As those who follow Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) closely may be aware, the company is planning to launch its next-generation processor family known as Skylake during the second half of the year. Skylake, as is usual for Intel's "tock" processors in the company's tick-tock cadence, is likely to bring meaningful performance enhancements over the prior generation Broadwell family of products.
Now, another thing to note is that when Intel releases a new processor core, it starts out in desktops and/or laptops first, and then eventually Intel brings that core to beefier server processors. In general, the actual cores that Intel puts in the desktop processors are identical to the client-bound ones, with the main difference being core count and the "noncore" portions of the chips.
However, evidence strongly suggests that the server-oriented variant of Skylake will offer more features than the client-focused one.
Putting together the evidence
In this slide deck, Intel included the following slide detailing the instruction set extensions that Intel plans to include in its Skylake Xeon processors:
In this picture, Intel shows what instruction set extensions (think of these as additional capabilities that the hardware can perform) it has added with each generation of processor from Nehalem all the way through "Skylake Xeon."
Now, some folks who have viewed this slide very keenly pointed out that Intel was careful to not just say "Skylake" but to explicitly indicate that "Skylake Xeon" supports these features; this led to some suggestions that the new instruction set extensions would be exclusive to the Xeon parts. At first I didn't think much of it, until I came back to the slide deck and saw the following slide:
In this slide, Intel refers to the 512-bit AVX extensions as coming to Knights Landing (a high-performance computing oriented chip) and "SKX." Now, in other leaked materials, particularly those that discuss Skylake for consumer applications, the three letter abbreviation for Skylake is "SKL" not "SKX." My hunch was that the "X" stood for Xeon.
So, I did some further digging.
Skylake Xeon is different from Skylake
A Web search led me to the following Intel Developer Zone blog post. In the post, the engineer talks about the different architectures that can be emulated using the Intel Software Development Emulator. In the post, "skl" and "skx" are mentioned as two distinct CPU architectures from an instruction set perspective.
This is a dead giveaway that Skylake Xeon will include a more fully featured instruction set than the plain PC-oriented Skylake parts.
What does this mean for Intel?
From the looks of it, customers whose code can be recompiled to benefit from the AVX-512 instructions should see a massive boost from Haswell/Broadwell-based server chips in moving to Skylake. The slide deck linked previously suggests that AVX-512 includes "many new instructions" added in order to "accelerate [high-performance computing] workloads."
At Intel's investor meeting back in November, Intel data center group general manager Diane Bryant talked at length about how important the high-performance computing market is to the company's growth. With Skylake Xeon, coupled with the company's Xeon Phi high-performance computing accelerators, it looks like the company is well positioned to capitalize on this market trend.