Which CPUs are the best and what does the future hold?
At Teledata we love talking about the latest advancements in tech – 2020 has brought with it some fantastic developments in the world of CPU technology. Manufacturers have looked to embrace AI in server grade CPUs, meaning that decision making processes are made faster and with greater accuracy.
What’s a server grade CPU?
Server grade CPUs are designed to run at 100% performance all of the time, throughout their entire lifespan – as such they’re designed to be the very best they can be. Intel and AMD naturally have the market here, with Intel’s Xeon processors leading their server offering and AMD offering EPYC and Opteron chips. These are considerably different from those you’d find in a desktop, they don’t often have an integrated GPU (as there’s no requirement) and they are typically built from far superior materials in the manufacturing process. Some of the Xeon processors at Platinum level can cost as much as £65,000!
The number of cores can also differ greatly, with some server grade CPUs going as high as 64 cores. AMD is the first to manufacture an x86 processor on its 7nm technology, with Intel still on 14nm, but that’s not to say in the future Intel’s offering won’t move to smaller, more efficient core offerings (they have recently revealed Ice Lake 10nm) and perform at the levels seen from AMD. They’re winning the war at the moment, with their desktop and server processors seemingly outperforming Intel’s, however this has always been a back and forth between the two as they battle for supremacy. For example, Intel’s announcement of the 10th Gen chips has now been overshadowed by AMD moving to their 5000 series CPUs which are easily outperforming benchmarks set not 6 months earlier, even with their entry level 5600X which is primarily designed for gaming and their 5900X designed for workstation tasks too.
Workstation vs Server
There’s been a shift recently over what constitutes a workstation, with more cores providing power users with a better experience. CAD design and rendering requires great performance from a CPU (you can’t get away with an i3!) and this usually means that they’ll look to a processor that is specifically designed to handle multiple processes, all at once – such as a server grade CPU. The Ryzen Threadripper 3990X is currently the best workstation chip on the market, costing almost £4000 in most places, but is a favourite among those who use design software or need to render at exceptionally high resolutions for 2D/3D modelling. Workstations tend to operate best when their performance is requested “on demand” rather than “always on” like the Intel chips in that bracket.
When it comes to servers however, these tend to focus more on performance and uptime, with higher memory channels and less latency with ECC support (error correction code), meaning that they run well providing reliability. They provide peace of mind for heavier, more intensive loads and typically handle very high RAM configurations. AMD have made considerable advancements in this area, with their server grade CPU’s allowing for greater security with speculative store bypass issues having a greater effect on Intel configurations than AMD. There’s a back and forth here with personal preference playing a part, Intel having the bigger market share and as such more familiarity with infrastructure engineers and the like, but with AMD proving increased performance, a more widespread usage of AMD configurations, especially with cloud solutions will likely see personal preference shift away from Intel.
What does the future hold?
The shift to needing more computing power isn’t anything new. People will always want the best performance available and AMD vs Intel is a war that will rage on well into the future. Intel has typically always done better than AMD when it comes to server CPU’s, but AMD is releasing more all the time that are catching the Intel offering. Arguably, desktop performance has already been eclipsed by AMD’s offering, but when it comes to servers, the Xeon is still ahead on market share, but performance is now led by AMD’s offering. Intel will claim a greater degree of customisability, saying that more cores won’t mean more performance, but AMD’s improvements in security, configurations and energy efficiency has them worried, and rightly so.
Intel will likely announce "Ice Lake" CPUs soon, running on 10nm technology that will provide better energy efficiencies, as they are slightly behind AMD in this regard, but with Zen 3 recently announced and released they’re likely to have to really push the boundaries to avoid being caught up in the near future. A Threadripper refresh in mid-2021 is expected in response to the 11th Gen Intel announcement, but we’ll have to wait and see.