AMD’s Epyc pummels Intel’s new Xeon-W workstation CPUs

Updated: It isn’t a fair fight, Intel didn’t show up but still charges more

Intel - logoIntel is being pummeled by AMD’s Epyc and today’s Xeon-W launch shows their desperation. Worse yet for Intel, they can’t react on pricing without destroying their core Xeon market.

As SemiAccurate has been saying for months, Intel is in a self-made bind. They have been squeezing locked-in customers harder and harder every generation because, well, the customers had no place to go. Note the past tense in the previous sentence, AMD’s Epyc launch made that lock-in a moot point last June. Today Intel launches the Xeon-W workstation parts and they don’t compare well to the competition.

So what is Intel launching in the -W Xeons? Take the normal Xeon lineup and subtract a few SKUs et voila, workstation parts. That is a bit unfair, significant work was done to redo the box art to add a -W to the mix and put the word workstation on too, it is longer than server so many marketing dollars were spent. Luckily for humanity the job was accomplished with minimal loss of life. The 2S workstation lineup looks like this.

Intel 1S Xeon-W pricing

Xeon-SP minus a few items

You may notice the Silver and Bronze tiers of Xeons are gone, as are the -M SKUs. This leaves the workstation parts crippled, you can’t get more than 768GB per socket on parts meant for heavy memory intensive tasks like CAD, FEA, and modeling large data sets. For some reason Intel neglected to put this fact into their slides on the workstation parts.

AMD Epyc 1S and 2S pricing

AMD’s clean kill starts here

AMD’s Epyc on the other hand can put up to 2TB in a single socket, 4TB with 256GB DIMMs versus Intel’s 756GB, an artificially enforced cap so DIMM side is irrelevant. Any guesses which is more attractive to the target market? More to the point the top 2S Epyc, the 32C 7601 costs $4200 and the 200MHz slower (base clock) 32C 7551 costs a mere $3400. For a little more money you can get an 18C Intel Xeon-W Gold 6154 for a mere $3661. So 14C less, higher base clocks, slightly higher turbo, and a crippled memory subsystem for your hard-earned dollars. If you want to step up to the still memory crippled Xeon 8180, it is a mere $10,009. Each. For 4C less.

Before you talk about single threaded performance, think about what you are saying. The workstation market is all about multi-threaded tasks, if it wasn’t you wouldn’t be buying a 1S or 2S high core count box, you would be searching out a rare consumer platform that supports ECC for the higher base clocks. Intel isn’t just out of line on price with the Xeon-Ws, they aren’t in the same game.

The second half of the Xeon-W launch today is the 1S Xeon-W lineup. If you take the woeful Skylake-X aka i9 lineup and fuse them off differently, you have the new Xeon-Ws. Like the infamous empty tables from the Sky-X launch, Intel is so proud of these new Xeon-Ws that they can’t put a price on them other than more expensive than their consumer brethren. Is it just me or is a company like Intel ‘launching’ multiple product lines in a row without complete specs or prices more than a bit embarrassing. I know AMD is running rings around Intel in marketing and PR but this is getting sad. Here are the 1S specs.

Intel 2S Xeon-W pricing

Sloppy or too embarrassing to print?

There are a few things to note here. First take a look at AMD’s 1S Epyc pricing, specifically the 32C 7551P. It costs $2100 or a mere $101 more than the 18C Skylake-X for 14C more, 1.25TB more addressable memory, and no artificial fusings of bells and whistles. Any guesses which will be faster on workstation workloads? Now if you look at the price delta between Skylake-X and Xeon-W it is about $450 for the 10C models, the 14C and 18C prices are MIA. Any guesses why?

Update Aug 31, 2017 @8:45am: Changed 28C to 18C above, typo but affects the story.

If you said Intel doesn’t want to be put in the position of admitting they are charging significantly more for a new product that runs about half the speed of their cheaper competition, you might be on to something. On the 2S side they already launched their pricing when AMD announced theirs, so officially they have plausible deniability even if they knew the pricing months beforehand. This time the AMD prices were out and the plausible deniability isn’t there so embarrassing blank pricing charts it is. With this lot in charge are there any guesses as to why AMD is beating Intel like a drum in OEM sales?

But things get worse for Intel on the workstation side. In addition to multi-threaded workloads that define this multi-core, multi-socket market, there is one other big difference between a high-end PC and a workstation, two if you count ECC. That is GPU attach rates which are usually above one for workstations. Intel crippled Skylake-X for PCI-E lanes, even the $999 10C i9-7900X only has 44 of the 48 PCIe3 lanes available, anything less has 28 tops. The Xeon-W line, same chip mind you, has 48 lanes on all SKUs top to bottom. For some reason that SemiAccurate can’t explain, the 8C Xeon-W 2145 costs $1,113, almost like Intel doesn’t want gamers to buy Xeons.

Once again this would be fine in isolation, Intel is known for soaking target markets until they bleed. Once again though we are not in isolation, since June AMD has had their Epyc 1S parts on the market. Each Epyc offers 128 PCIe3 lanes in 1S and due to the inter-socket configurations also has 128 net lanes in 2S form. In any case that is more than 2x what Intel can offer in 1S and 32 more than they can offer in 2S configurations.

As we mentioned before, workstations have a >1:1 GPU attach rate with many common workloads being bound by GPU performance. AMD has a multiple of what Intel can offer on GPUs per 1S and a useful two additional slots on a 2S machine. If you are GPU limited as many large markets are, chances are you are not CPU bound, the CPUs tend to be glorified I/O controllers. If you buy Intel CPUs you need to buy 2x Xeon-Ws for less supported GPUs than a single Epyc-P 1S device. It isn’t just a clean kill for AMD, Intel isn’t in the game and they can’t fix it for at least 3 years.

Overall Intel’s Xeon-W launch today shows exactly how deep a hole Intel is in. They are reacting to AMD’s every move but doing so late, ham-handedly, and with significantly inferior products at a significantly higher price. This is significant in case you didn’t catch it last sentence. With Epyc you get more cores, more performance per socket, more memory capacity, more PCIe lanes, and all for notably less money. Intel still wins, barely, on single threaded performance, something that has no place in the workstation market. In short Intel wins on nothing with the Xeon-W and SemiAccurate’s talks with large OEMs confirm this is reflected in sales figures. AMD wins this round, Intel didn’t even show up to fight.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate