For the last six years, Intel has followed the same naming conventions for its server chips. The Xeon E3, E5, and E7 families mirror the Core i3, i5, and i7 families, in that each successive tier of products adds features and capabilities. Intel’s E3v5 family, for example, are single-socket chips based on the Skylake CPU core, E3v6 uses Kaby Lake, etc. In Intel’s parlance, the first digit of a product family tells you how many sockets that CPU supports, while the following digits are a relative metric meant to indicate overall performance. This scheme may not be particularly exciting, but it’s been an easy way to quickly identify which CPU family you are working with (that’s the v2, v3, v4) and where it falls in Intel’s overall product lineup. Now the CPU manufacturer is moving to a new scheme — and honestly, it’s not very easy to tell how chips will compare.
This new information is courtesy of an Intel Product Change Notification, available here. While fairly dull reading by consumer standards, these notifications are important to businesses that sell the relevant products. Marketing materials need to be updated, and additional explanations prepared for when the new naming system and new products both go live. As for the naming scheme itself, Intel appears to be jettisoning all reference to model types in favor of precious metals — Xeon Gold and Xeon Platinum.
According to Computerbase.de, the “Platinum” models are expected to correspond to Intel’s highest-end Xeons (the current E7 family). Instead of introducing an E7v5 (Skylake-based), Intel will transition to this new naming scheme instead. Xeon Gold chips are thought to be certified for up to two-socket operation, while Xeon Platinum cores will operate in four-socket systems.
What’s in a name?
We don’t talk much about branding at ExtremeTech, since our typical focus is on what a product is, as opposed to how its marketed. But whether a product accurately and concisely communicates its own position and capabilities is a question ET can consider. If you stop and think about it, CPUs, GPUs, and many other products follow similar guidelines. Take the Xeon E5-4669 v4. “Xeon” tells you that this is a workstation / server chip, “E5” means its a midrange server part, and the “v4” signals that this chip is based on Broadwell. Granted, you still have to be familiar with the basics of Intel’s naming scheme to understand where this chip fits, and we don’t automatically know if an E5-4669 Xeon is at the top of Intel’s stack, but we know this particular chip can operate in four-socket motherboards.
Intel’s new naming system is a significant departure from this standard. The first digit of the model number no longer seems to indicate how many sockets the CPU supports — no one has ever built a 5-socket motherboard to the best of my knowledge; engineers like to work in pairs. Apart from higher numbers, the only information encoded in the product names are the periodic use of “T” and “M” suffixes. “T” usually means low-power in Intel parlance; it’s not clear what the “M” stands for.
Using precious metals for product models is an interesting move. Intel, AMD, and Nvidia typically stick to numbers within a brand name because it’s more intuitive for customers. There have always been maddening exceptions to this policy, but generally speaking, you can assume a Ryzen 7 will be faster than a Ryzen 5, while a GeForce GTX 1070 will outperform a GeForce GTX 970. Gold and Platinum will be harder to differentiate as new products are introduced.
The final question is whether this new branding initiative is a sign that Intel intends to orient its CPU pricing model around different metrics than it used for the current E3/E5/E7 system. All companies periodically adjust which features they offer at which price points, and tweak “premium” capabilities as opposed to mainstream technology. We’ll have to wait for more details before we can take a solid guess at what Intel is planning, but this new naming scheme implies that something is afoot.
Now read: Intel Core i5 vs. Core i7: Which processor should you buy?