Upgrading the HP Z8 G4 Workstation to Support Intel Cascade Lake CPUs

November 18, 2019 0 By Lorena Mejia

We know you all have probably heard about the second-generation Intel Xeon Scalable processors that offer more cores, support faster, and more memory. So, what does this mean for your 10th Generation HP Z8 or Z6 G4 workstation with that first-generation Intel Xeon Scalable processor? Can you upgrade it to accept this new processor? And what kind of performance improvements are we talking about? In one word, yes.

Intel Xeon Platinum Processor
Intel Xeon Platinum Processor

First off, how do you tell the difference between the two processors? Easy, just look for a number 2 after the first digit. This tells you it’s a second-generation CPU. I’m not sure why the manufacturers are not making more of a fuss out of the new processors. You get more cores with similar model numbers at almost the same price point and an improved clock speed with that core count−plus increased memory capacity and speed. Memory speed on Gen 2 processors now clocks in at 2933MHz instead of just a paltry 2666MHz. Also, they now support 256GB memory modules, including the Optane DC persistent memory modules.

Intel Xeon Platinum Processor Comparison
Intel Xeon Platinum Processor Comparison

There’s also a new quad CPU packaging into a half-width, dual-socket Intel Xeon Platinum 9200 series processor. I’m not even sure what that means, but it’s a new Intel Scalable processor−the Xeon Platinum 9200 series. The gen 1 CPUs topped out at the 8100 Platinum series and now there’s a new double plated Platinum processor, SO the Quad CPU packaging, half-width, dual-socket thing got me thinking and I decided to do a little research.

HP Z8 G4 Workstation CPU
HP Z8 G4 Workstation CPU

The Platinum 9200 series supports up to 56 cores and 112 threads per processor. This is also the CPU they compare to the previous “King of the Hill,” the Platinum 8180. However, don’t get too excited by the new 56-core version because from my understanding, you have to purchase the system with the processor because it’s integrated with the system board. So, that kind of sucks.

Intel Xeon Platinum 9200 Processors
Intel Xeon Platinum 9200 Processors

Oh, and the big performance numbers you see are comparing the top processors−the 8180 against the 9200 series. That said, the new Gen 2 Processors are filling in the gaps to support a greater diversity of workloads. There are definitely some interesting additions including one with an “L” suffix that indicates the CPU supports about 5.4TB! Just down from that, the new “M” or Medium processor now supports up to 2TB of memory per processor. Whereas the Gen 1 “M” processors supported up to 1.5TB.

Intel Xeon Processor Suffix
Intel Xeon Processor Suffix

We used our Z8 G4, which we use for editing and rendering our videos. It has 32GB of DDR4 memory, a P6000 GPU, and a first-generation Gold 5122 CPU with 4 cores. We have a Gen 2 Gold 5222 CPU that shares many of the same characteristics as the first Gen 5122 and it also supports 4 cores, but also has a slightly faster clock speed at 3.8Ghz compared to 3.6Ghz. We are going to take a few benchmarks then switch it out with the Gen 2 Gold 5222 and compare the results.

HP Z8 G4 Workstation CPU
HP Z8 G4 Workstation CPU

By the way, the BIOS update is not just for the Gen 2 CPUs. First generation CPUs are still supported on the new BIOS. The install seems pretty straight forward and there are two ways to do this. You can download the file to the system you want to update, in this case our Z8 G4. Or you download the program on a separate computer and place the update on a USB drive, which is the procedure outlined by HP, and the procedure we followed.

HP Z8 G4 Workstation System BIOS
HP Z8 G4 Workstation System BIOS

We have to download the BIOS package, which includes some Flash utilities and other PDFs and such. Oh, and they do recommend reading the Release Notes. Done!

HP Z8 G4 Workstation Installation Instructions
HP Z8 G4 Workstation Installation Instructions

Insert a USB stick and execute the Softpaq by double-clicking on the icon to unpack the items. Once the file is unpacked it appears in this directory. You can either select the copy function from the Softpaq Graphic user interface or GUI. Find the BIOS binary file, this one: C:\SWSETUP\SP95578\HPBIOSUPDREC on your C; Drive. By the way, there are actually quite a few items in the folder. Open the HPBIOSupDREC folder where there are two executable files. We used the one with the 64 on the end for a 64-bit operating system−HPBIOSUPDREC64.exe. We copied that file to a directory created on the USB stick per HP’s instructions.

Now, insert the USB key and reboot or boot the system to the Startup menu by pressing ESC during POST before the OS loads. This will get you to the BIOS GUI where you will use the arrow keys to select the “Flash System BIOS.” Once selected, just follow the steps to update the BIOS.

HP Z8 G4 Workstation USB Download
HP Z8 G4 Workstation USB Download

After this, the update should be installed. We had a slight glitch with the display performance that ironed itself out after about a minute. We ran benchmarks for the previous 5122 CPU, which I might add that running our recording application at the same time did drop the numbers a bit, but we used it for both so pretty much same, same. As expected, these were the results: the 5222 CPU is faster, but not dramatically. By the numbers it provides about a 9% increase in performance. Just for the hell of it, we also installed some of the faster memory modules at 2933Mhz to see if there was any difference with the tests. Nope. And then we installed 4x more memory with pretty much negligible results.   

All in all, yes, we did get a statistically significant 9% increase in performance with the Gen 2 Intel Xeon Scalable processors. Was it worth it? Probably not. But that said, we were trying to see the difference between two CPUs that support almost the same specs. Clock speed is also just a hair faster on the Gen 2 processors, but our 5222 also supports 1TB of memory instead of just the 768GB on the Gen 1−unless you have the “M” processors. If this was a new system, I would opt for the Gen2 CPUs. Although, for a noticeable upgrade on our Z8, I would choose a different processor. The interesting part is that there isn’t a huge difference in cost for some definite performance and capacity gains. IT Creations has the Gen 2 Scalable Xeon processors in stock, so drop by if you’re looking for a great deal. We have plenty of servers and parts on-hand to custom configure to your specifications and send it out for next-day delivery!

If you have any questions on the Intel Xeon Scalable processors, or any other processor or server, post them in the comment section below. Feel free to contact us on our website or give us a call at (800) 237-0402.