Is AMD better than Intel for gmod servers?

January 29, 2020

A common question we get about our gmod server hosting is “Will I get better performance on AMD or Intel”, so let’s unpack that a little bit.

Gmod is single threaded

It’s important to remember gmod is pretty much entirely single threaded, like most source games. This means you should be mostly focused on single threaded performance vs multi-threaded performance when looking for gmod hosting.

Intel** Inside 🙂

*Due to the recent spike in hardware vulnerabilities in Intel, their chips have taken a bit of a performance nose-dive. Just recently another new exploit called “CacheOut” was released.

**Performance comparisons do not apply these software mitigation’s, since they just slow down the CPU, and aren’t needed for performance testing. They’re typically only needed for server/hosting environments.

Some people report performance drops of up to ~30%, depending on the workload.

Base clock speeds matter

The base clock speed is very important for game hosts, which will be running relatively heavy loads on all of the cores. Because CPU’s typically can’t hit the max boost on all cores. Let’s compare some Intel of the best Intel chipsets for single threaded workloads with the AMD 3800x:

ChipsetBase Clockspeed/Boost Clockspeed/Threads
i7 7700k4.2Ghz4.5Ghz8
i7 8700k3.7Ghz4.7Ghz12
i7 9700k3.6Ghz4.9Ghz8
i9 9900k3.6Ghz5Ghz16
AMD 3800X3.9Ghz4.5Ghz16

As Intel push higher on their boost clock speeds, their base clock speeds suffer. This can mean generally worse performance for game servers on a game host. All cores won’t maintain the highest clockspeed all the time.

Intel’s best chipset above is the i9 9900k, which provides at best a ~4-5% performance improvement compared to the 3800x for single threaded workloads. However these tests don’t consider the software mitigation’s to the recent Intel security exploits, and that’s without talking about thermals…

You can’t use big coolers on servers

AMD’s new CPU’s are much more thermally sustainable for hosts than Intel’s current leading CPU’s. This means game hosts will be able to actually achieve the higher clock speeds before they hit the thermal ceiling.

Almost all servers are 1U, for reference: this is just about tall enough to fit a stick of ram. Or a bit thinner than if you put two keyboards on top of each other.

Normal sized cooler

This is a pretty typical CPU cooler for desktops. However this is far too big for use in server environments.

Water cooling

OVH are the only host fully using water cooling, and even they struggle to tame Intel’s thermals. Companies like GMC don’t have water cooling, and in our experience have worse thermals than OVH

Recent AMD advancements

Pretty much everyone is aware that AMD have recently been making huge steps forward in multi-threaded workloads, putting them ahead of Intel quite comfortably, and they don’t seem to be slowing down.

However, they don’t seem to just be going after the multi-threaded workloads. As we found recently in our tests, AMD out-performed Intel’s poster-child chips for single threaded performance. Boasting over a 30% speed improvement.

Cost factors into performance

Cheaper gmod & minecraft hosting is cheaper because they run more game servers per node. It’s basic economics, they still need to pay the bills like us. Cost factors into your servers performance fundamentally and there’s no way to get around it, regardless what promises some sketchy host makes.

With the AMD chipsets being at their current price-point, they will mean game hosts can under load their nodes much more, and still maintain the same profit margins. This objectively means better and more reliable performance for end users, and is in my opinion, the most exciting part of our move to AMD, which will result in the biggest end-user performance improvement!