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Select the Right Processor for HPC Applications


Choosing between a Core or a Xeon processor is not as easy as one would think, especially when there are literally hundreds of versions to choose from. So for the sake of simplicity, we will focus on the 10 most important criteria for making the right selection.

1. The price

Xeon processors tend to be more expensive than core processors with a few notable exceptions. The lower-speed Xeon E3 chips are as affordable as some Core i5 processors which make them an attractive option for some niche markets, for example mobile workstations (though serious gamers might baulk at them because Xeon processors tend not to be very overclockable). 

2. The motherboard

Xeon motherboards are usually more expensive than their core counterparts. This is particularly true if you are looking for dual-socket models that take only Xeon CPUs (E5 and above) and can support more than 128GB memory. There are exceptions, a few models from Asrock and Gigabyte cost far less than £50 but are only compatible with E3-1200 v3 series.

3. Integrated graphics

Xeon processors don't put a lot of emphasis on integrated graphics. That's because as server or workstation CPU, they're expected to rely on external graphics cards. As such, only low end Xeon CPUs have processor graphics, the P530 or the Iris Pro P580. 

Compared to Core processors, they usually offer the option of using onboard graphics. Though most customers building a high-end custom gaming system or workstation will still opt for a discrete GPU, the option of using integrated graphics through the CPU is great for customers building a system for business or light everyday use. This keeps the cost of the system down and still outputs great video quality.

4. Memory support

The Xeon line supports ECC (Error Checking and Correction) memory. This memory searches for possible errors and corrupt files before they occur, and effectively eliminates many system crashes or errors.

In addition, all Xeon E3 series and almost all Core CPUs support up to 64GB. Skylake-based Core i7 Extreme Edition models go up to 128GB and the rest of the Xeon family supports more than 1TB of memory. Gaming won't require that much memory as the bottlenecks are likely to be graphics or CPU-based. But anything else, content creation, simulation, number crunching and so on, will benefit from as much RAM as possible.

5. The clock speed

Speed is probably one of the least valuable metrics especially since Intel introduced Turbo Boost, which allows the CPU clock speed to dynamically change depending on the workload. Clock speed and turbo boost are usually tied to power dissipation; the lower the thermal design power (TDP), the lower the clock speed. The higher TDP models usually tend to have higher turbo boost capabilities.

6. The amount of cache

The CPU cache is a small amount of memory that the CPU uses to store information that it may need to use next. The more the merrier, although its impact on performance will very much depend on the tasks being executed. For comparison, the i7 Extreme has 25 MB of cache while the Xeon E5-2680 has 35 MB of cache. All Core processors come with 8MB cache or less; Extreme edition models can carry up to 25MB while Xeon E7 CPUs top 60MB.

7. Cores matter

When running programs that are CPU intensive, such as video-rendering software, the extra cores will come in handy. More cores allow for more work to be performed in parallel, although this depends on the applications being used.

8. Hyper-threading

Beyond an increased number of cores, one other differentiation Intel put in place was hyper-threading (HT), which can be best described as the ability to perform multiple tasks at the same time on the same core. One core usually can accommodate one thread but on some higher end models, that doubles to two. In theory, that increases performance – since one physical core spawned two virtual cores but like multi cores, it depends on what applications you use. All Core i7 and Xeon processors (bar the E3-1225 v5 and 1220 v5) have HT enabled by default.

9. Power dissipation

All Core CPUs bar the extreme edition have TDP below 100W while Xeon CPU go up to 165W. In general, the average power dissipation of the Xeon family is higher than that of Core systems. That allows the latter to overclock more easily, especially when provided with adequate (and ample) cooling solutions.

10. Longevity

As the Xeon processors were originally designed to run in servers, they are capable of running 24/7 under a heavy workload. Thus, Xeon processors have a record of lasting for a very long time, especially in workstations.

Key Features of Intel Xeon E5-2600v4 Broadwell-EP Processors

  • Up to 22 processor cores per socket (with options for 4-, 6-, 8-, 10-, 12-, 14-, 16-, 18-, and 20-cores)
  • Support for DDR4 memory speeds up to 2400MHz
  • Floating Point Instruction performance improvements
  • Extract more parallelism in scheduling micro-operations
  • Improved performance on large data sets

With products this complex, it’s very difficult to cover every aspect of the design. Here, we concentrate primarily on the performance of the processors for HPC applications.

Intel Broadwell-EP CPU List