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.