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Sapphire Rapids Packs More Cores and Bandwidth

Dear reader, today we will be taking an in-depth look at Intel’s upcoming Sapphire Rapids-WS workstation processors and analyzing how the new Xeon lineup plans to compete with AMD’s Ryzen Threadripper Pro chips for high-end desktop PCs and workstations. There is much anticipation across the professional computing industry around Intel’s response to AMD’s resurgence, based on the specifications revealed so far. Let’s dive into the architectural improvements, benchmark comparisons, platform features and real-world use cases where Sapphire Rapids-WS will aim to excel.

First, some quick background. Intel has dominated the workstation and server CPU markets for well over a decade, ever since AMD’s architecture stumbled with Bulldozer. Intel’s Xeon server chips and Xeon W workstation processors, based on architectures like Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge, Haswell and Skylake, have held commanding performance and efficiency leads in most enterprise and professional applications.

AMD’s fortunes reversed in 2017 with the launch of its new Zen microarchitecture and Ryzen family of processors. Zen finally allowed AMD to compete on performance and cores with Intel. The subsequent Zen 2 and Zen 3 iterations have catapulted AMD technology ahead in areas like manufacturing process, core counts and memory bandwidth. AMD’s latest EPYC server chips and Ryzen Threadripper Pro workstation processors now threaten Intel’s market leadership.

The specs recently leaked for Intel’s upcoming Sapphire Rapids-WS family show the company is responding aggressively to match AMD’s technology. The new Xeon W9-3495X flagship boasts 56 cores and 112 threads enabled by Hyper-Threading, a big jump from the previous W-3300 series limit of 38 cores. With its HBM memory architecture, AMD still holds the core count lead for now with 64-core EPYC and Threadripper Pro chips on the market.

But Sapphire Rapids aims to catch up on cores while also delivering major bandwidth improvements including support for 8-channel DDR5 memory and 112 lanes of PCI Express 5.0. This huge I/O bandwidth caters to workstation users running data-intensive simulations, machine learning training, or working with high-resolution 3D and video content where memory access speeds are critical.

Sapphire Rapids also incorporates new AI acceleration instructions like AMX, security hardening via Intel SGX, and the AVX-512 math instruction set that AMD lacks. By tailoring the architecture to professional use cases, Intel hopes to outperform AMD’s “core count at any cost” approach.

Early Sapphire Rapids benchmarks leaked by Intel, while cherry-picked, do show some notable results. In the Cinebench R23 multi-threaded test, the 56-core W9-3495X scored 93,535 points, just ahead of AMD’s 64-core Threadripper Pro 5995WX at around 88,000 points.

Rendering a complex Blender scene with LuxCoreRender showed a similarly close race, with the W9-3495X completing in 4 minutes vs. Threadripper Pro’s 4:11. Intel claims its Architecture Day benchmark simulating reservoir modeling in the oil and gas industry saw Sapphire Rapids 2.2x faster than AMD’s fastest.

Independent testing will reveal more, but the initial numbers show Intel can match AMD’s core count prowess while leveraging architectural strengths like AVX-512 for professional workloads. But AMD already prepares its next-gen Zen 4 EPYC Genoa and Threadripper chips ramping up to 96 cores on 5nm process for 2023. The core count battle continues!

Intel enjoyed over 90% unit market share in workstation processors through the early 2010s based on Xeon’s sterling reputation for performance, reliability and software ecosystem support. But starting in 2017, AMD began making huge dents with its Threadripper Pro line that offered more cores for less money. Some experts believe AMD now holds over 25% of the workstation CPU segment.

Here is a quick generational comparison of Intel’s high core count chips versus AMD’s offerings over recent years:

Year Intel Model + Cores AMD Model + Cores
2017 Xeon W-2195 18C Threadripper 1950X 16C
2019 Xeon W-3275 28C Threadripper 3970X 32C
2021 Xeon W-3375X 38C Threadripper Pro 3995WX 64C

While Intel led on single-threaded performance, AMD’s dominance in multi-threaded workloads won over many professional users. Sapphire Rapids aims to halt AMD’s momentum.

What caused Intel’s sudden vulnerability after years leading the data center and workstation markets? Much stems from Intel struggling to advance its manufacturing processes and node technology after years of dominance.

Intel’s delayed transition from 14nm to 10nm fabrication allowed competitors like AMD and Apple (via TSMC) to surpass Intel’s process lead. While AMD and TSMC have reached 5nm production, Intel remains behind on 10nm yields. These fab delays severely constrained Intel’s ability to increase core counts.

Sapphire Rapids will finally reach volume 10nm production, but Intel is not expected to match TSMC’s 5nm output until the 2024 Lunar Lake generation. For now, Intel must rely on architectural cleverness to compensate for its manufacturing gap.

AMD successfully bounced back thanks to its new Zen-based Ryzen CPU microarchitecture first launched in 2017. Designed from scratch, Zen achieved IPC gains up over 50% from AMD‘s aging Bulldozer lineage along with major improvements to caches, memory controllers and data fabric.

Each Zen generation tuned the architecture further. Zen 2 in 2019 brought chiplet-based design for improved yields along with PCIe 4.0. 2020’s Zen 3 extended the IPC and frequency gains while optimizing density. Together with TSMC’s excellent 7nm and 5nm process nodes, these Zen developments drove AMD’s resurgence versus Intel.

For workstation users, advances like doubled floating point throughput, bandwidth-doubling PCIe 4.0 and improved multi-threaded scaling directly translated to productivity speedups for professional media, simulation and data science applications.

While server CPUs focus on maximizing cores and throughput at low cost, workstation processors need balanced designs optimizing for low latency, high IPC and maximum bandwidth to avoid bottlenecks. This enables real-time interactivity when working with huge assets and datasets.

Intel supports its advantages in single-threaded performance, platform integration and software tuning. Technologies like QuickSync media blocks, Thunderbolt ports and Optane memory undoubtedly benefit workstation workflows. Instruction sets like AVX-512 accelrate simulations, analysis and ML training tasks common in engineering and creative fields.

But AMD counters with excellent multicore scaling, prosumer-friendly features like overclocking and PCIe lane counts exceeding Intel’s offerings. Professional applications rapidly adopt GPU acceleration as well, where AMD’s integration efforts shine. Overall software ecosystem maturity also helps Intel maintain its foothold.

There are clear use cases where each platform shines today. But the competition is forcing rapid innovation on both sides to win over demanding, performance-obsessed workstation enthusiasts.

What do these rival architectures actually mean for media creators, engineers and data scientists? Here are some specific examples of real-world speedups:

  • 3D artists reported Blender renders completing up to 30% faster running 64-core Threadripper versus 28-core Xeon
  • AI researchers saw image classifier training time cut from days to hours using NVIDIA GPUs attached via PCIe 4.0 on AMD vs PCIe 3 on Intel
  • AutoCAD designers can interact with complex vehicle 3D models and scene visualizations noticeably more smoothly with Zen 3’s latency optimizations
  • Music producers find loading hundreds of richly instrumented tracks no longer crashes audio DAWs thanks to Threadripper Pro’s ample memory bandwidth

Beyond sheer specs, these tangible user benefits multiplied across long, demanding project timelines demonstrate AMD‘s impact. Workstation users are seeing possibilities previously unattainable on older HEDT and even server-class hardware.

At the same time, Intel‘s engineering prowess keeps them competitive especially on legacy software lacking multi-core scaling. Corporate support teams also tend to favor Intel‘s maturity and OEM integration expertise. Striking the right balance depends greatly on each user‘s specific needs.

Over the past two generations, AMD has adopted aggressive pricing seeking to unseat Intel’s market dominance. The 64-core Threadripper Pro 3995WX launched at just $5,500 compared to $10,750 for Intel’s Xeon W-3275 28-core chip. Some experts believe AMD may even sell Threadripper Pro at a loss to grow share.

Here are speculated launch prices for the Sapphire Rapids-WS family based on Intel’s traditional market positioning:

Model Cores/Threads Base Clock GHz Price
W9-3495X 56/112 3.0 $6,800
W7-3495 36/72 2.6 $4,200
W5-3445 20/40 3.0 $2,600
W5-3435 16/32 3.0 $2,200
W5-3433 14/28 3.2 $1,750
W5-3423 12/24 3.5 $1,100

To combat AMD‘s aggressive Threadripper Pro pricing, Intel may need to offer rebates and incentives around Sapphire Rapids-WS systems to stay cost competitive. Corporate service and support advantages could help overcome some of the pricing gap in enterprise accounts.

But in the retail DIY PC enthusiast market, AMD likely retains a strong value advantage. Intel must prove its performance leadership to justify asking higher premiums.

So in summary, Intel faces tough competition from AMD in the important workstation CPU segment powering millions of high-end PCs for creators and professionals worldwide. But Sapphire Rapids-WS looks extremely promising based on early specs and benchmark leaks.

If Intel can deliver the new Xeon family in volume without further delays in 2023, they could arrest AMD‘s momentum and put Sapphire Rapids‘ gaming-changing bandwidth and professional-tuned architecture to work recapturing market leadership. Pricing will undoubtedly play a major role as Intel tries limiting AMD‘s inroads into its previously dominant market share.

But with AMD also iterating quickly and extending its manufacturing lead with next-gen Zen 4 and 3nm transistor technology on the horizon, Intel cannot rest. Overall, this revived competitive dynamic in the workstation CPU space promises great news for professional users who will reap the benefits of rapid performance gains and innovative new features. The Xeon vs. Threadripper battle means an exciting future is ahead!

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