Intel Sapphire Rapids-WS Lineup Leaks: The Latest Xeon Takes Aim at AMD Threadripper

intel sapphire rapids

Intel Sapphire Rapids-WS Lineup Leaks: The Latest Xeon Takes Aim at AMD Threadripper

Intel’s latest Xeon chipset intended for workstations has had its specifications leaked. The Sapphire Rapids-WS is the latest lineup of Xeon chipsets and appears to be directly competing with AMD’s latest Threadripper line.


The highest-spec chipset in this product line is the Xeon W9-3495X, which serves as the flagship for the entire line. It boasts an impressive 56 cores and can further utilize those across 112 threads. Overclocking is supported, which might prove useful for rendering farms in the commercial space.

The W-3400 series looks to support eight individual memory slots for DDR5 RAM. Also present are 112 PCI-E lanes for peripherals, accessories, and additional hardware like GPUs.

The lower-range models are cheaper overall but at the cost of a loss of cores. The lowest in the line, the W5-3423 is rumored to have 12 cores with an unreported number of threads for processing.

All processors feature support for AVX-512 instruction sets, giving Intel an edge in the workstation niche. No current models on the market support the instruction set. This comes despite rumors of Intel killing off the instruction set earlier this year.

Support for AMX is also present, allowing Intel to remain competitive in the AI model and machine learning arena. Intel hasn’t confirmed the full details or specs yet. So far, they’ve provided a promotional video discussing the merits of the new processor and motherboards.

Intel Facing the Competition

intel sapphire rapids
The AMD Threadripper PRO 5000 WX-Series processors are based on 7nm process technology.

The latest Xeon faces stiff competition from AMD’s Threadripper line of workstation processors. It still loses out on thread count, with the Threadripper having 64 cores to administer 128 cores.

AMD has codenamed the Threaripper Storm Peak. Still, it remains an exciting prospect for those looking to upgrade workstations. Intel’s promotional videos have hinted at 3D renders taking a fraction of the time, but that’s idealized advertising.

What is certain is there should be quite a power boost between the latest Threadripper and the latest Xeon family of processors. The most recent iteration of the Threadripper is quite a powerful processor, despite its eyewatering suggested retail price.

AMX and Workstations

AMX on workstations is a great thing for those developing or training their own AI models. It lacks the sheer grunt of something like a tensor processing unit, or even Cerebras’s specialized hardware. However, AMX, or Advanced Matrix Extensions, should aid in doing the heavy number crunching required for AI development.

Where this benefit is in allowing for the acceleration of mathematical operations performed in matrices. This can benefit the operations common machine learning and AI workloads might require.

Intel developed the extensible module and debuted it in 2020 on the Sapphire Rapids line of Xeon processors. AMD’s analog to the accelerator is the AMD EPYC or Genoa processors. These processors don’t have an accelerator like AMX for quickly doing math. Instead, they rely on sheer core counts to bypass the need for it.

Intel or AMD for Workstations?

intel xeon
The Intel Xeon processor revolutionized server technology.

Choosing processors for workstation usage is a difficult task. Before choosing which CPU might work best for your organization, consider if your toolchain takes advantage of multiple cores or tends to favor single-core performance.

In the case of multi-core performance, AMD is king. The Threadripper Pro 5995WX boasts superior core counts compared to its Intel counterpart. AMD performs far better where processes are multithreaded, and having more cores is only a benefit for these sorts of applications.

AMD processors have made a resurgence in workstations, besting Intel’s offerings for AI and rendering work alike. Where Intel excels is single-core performance. Intel benefits from being the defacto processor manufacturer of choice for many years in workstations, so compatibility for legacy applications is much higher.

The needs of a processor in a production environment are far different than gaming, for example. Games tend to favor single-core performance. Compare this to something like a complex 3D render, where multiple CPU threads speed up what might otherwise be a lengthy final render for the deliverable.

Sapphire Rapids-WS vs. Sapphire Rapids

So what makes Intel’s latest workstation chipset different from its sibling? Sapphire Rapids has many of the same features as the rumored Sapphire Rapids-WS, like support for DDR5, AMX, and PCI-E 5.0. Where they part is in their intended use case. Sapphire Rapids is first and foremost a processor intended for use in data centers.

They are both the latest in Intel’s line of high-performance hardware for enterprise usage. The data center variant of Sapphire Rapids has four more cores, numbering 60 individual cores per processor compared to the 56 of the workstation chipset.

Both Xeon processors claim optimal performance and throughput for their intended uses, but Intel’s Xeon line still doesn’t have the core count of the Threadripper in workstations, nor the upcoming Epyc Genoa processors.

When Are The New Xeons Releasing?

Intel hasn’t given a concrete release date for the Sapphire Rapids-WS, but the Sapphire Rapids is slated for a January 10th release. The project itself started five years ago, with the slated release being delayed from 2021 to the fourth quarter of 2022.

Nearly two years later, Sapphire Rapids is being benchmarked by those in the data center industry. The workstation iteration of the newest Xeon, however, is nowhere to be seen. Given the shared architecture and manufacturing process, it could be extrapolated the Sapphire Rapid-WS is due in the first quarter of 2023.

Intel has suffered some setbacks in the manufacturing process since the beginning of the pandemic. Once at the cutting edge of semiconductor manufacture, Intel has struggled to maintain that edge. Competitors like TSMC and Samsung have invested hundreds of billions to expand their production capacity, and Intel is trailing behind comparatively.

Semiconductor manufacturing is a highly competitive sector, and to stay competitive Intel has had to open its doors to fabrication for other clients.

Closing Thoughts

Intel has a fair bit of ground to regain as a leading figure in the workstation segment of business computing. Sapphire Rapid-WS and the other enterprise-oriented variants of the Xeon promise a return to form.

The lineup leak shows a good amount of promise, but there is still no concrete release date. Couple that with a lack of empirical data regarding performance, and it seems Intel should act quickly before AMD capitalizes on the delays once again.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are workstations used for?

Workstations are desktops with higher-grade components, meant for handling far more demanding workloads. Business laptops and desktops will use off-shelf components, but they are still subject to the limitations of the hardware itself.

Workstations are more useful, with tasks like media production, data science, AI modeling, deep learning, machine learning, and other demanding workloads. The increase in CPU and GPU power alike makes them ideal for tasks where performance is paramount.

Are Xeons good for gaming?

While you could certainly use a Xeon processor for gaming, it would absolutely be a waste for its purpose. The chipset is designed for performance, but it is geared and optimized towards different tasks than PC gaming.

Commercially available desktop processors, like the Intel i9 or AMD Ryzen series, offer up ideal performance while still being suited for a variety of tasks that the average consumer or office worker might need.

Would a Threadripper Pro or Xeon be better for AI work?

It really depends on what you value more when picking a CPU for working with AI models. If the features and specs of AMX-enabled processors are appealing, then Intel is the only choice.

If you value core counts above accelerators or other methods of expediting dense mathematical processes, then AMD’s Threadripper Pro has the most cores available for workstations. Either manufacturer’s offerings are certainly usable, compared to using off-site cloud processing for AI.

Why are workstation processors better for 3D rendering?

Core count in a workstation is going to be significantly higher in a workstation compared to any off-the-rack desktop or laptop. Having the means to process multiple threads at higher counts makes for quite the difference when rendering high-quality 3D assets.

Recent processors from AMD and Intel keep upping the core count as well, leading to an increase in efficiency, as well as decreased render times.

Who is the leading manufactuer for workstation processors currently?

Currently, AMD has made massive strides in capturing the workstation demographic, compared to their previous decade-long slump. The introduction of the Zen architecture and Threadripper have made a significant dent in Intel’s market share.

Previously, Intel was the dominant force, but AMD puts out a competitive product with more cores and modern features like DDR5 support and PCI-E 5.0 buses. AMD also has a similar thermal draw to Intel’s while having more power on tap.

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