AMD Enterprise-Grade Processors? Your Top Questions Answered

September 21, 2017 | Post

Are you following the news about AMD’s beefy new processors? We are. While AMD has been a long-standing contender in the enthusiast community, in the x86 market, rarely was their name bandied about.

It seems the winds of change are blowing and AMD is pulling out all the stops to disrupt the processor market by introducing three levels of chips — including enterprise solutions — and speculators are placing bets on how closely these products will match up to the performance of Intel®.

The new AMD lines Ryzen™ and EPYC™ each occupy their own space in the ecosystem (with slight cross-over between the Ryzen high-end desktop and entry-level EPYC chips). For the x86 market that MBX generally serves, EPYC is the heavyweight.

Suddenly AMD has piqued our customers’ interest, and questions abound regarding how Ryzen and EPYC stand up to Intel and what counterattack to expect. We’re going to field the most common questions we’re being asked, and in subsequent blogs look under the hood with technical details and performance comparisons.

Question #1: Is my software going to be compatible, or do I have to build a new image?

All these chips have the same instruction set architecture underneath. If you’re running a modern operating system (ie. modern versions of Linux or Windows), there’s no need to change your software or OS, but a driver or two might need to be updated. With an outdated OS, you can use an AMD chip but a variety of features won’t work.

Question #2: We’re looking to migrate to NVMe – how does AMD compare?

It depends on your workload scenario and performance you require from your server appliance. Let’s answer this question from the perspective of a storage-intense server, for example. To design an NVMe storage platform the Intel way, it takes two CPUs providing 48 lanes of PCIe® each to get there, with a lot of the second chip’s functionality potentially going unused. The AMD way, with EPYC we have 128 lanes of PCIe on a single chip. Many storage-centric servers do not necessarily require extensive CPU resources, so having a full 128 lanes of PCIe for your NVMe storage in a single chip reduces BOM cost and allows targeted sizing of CPU resources without compromising I/O capability.

Question #3: Would the change affect my system cost, apples to apples?

While the CPUs are more alike than different, it’s really not possible to make an apples to apples comparison — they each have their own strengths. You can’t simply compare AMD’s 32 core with Intel’s 28 core. For example, Intel has impressive single core performance, and AMD’s Infinity Fabric CCX interlinks are an improvement over the latency implications of Intel’s mesh cache architecture found in Skylake-SP. Your software requirements will dictate which processor choice is best. But to answer the question, at today’s price points, the system cost with AMD would likely go down, but rapid-fire announcements from Intel show that things can change quickly.

Across the EPYC and Ryzen stacks, here are a few rough examples showing where they’re slotted in compared to Intel processors.

  • If you’re using Intel Skylake-SP or Xeon®  E5 for high core count and huge muscle, look at AMD EPYC 7000 lineup to achieve higher core counts, more PCIe I/O, and a lower price tag
  • If you’re using Intel high end desk top (HEDT) for lightning fast speed and extensive capabilities, look at AMD Ryzen Threadripper™ , once again providing more I/O capability, more cores for your dollar, and comparable memory capacity and performance
  • If you’re using Intel Xeon E3 or mainstream desktop for IoT or edge devices, look at AMD Ryzen 3/5/7 for cost optimization and pushing the limits of core and thread count
  • If you depend on CPU integrated graphics, you may need to look elsewhere as GPU-integrated Zen architecture AMD chips haven’t yet arrived (or add a GPU)

Question #4: Can AMD’s supply chain support the enterprise market?

There’s no crystal ball to tell what the demand will be for AMD’s enterprise-level chips. At MBX, we’re setting up additional channel relationships to add to our existing OEM hardware partnerships, which will give us a deeper reach into the supply chain. We can also set up an inventory stocking program to procure supply in advance based on your sales forecasts.  

Bullish on AMD

In our research, respected industry sources are mostly bullish on these new AMD products. Some of the most trusted reviewers, such as AnandTech and Ars Technica, have written detailed technical reviews with benchmarks to support their positions.

As our platform engineers roll up their sleeves and develop customer prototypes with these chips, we’ll be able test and benchmark the actual performance specifically for these systems. There’s no question the AMD processors won’t be right for all applications. Additionally, if a customer’s run-rate volume could cause supply chain concerns early on, we’ll steer away from spec’ing these products until successful history has been established for these new product lines.

If you’re curious and would like to discuss developing and testing a prototype with your software and AMD-based platforms, get in touch and we’ll get the ball rolling!

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