I was browsing my technet downloads for SQL Server 2012 and I noticed a bunch of products labelled "core" edition:

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Is this something to do with their new per-core licensing model, or something else?

  • To confirm my answer, you should download both files and do a binary comparison on the two... if they're identical that should reveal whether my thoughts are correct.
    – Ashley
    Jun 9, 2012 at 5:02

5 Answers 5


Sorry to necro here, but just in case someone else hits this page with a similar question, and since there's so little documentation about this...

Short: The regular "Enterprise" (non-"core") edition caps the cores at 20, period. The "core" edition has no such cap. This is not a guess, it's a provable certainty. I ran into the specific question "when do I NEED the Core edition, vs. not?" about a year ago.

The good news: an edition upgrade from non-core to core is utterly painless and very fast. As in it takes longer just to get to the Upgrade button in setup, than to actually perform the upgrade when you hit it.

Virtualization side-note: this has nothing to do with cores on the host. Just how many are assigned to the Windows VM. I'm not sure how or why anyone would give a VM more than 20 cores (at that point your host is already a dedicated server most likely), but if so... then yeah, this applies to your guest. If your host has 40 cores but you never assign 20+ to any guest, don't worry about it.

Explanation: The non-core edition, as others stated, is intended for Server/CAL licensing. Even if you're paying for core licensing, and paying for more than 20 cores on a server, it's still capped at 20. Yes - that means you're wasting a LOT of money. Yes, that sucks - so if your boss is itching for a reason to fire you, be sure to point out that yeah... documentation about the "Core-licensing" edition is extremely lacking. Or be sure you have an unloved teammate you can throw under the bus. :). I ran into this the hard way, on a server with 60 cores, running for over a year, and because admittedly I was not paying enough attention... yeah, we were effectively wasting 40 core licenses. I'm lucky though - I have a cool boss, plus three teammates and two lead developers that also had no clue about this, backing me up.

p.s. You can verify this yourself, the same way I finally discovered it, on a server with more than 20 cores of course. Check sys.dm_os_schedulers, in particular the "status" column. Cores in-use show "VISIBLE ONLINE." If you have more than 20 cores, but the non-core edition, you'll see only 40 rows with that status. With the Core edition, you'll see twice as many rows as you have cores. "40" and "twice" are assuming HT is enabled; if not, half those figures. This is also assuming you didn't monkey with processor affinity.

p.p.s. in fairness to the community at large, most DBAs don't ever see a server with more than 20 cores unless they're in a large enterprise environment. Even then, if scale-out strategy is usually "the norm," you'll normally have not-quite-beast-level servers. 20+ cores means you have a seriously loaded database, a budget that doesn't even flinch at buying a server that costs 6 figures, and multiple levels of bosses that are all on the same page. Yeah... not a very common scenario. Doesn't really excuse MS, even their licensing "experts" never bothered to point this out in the course of the past nine years, but at least it explains why not many people seem to "know" about this.

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    This is great. Never be afraid to necro an older answer on this site if you have something genuine to add! Apr 28, 2017 at 1:20
  • Thanks. Now I have a new term for raising a post from the dead. "Necro". Necromancers are cool!
    – Ken Ingram
    Dec 2, 2018 at 6:44
  • Even 2 years ago proper servers had way more. Me remembers writing code for a 95 core machine around 2019 - granted, it had hyperthreading, but still that leaves 48 real cores on a 4 socket machine or so.
    – TomTom
    Feb 12, 2019 at 7:13
  • > "I'm not sure how or why anyone would give a VM more than 20 cores (at that point your host is already a dedicated server most likely)" This demonstrates a faulty understanding about how VMs use CPU cores. You should assign most of the cores of your server to every VM. It really is okay to overschedule these; it's what the hyper-visor scheduler is for.
    – Joel Coel
    May 13, 2022 at 20:39
  • This demonstrates a lack of experience virtualizing -database- servers. When you're talking at the level of physical cores in the host, virtualization isn't virtual anymore. Those are still physical devices capable of performing one operation at a time each. Nothing virtual about it. Sharing them between VMs with low to moderate usage is fine - each one is idle most of the time anyway. Sharing them between large database servers - large enough to warrant more than 20 cores - with frequent sustained 50%+ usage... that's going to hurt.
    – Greg S
    May 15, 2022 at 17:22

I was confused by this too...

From my research it seems that Enterprise Core is in fact just the per-core licensing version of Enterprise. (Contrary to your own answer).

As a Microsoft Partner, the "Enterprise Core" version was all that was available to me in our Partner Download Portal. I thought it strange that I would be restricted to installing SQL to Windows Core, but as I discovered when I went to install it on full Windows Server 2008 R2, it proceeded without difficulty.

Since both entries in your image are the same file size, I'd hazard a guess that the two versions have been mistakenly added to MSDN and are in fact the same thing.

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    Sorry, I didn't see this answer until today. You've got me wondering now... I might have to do a comparison of the two as you suggest. Jun 15, 2012 at 5:30

I am a SPLA provider, and when I look at the core editions, it states that it is for licensing two cores, as opposed to one processor. The core download and the full download are both the EXACT same size. That tells me that the core edition has NOTHING to do with the core version of windows, it has to do with licensing.

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    It is related to the new Core licensing model available for SQL Server 2012 (Enterprise, Standard and Web editions).
    – joeqwerty
    Nov 27, 2012 at 4:48

Not only do they NOT tell you the difference between Enterprise and Enterprise Core. They have continued this practice of misnaming the downloads into SQL Server 2014. It is very easy to make a mistake and download the wrong version and wind up with a server with only 1/2 of it's cores working... Microsoft should make the following changes:

They should name "SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition with Service Pack 1 (x64) - DVD (English)" as "SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition-Server-CAL-License with Service Pack 1 (x64) - DVD (English)"

It would probably be helpful if they changed "SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Core Edition with Service Pack 1 (x64) - DVD (English)" to "SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Per Core Licensing Edition with Service Pack 1 (x64) - DVD (English)"

This will go a long way and make it more clear to their customers. The lack of clarity is unacceptable.

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    I'd much rather they just had one single SQL Server <year> download. The differences between them should just be put in place during the setup or entering of licensing key or something like that.
    – Svish
    Aug 6, 2015 at 9:07
  • Yeah that wont work, for rather obvious reasons: The size of the redistributable matters, as well as other concerns about misuse of licensing etc. Feb 3, 2016 at 8:54

The answer provided by Cmosq seems more valid i.e. Core-Based Licensing and Server/CAL Licensing

This link provides some more info about the licensing related to major editions: http://www.connectingup.org/donations/directory/328

The official naming is reasonably confusing!

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