The Best Server CPUs part 2: the Intel "Nehalem" Xeon X5570by Johan De Gelas on March 30, 2009 3:00 PM EST
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- IT Computing
We'll wrap up with a quick look at the complete market to see how the most interesting CPUs from Intel and AMD compare. In the first column you will find the market. The second column shows the percentage of server shipments to this market. Some markets generate more revenue for server manufactures like ERP, OLTP, and OLAP; however, we have no recent numbers on this so we'll just keep it in mind. The green zones of the market are the ones where we have a decent benchmark that AMD wins, the blue ones represent the Intel zone, and the red parts are - for now - unknown. Let's first look back at the situation from a few months ago.
|AMD "Shanghai" Opteron 2.7GHz vs. Xeon "Harpertown" 3GHz|
|Market||Importance||First bench||Second bench||Benchmarks/remarks|
|ERP, OLTP||10-14%||21%||5%||SAP, Oracle|
|e-mail, DC, file/print||32-37%||N/a|
|HPC||4-6%||28%||-3% to 66%||LS-DYNA, Fluent|
The market was almost completely green. AMD's "Shanghai" Opteron was reigning supreme in the HPC and virtualization market. It was clearly in the lead in the OLTP and OLAP market and it had a small advantage in the web market and probably also in the collaborative software market. Since the AMD servers also consumed less power (the Xeons used power hungry FB-DIMMs), you could say that AMD was the "smarter" choice in about 90-98% of the market.
Then a Tsunami called "Nehalem" was launched…
|Nehalem Performance Overview|
|Server Software Market||Importance||Benchmarks used||Intel Xeon X5570 vs. Opteron 2384||Intel Xeon X5570 vs. Xeon 5450|
|ERP, OLTP||10-14%||SAP SD 2-tier (Industry Standard benchmark)||81.40%||119%|
|Oracle Charbench (Free available benchmark)||84.70%||94%|
|Dell DVD Store (Open Source benchmark tool)||66.20%||78%|
|Reporting, OLAP||10-17%||MS SQL Server (Real world vApus benchmark)||76.50%||107%|
|Collaborative||14-18%||MS Exchange LoadGen (MS own load generator for MS Exchange)||Estimated 75-95%||93%|
|e-mail, DC, file/print||32-37%||See MS Exchange|
|Web||10-14%||MCS eFMS (Real world vApus benchmark)||36.80%||39%|
|HPC||4-6%||LS-DYNA (Industry Standard)||57.00%||101%|
|Other||2%?||3DSMax (Our own bench)||50.30%||24%|
|Virtualization||50%||VMmark (Industry standard)||58.70%||114%|
…and nothing that was not called Xeon X55xx was still standing. The Xeon X55xx series simply crushes the competition and reduces the older Xeons to expensive space heaters, with the exception of the rendering and dense matrix HPC market. If you are consolidating your servers, buying a new heavyweight back end database server or mail server, there is only one choice at this moment: the Xeon X55xx series. Period.
AMD after the Sledgehammer blow
Is this the end of the line for the Sunnyvale based company? Is the launch of Bulldozer the day that never comes? Is AMD broken, beat and scarred? Scarred: who would not after this kind of blow. Beaten? For now. But not broken; AMD dies hard. After more than a full year of rather poor execution (Q2 2007 to Q3 2008), AMD is finally shaping up and executing like in the K7-K75 days. The 45nm process technology is very healthy and the speed path problems of Barcelona have been fixed in Shanghai. The result is that only four months after the successful launch of the 2.7GHz Shanghai, we are already seeing a speed bump while the power dissipation stays the same. The 2.9GHz chip was flying towards our lab while I was writing this conclusion; we'll add it as soon as possible.
The 2.9GHz part will not be able to come close to the top Nehalems; however, with the right pricing it might be an attractive alternative to the lower end Xeon 55xx series. Considering that a triple channel board equipped with DDR3 will result in a somewhat more expensive server, AMD might still be able to compete at the lower end. What is more, faster versions of Shanghai strengthen the position of AMD in the small but profitable octal CPU market. For example, 2.9GHz will allow SUN and HP to produce massive monster servers that can support more than 20 tiles and performance scores above 30 in VMmark. Faster versions of Shanghai with vast amounts of memory should also keep the 4-way server market open for AMD.
The hex-core version of Shanghai "Istanbul" is already running VMware ESX 3.5, which indicates that the launch of AMD's hex-core is going to be sooner than expected. AMD will have to surprise us with better than expected power consumption and clock speeds, but if they do, AMD might be in the race again. We doubt AMD will be able to outperform the best Xeon 55xx, but at least it has a chance to stay competitive with the midrange Intel options. Until then, aggressive pricing is the only weapon left.