel's release of a multi-generation multi-year roadmap with new products is a much-needed sign of its growing confidence in its ability to execute on its roadmaps.

Update 2/17/2022 7pm PT: Corrected details around the timing for Granite Rapids. 

Paul Alcorn is the Deputy Managing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He writes news and reviews on CPUs, storage and enterprise hardware.

  • HideOut
    This probably isn't "Intel invest... day 2020." its 2022
    Reply
  • JayNor
    "Intel has a tough road ahead as it looks to regain the performance leadership position in the data center."

    If the application is the CFD openFOAM benchmark, the SPR-HBM has an architectural advantage that provides 4x the memory bandwidth of Ice Lake Server. AMD 's Milan-X was shown executing at half the performance in the presentation.

    So, looks like the road was not so tuff after all.

    I haven't seen any announcement of in-package HBM stacks on the zen4 roadmap, so it's hard to imagine AMD catching up on the memory-bandwidth limited applications.

    Intel also keeps moving the bar for AI processing, adding the AMX tiled matrix processing in SPR. The AMD products have yet to even add avx512, dlboost, bfloat16.
    Reply
  • Kamen Rider Blade
    Now for Intel to bring the Pure P-cores & Pure E-cores product line to DeskTop CPU's.

    Stop saddling DeskTop CPU's with Hybrid Architecture.
    Reply