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Intel's Sapphire Rapids Brings (Rumored) Chart-topping Single-Core Performance to HPC
Published: 7-08-2022

Intel’s Sapphire Rapids-SP Xeon CPUs are a direct broadside to AMD’s Zen-3 EPYC CPUs, escalating the battle to be the CPU of choice for servers and high-performance computing centers.

Up to the release of the Alder-Lake CPU family from Intel, AMD had started gaining market share in both the desktop and data center markets. AMD was killing it in both multi-threaded and single-threaded workloads. While AMD’s Zen 3 EPYC CPUs are still king of multi-threaded performance in enterprise-class CPUs, Sapphire Lake rumors are making waves in the single-core performance arena. Let’s have a closer look at what we know about these potentially brilliant chips.

Meet the Sapphire Rapids Family

CREDIT: @yuuki_ans

Sapphire Rapids CPUs use the Intel 7 process, which is a marketing name that Intel has pulled similar trick to AMD back in the day when their Athlon CPUs were named to reflect which Intel CPU clock speed they were equivalent to, not their actual speed. Intel 7 is just a rebranding of their 10nm Enhanced Superfin process and process node names these days are already named for equivalency and not actual component size.

In any event, Intel clearly believes this process is competitive with 7nm processes from the competition and we’re not going to disagree.

According to the leak, there may be as many as 23 CPU SKUs, these CPUs feature the same Golden Cove cores from the Alder Lake CPUs. These are the high-efficiency cores that provide better performance per watt figures than Alder-Lake’s all-out performance cores. Golden Cove cores offer 20% instructions-per-clock (IPC) performance than the former Willow-cove cores. That’s a big deal when were talking about such high core counts and the high priority of energy use in data centers.

There will likely be seven different models configurations of core count, as seen in the leaked diagram above. With 24, 28, 40, 44, 48, 56, and 60 core options, With double the threads. Then there are four RDP tiers:

  • Bronze Tier: 150-185W TDP

  • Silver Tier: 205-250W TDP

  • Gold Tier: 270-300W TDP

  • Platinum Tier: 300-350W+ TDP

These tiers are at the PL1 rating level, PL2 versions might have TDPs in excess of 700W!

Taking a Leaf From the Competition

AMD had a bit of a breakthrough with their chiplet design, which allowed them to absolutely pack the CPU package with chiplets, each containing several cores.

Sapphire Rapids Xeon chips has a similar solution, with multiple “tiles” on each die that contain a number of cores. All tiles have access to all the resources on the package, so it does act as a unified CPU. Going this route reduces the need for dual- or quad- socket motherboards for many customers. Or allow customers who want to run multi-socket boards (such as data centers) to cram much more computing power into the same space and power envelope.

Less Cores, More Oomph

While AMD is still likely to offer a larger number of cores and keep the multithreaded performance crown in the data center, there’s good reason to believe that Sapphire Rapids will have a meaningful lead when it coes to per-core performance.
One major clue to this is the announcement from Nvidia that they are switching from Zen 3 EPYC to Sapphire Rapids. Nvidia is doing this for their DGX H100 units, which are used in supercomputer projects and have stated clearly that this move is drive by better single-core performance.

When Will Sapphire Rapid Be Available?

Intel originally planned to release these CPUs late in 2021, but then this was delayed to early 2022. In early 2022 key customers received a first batch of processors but mainstream volume availability was moved up to mid-2022. That window has been delayed again and now these CPUs seem set for a late 2022 release.