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
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?
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.
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.
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