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

Preface: Where's The Innovation In High-End Desktops?

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.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.

  • Someone Somewhere
    The 32-bit build of Geekbench uses x87 code

    Typo, top of page two.
    Reply
  • jimmysmitty
    11342601 said:
    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.
    Reply
  • vmem
    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...
    Reply
  • Someone Somewhere
    11342721 said:
    11342601 said:
    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.
    Reply
  • natoco
    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.
    Reply
  • CommentariesAnd More
    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 :) )
    Reply
  • PreferLinux
    http://www.mouser.com/ProductDetail/Intel/CM8063501288843S-R171/?qs=sGAEpiMZZMvqxsBVy5ZiuowErqth9imUwPY6%2fY0Um1w%3dGuess what?
    "Description: CPU - Central Processing Units Xeon E5-2697v2 12 CR 2.7GHz FCLGA2011"

    "Pricing (USD)
    1: $3,249.19
    2: $3,127.04"
    Reply
  • Someone Somewhere
    11343328 said:
    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.
    Reply
  • Duckhunt
    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.
    I guess when we have a third world america. You might as well go back to a decade 1368x738 with it being the most popular in 2006. Who can afford it? It the retro push backward.
    Reply
  • Someone Somewhere
    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.
    Reply