The past several months have seen both Intel and AMD introducing interesting updates to their CPU lines. Intel started with the E-stepping of the Xeon. Even at 3GHz, the four cores of the Xeon 5450 need 80W at the most, and if speed is all you care about a 120W 5470 is available at 3.33GHz. The big news came of course from AMD. The “only native x86 quad-core” is finally shining bright thanks to a very successful transition to 45nm immersion lithography as you can read here. The result is a faster and larger 6MB L3 cache, higher clock speeds, and lower memory latency. AMD’s quad-core is finally ready to be a Xeon killer.
So it was time for a new server CPU shoot out as server buyers are confronted with quickly growing server CPU pricelists. Talking about pricelists, is someone at marketing taking revenge on a strict math teacher that made him/her suffer a few years ago? How else can you explain that the Xeon 5470 is faster than the 5472, and that the Xeon 5472 and 5450 are running at the same clock speed? The deranged Intel (and in a lesser degree AMD) numbering system now forces you to read through spec sheets the size of a phone book just to get an idea of what you are getting. Or you could use a full-blown search engine to understand what exactly you can or will buy. The marketing departments are happy though: besides the technical white papers you need to read to build a server, reading white papers to simply buy a CPU is now necessary too. Market segmentation and creative numbering…a slightly insane combination.
Anyway, if you are an investor trying to understand how the different offerings compare, or you are out to buy a new server and are asking yourself what CPU should be in there, this article will help guide you through the newest offerings of Intel and AMD. In addition, as the Xeon 55xx – based on the Nehalem architecture – is not far off, we will also try it to see what this CPU will bring to the table. This article is different from the previous ones, as we have changed the collection of benchmarks we use to evaluate server CPUs. Read on, and find out why we feel this is a better and more realistic approach.
Thanks to the lower world switch times, higher clock speed, and larger cache, the new “Shanghai” Opteron 8384 improves the already impressive scores of the AMD “Barcelona” 8356 by almost 43%. The only Intel that comes somewhat close is the hex-core behemoth known as the Xeon X7460, which needs a lot more power. IBM is capable of performing a tiny bit better than Dell thanks to its custom high performance chipset.
It is clear that the Xeon 7350 is at the end of its life: it offers a little more than 2/3 of the performance of the best Opteron while using a lot more power. Even the latest improved stepping, the Xeon X5470 at 3.33GHz, cannot keep up with the new Opteron quad-core. The reason is simple: as the number of VMs increase, so do the bandwidth requirements and the amount of world switches. That is exactly where the Opteron is far superior. It is game over here for Intel… until the Xeon 5570 2.93GHz arrives in March.
If you skipped to this page immediately, you can find our “market analysis” on the previous page.
Looking at the Server CPUs from the point of view of the market was surprising and refreshing. The whole problem with running every benchmark you can get your hands on is that it just gets confusing. Sure we can have 10 more benchmarks that can be categorized under “other”, but if either the Xeon or Opteron wins them, would that give you a better view of the market? That is why we decided to focus on finally getting that Oracle and MCS benchmark right. That is also why we rely on the more reliable industry standard benchmarks to make our analysis complete.
Right now, it is clear that the latest AMD Opteron is in the lead. We are really at the pivotal moment in time. No matter how good the current Xeon “Harpertown” and “Dunnington” architectures are, they lose too many battles due to the platform they are running on. The FSB architecture is singing its swan song. Only a small part of the market, namely:
* The ERP people who don’t care about power, but who need the highest performance at any cost
* The HPC people who have extremely intensive code which does not work on sparse matrices
* The people who render
…can ignore the shortcomings of the FSB-based platform.
For most other applications, the AMD platform is simply better in price/performance and performance/watt (see our previous Shanghai review). It won’t last long though, as the performance that the new Nehalem architecture has shown in OLTP, ERP, and OLAP is simply amazing. Moreover, there is little doubt that the dual Xeon 5570 with 34GB/s of bandwidth (dual Opteron is 20-21GB/s) will shine in HPC too. AMD servers can use the HyperTransport 3.0 and higher clock speeds to counter this, but that is for a later article….
I find the results interesting, what are others thoughts?
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