Intel is increasing clock speeds and core count, proving helpful for situations where a workstation has limited SMP support.
Intel has announced the Xeon-E series of CPUs intended for "entry-level workstations," based on their 8th generation Coffee Lake designs. In essence, this product line is positioned as a counter to the trend of prioritizing core count over base (or turbo) clock speed, making it a better solution for business applications that were not written to take advantage of SMP.
Despite SMP being a common feature of enterprise workstations for roughly two decades, even in 2018 most business applications—except for databases—have limited to no support for SMP, making higher clock speeds the (pardon the pun) core attribute to consider when selecting a CPU.
The Xeon-E series ranges from a 6-core, 12-thread CPU running at 3.8 GHz base / 4.7 GHz turbo in the high-end E-2186G model, down to the 4-core, 4-thread E-2124 at 3.3 GHz base / 4.3 GHz turbo. Intel touts the E-2186G at being "up to 1.36 times faster" than the Xeon E3-1285 v6 from 2016 (which, importantly, was a 4-core, 8-thread CPU). Looking at the E-2176G—just below that top end SKU—the 6-core, 12-thread CPU at 3.7 GHz base / 4.7 GHz turbo appears identical to Intel's consumer-facing Core i7-8700K, the only differences being a lower TDP (80W for Xeon vs. 95W for i7) and support for ECC RAM, as would be expected from an enterprise Xeon CPU.
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This is not by any means a revolutionary CPU, but it can be used effectively in situations that would benefit from strong single-core performance, such as CAD modeling. Though it can be paired with a separate GPU, most Xeon-E CPUs include Intel UHD Graphics 630 support, which includes 10-bit HEVC encoding support, for sizes up to 4K.
Hardware manufacturers will be shipping new Xeon-E powered systems starting today. As noted by Anandtech, Taiwanese manufacturer iBASE announced their MB995VF-C246 motherboard intended for embedded servers and workstations, which supports Xeon-E in addition to 8th generation Core i7/i5/i3 CPUs. The board is a veritable grab-bag of computing technologies.
While the board has one PCI Express 16x, 4x, and 1x slot each, it also has three legacy PCI slots, as well as a mini PCI-E connector, one M.2 2280 connector, and one M.2 2230 for connecting a Wi-Fi / Bluetooth module. It also has nine USB 3.1 connectors, four of which are 10 Gbps, the remaining five are split between two onboard, two via headers, and one as an onboard vertical connector. Two USB 2.0 ports are also available via headers. Other connectivity includes six SATA3 ports, dual RJ-45 connectors for gigabit ethernet, six COM connectors (four via header, two as onboard RS232 ports), and HDMI, DVI-D, and DisplayPort 1.2 connectors.
For organizations that rely extensively on legacy hardware that requires the use of such things as PCI cards and RS232 connectors—and these organizations doubtlessly exist, given the proliferation of hardware DRM dongles and oddball PCI cards from the 90s—this board would be an obvious choice to keep that hardware going, assuming the drivers would work as expected on a 64-bit system, or can be configured for passthrough to a virtual machine.
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- Intel has announced the Xeon-E series of CPUs which prioritize base (or turbo) clock speed, making it a better solution for business applications that were not written to take advantage of SMP.
- It can be used effectively in situations that would benefit from strong single-core performance, such as CAD modeling.
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