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CAD Tech News (#149)

22 Jul, 2021 By: Cadalyst Staff


Herrera on Hardware:

Intel's New Rocket Lake S Offers Full Round of CAD Platform Gen Updates

Following up on releases from NVIDIA and AMD, Intel has followed suit, giving CAD professionals a complete set of new CPUs and GPUs from which to choose.

 

By Alex Herrera

The last three quarters have seen a generational transition from the top industry vendors of both CPUs and GPUs, the primary engines responsible for delivering the 3D visual computing performance that CAD applications demand. Both AMD and NVIDIA launched their most recent generation GPUs, starting with NVIDIA’s Ampere (covered here) and followed up more recently with AMD’s RDNA2 (covered here). And, on the CPU front, 2021 already witnessed the next and arguably most formidable of CPU generations from AMD, built on the Zen 3 microarchitecture and shipping under the Ryzen 5000 series for high-performance desktops and laptops (as well as recently the EPYC brand for server applications).

That left Intel, still the dominant supplier of CPUs in high-performance PCs and workstations, to refresh its wares. This past quarter, the company took its turn, introducing Rocket Lake S, sporting a new microarchitecture and spurring new CPU SKUs bearing both the 11th Generation Core and Xeon W brands. With Rocket Lake S CPUs now out in the market, buyers looking for new workhorse CAD machines now have a full breadth of upgraded platform choices.

 

Intel Still the Dominant Supplier of CPUs for CAD Systems, although Rocket Lake S Adds Needed Spark

More than any other vendor, Intel has benefited from the industry’s migration from those pioneer, traditional proprietary workstations of the 90’s and early 00’s — from venerable names like SGI and Sun — to today’s PC-derived x86 Windows and Linux platforms. By the close of last decade, Intel’s processors and chipsets shipped on virtually all branded workstations worldwide. And the only supplier that could potentially compete, AMD, was struggling to keep up, especially in high-performance PC and workstation markets feeding the CAD community.

The last time Intel felt any serious pressure from AMD in high-performance PC and workstation markets was in the late 00’s, when AMD’s revolutionary Hammer processor caught Intel sleeping with some novel, dramatic improvements in architecture. Its advantages played particularly well in max-performance dual-socket machines, which appealed to those last holdouts still hanging on to expensive RISC/UNIX machines. AMD managed to sign on major vendors HP, IBM, Fujitsu, and even Sun. With Opteron-branded Hammer, AMD made material inroads into Intel’s turf from 2005 to 2008. However, AMD’s subsequent follow-on CPUs to Hammer began to disappoint, in terms of both performance and schedule, and AMD and Opteron faded from the market, essentially back to zero share by the end of the decade.

It’s been a while since AMD successfully competed in the market for workstation-caliber CPUs for CAD computing. (Image source: Jon Peddie Research)

 

 That said, the industry seems to be experiencing a bit of déjà vu these days, as AMD is mounting another credible assault on Intel in the market for high-performance CPUs, including those that serve the CAD workstation market. As it did in the mid-00’s, AMD has once again gained a decided advantage over Intel. Like Hammer, it’s got a far more competitive microarchitecture in Zen — with the recent Zen 3 the latest incarnation — but more than that, it’s fortunately tied its silicon manufacturing wagon to the right horse. In this case, that horse is the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC), which in recent years has shrunk its design process more successfully than Intel. With TSMC-manufactured chips, AMD currently holds a significant advantage in both transistor density and performance.

 

2021’s 11th Gen Core for HEDT: Cypress Cove and Rocket Lake S

11th Gen Core got its refresh for fixed high-performance desktops and workstations at the tail end of Q2’21 with the release of Rocket Lake S, built on the enhanced Cypress Cove microarchitecture. The same silicon behind the Core 11000 series is what ends up driving the Xeon W-1000 series as well, in this case spawning the W-1300 series.

Manufactured in Intel’s now aged 14 nm process, Rocket Lake S was not going to see a major performance boost via faster or more plentiful transistors compared to previous 14 nm generations. Rather, Intel promised an upgrade-worthy improvement courtesy of the new enhanced Cypress Cove microarchitecture. Most notably with respect to key CPU metrics, Cypress Cove delivers:

  • An x86 core with 19% better IPC and AI-accelerating Deep Learning Boost instructions.
  • A memory speed bump from DDR4-2933 to DDR4-3200.
  • Up to 40 PCIe 4.0 lanes, providing faster and wider I/O to GPU, storage, and other peripherals.

IPC (instructions per cycle) give an idea of how much computation a microarchitecture can manage per clock in ideal conditions, thereby making a comparison independent of clock frequencies. In the modern age of complex, superscalar CPUs, where the low-hanging fruit of parallelism and acceleration has long been picked, 19% is a respectable generational gain. And worth pointing out, if “19% IPC improvement” sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the exact same broad-brushed IPC gain AMD advertised for its recently released Ryzen 5000.

The launch of Rocket Lake S marks another clear step on the path to higher core counts. Where not long ago, quad-core represented the norm and 6-core options were pushing past the mainstream, Rocket Lake options in their most economical (at least with respect to high-performance platforms suitable for CAD) start at 6 and push to 8, for both 11th Gen Core and Xeon W-1300 SKUs.

Clock frequencies for the first round of Rocket Lake S Core and Xeon W sit comparable to previous generations, from a top base frequency of 3.9 GHz (with 6 cores) to 3.6 GHz (at 8 cores). But it’s worth remembering that the boost clock (what Intel calls Turbo) can rise to a maximum 5.3 GHz with the top end Core i9-1900K and W-1390P SKUs. Check out this recent 2-part column for an analysis of the often inverse relationship of the two clock specs relative to core count, and why you may want to pay closer attention to one or the other when selecting a CPU like Rocket Lake S to handle your most common CAD workloads.

Continue reading for more on how workstation manufacturers are implementing Rocket Lake S Core and Xeon W technology and what you can expect as a CAD professional! Read more »

 

Alex Herrera is a consultant focusing on high-performance graphics and workstations.

 

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