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Intel Xeon E5-2600 v4 Broadwell-EP Review

Conclusion

Intel's switch to the process, architecture and optimization cadence is a clear indicator that the heady days of Moore's Law is drawing to a close. Over the last few decades, Intel picked the low-hanging fruit from the transistor tree as it moved forward at an incredible pace, but now we're finding each processor generation offering smaller and smaller performance improvements.

The majority of datacenter and enterprise customers are locked into three- or five-year refresh cycles due to maintenance contracts, and as those contracts expire, they upgrade to the newest platforms. This means that the majority of Broadwell-EP customers will be migrating from either Sandy Bridge or Ivy Bridge, and not replacing Haswell-EP-based processors with newer Broadwell-EP models.

As a result, they'll reap the benefits of not only Intel's Broadwell-EP design, but also the mature C610-series chipsets, which continue to find use with the fourth-generation Xeon E5s (updated with fresh firmware, of course). That platform controller hub family merely serves to support a well-endowed host processor. The PCH has limited PCIe 2.0, some built-in USB 3.0 and quite a bit of SATA connectivity. Really, it's the Xeon's big PCIe 3.0 controller, fast QPI links and DDR4 memory controllers (now able to accommodate 2400 MT/s modules) that do the heavy lifting.

The CPU's key advances include a top-end model with four more physical cores, a roughly 5.5 percent improvement in IPC throughput and a last-level cache increase from 45 to 55MB. Our benchmarks show the Xeon E5-2600 v4 serving up nice performance increases through most of the suite. Numerous platform-level improvements offer massive performance advantages to anyone migrating from old Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge servers. On the flip side, there's probably not enough reason for most businesses to ditch Haswell-EP in favor of Broadwell-EP, unless they really need a specific new feature.

Speaking of new features, they appear to be an increasing focus at Intel as the glory days of massive performance gains fade into history. In lieu of big speed-ups, Broadwell-EP includes some extras designed to enhance performance and usability in a variety of applications. VM-centric optimizations should enjoy considerable use in the wild, and the new orchestration tools allow administrators to monitor, manage and optimize with a heretofore-unseen level of granularity. Increased performance and manageability in security-related tasks through faster encryption/decryption, a new random seed generator, SMNAP and Crypto Speedup will come in handy as well.

Intel is wisely using its Broadwell-EP launch as a springboard to introduce a number of high-powered SSDs, too. The meteoric rise of solid-state storage in the datacenter is making it easier to fully utilize potent multi-core CPUs, and matching speedy NVMe-based drives up to the latest in processor technology proves key in bleeding-edge applications, as evidenced by our NVMe RAID tests.

Many enthusiasts are looking to Skylake as the next truly revolutionary advance in processor technology, and there are predictions that it will support 3D XPoint additives and on-die Omni-Path adapters. Sure, Skylake is exciting. But the 14nm node might have more to offer in the near term as well.

Intel recently displayed Arria 10 FPGAs and what appeared to be a Broadwell die on the same package at the Open Compute Summit. It announced that products with this design will ship in 2016. The company's recent Altera purchase looks like it's bearing fruit already, and we may see an interesting marriage of CPU and FPGA on the same die during the transition to process, architecture and optimization.

In the meantime, Intel's Xeon E5-2600 v4 family provides an attractive upgrade path that offers gains in performance, cores, cache and power consumption that will satisfy the vast majority of users, and in particular, those migrating from Ivy and Sandy Bridge. 

MORE: Best CPUs
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Paul Alcorn is a Contributing Editor for Tom's IT Pro and Tom's Hardware, covering Storage. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+Follow us on FacebookGoogle+, RSS, Twitter and YouTube.

  • utroz
    Hmm well we know that Broadwell-E chips must be coming very very soon if Intel let this info out.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    Wasn't there supposed to be a 4-core 5.0 GHz SKU? Single-thread performance still matters, in many cases.
    Reply
  • turkey3_scratch
    17746082 said:
    Wasn't there supposed to be a 4-core 5.0 GHz SKU? Single-thread performance still matters, in many cases.

    In most server applications it doesn't matter as much as multithreaded performance. If you need single-core strength, getting a consumer chip is actually better, but you probably aren't running a server if single-threaded is your focus.
    Reply
  • PaulyAlcorn
    Wasn't there supposed to be a 4-core 5.0 GHz SKU? Single-thread performance still matters, in many cases.
    I read the rumors on that as well, but nothing official has surfaced as of yet to my knowledge.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    17746141 said:
    17746082 said:
    Wasn't there supposed to be a 4-core 5.0 GHz SKU? Single-thread performance still matters, in many cases.

    In most server applications it doesn't matter as much as multithreaded performance. If you need single-core strength, getting a consumer chip is actually better, but you probably aren't running a server if single-threaded is your focus.
    Try telling that to high-frequency traders. I'm sure they want the reliability features of Xeons (ECC, for example), but the highest clock speed available.

    And the fact that Intel even released low-core high-clock SKUs is an acknowledgement of this continuing need. Clock just not as high as I'd read. With the other specs basically matching the Haswell version, the only difference is ~5% IPC improvement. Seems pretty poor improvement, for a die-shrink.
    Reply
  • firefoxx04
    Would nice to have a quad core xeon that turbos at 4.4ghz just like the 4790k. I had to go with a 4690k when building an autocad system because it only uses one core and needs that core to be fast... this means i have to sacrifice ecc support.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    17746160 said:
    Wasn't there supposed to be a 4-core 5.0 GHz SKU? Single-thread performance still matters, in many cases.
    I read the rumors on that as well, but nothing official has surfaced as of yet to my knowledge.
    On wccftech (not the most reliable source, I know), they claimed:

    Model: Intel Xeon E5-2602 V4
    Cores/threads: 4/8
    Base clock: 5.1 GHz
    Turbo clock: TBD
    L3 Cache: 5 MB
    TDP: 165W

    Given what we know about 2.5 MB/core of L3 Cache, the 5 MB figure sounds suspicious. It's conceivable they could disable some to hit the target TDP, I guess.
    Reply
  • firefoxx04
    We cant get skylake to consistently hit 5ghz... why would a xeon chip suddenly hit 5ghz?
    Reply
  • JamesSneed
    17746312 said:
    We cant get skylake to consistently hit 5ghz... why would a xeon chip suddenly hit 5ghz?

    I'm not saying the 5Ghz rumor is true but Intel has always known which chips can hit higher clocks during certification if the chip is a top end or low end chip cores disabled etc. I'm sure they could cherry pick a few to sell for $$$ if they wanted. Now are they I have no real idea.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    17746312 said:
    We cant get skylake to consistently hit 5ghz... why would a xeon chip suddenly hit 5ghz?
    Well, I was surprised, too.

    There are obviously things you can do in chip design that allow one to reach different timing targets. And I was hoping they might've refined their 14 nm process, since the time the first Broadwells launched. So, I thought, with more TDP headroom afforded by this socket (roughly double what Skylake has to work with), maybe they could do it.

    I thought maybe Intel was addressing some pent-up demand for high clockspeed applications. That said, it seemed particularly odd in Broadwell, given that it generally seems oriented towards lower clockspeed / lower power applications.

    But maybe it was a typo, or even a blatant lie, in order to track down leakers.
    Reply