Market Analysis

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
Reporting, OLAP 10-17% 27%   MySQL
Collaborative 14-18% N/a    
Software Dev. 7% N/a    
e-mail, DC, file/print 32-37% N/a    
Web 10-14% 2%    
HPC 4-6% 28% -3% to 66% LS-DYNA, Fluent
Other 2%? -18% -15% 3DSMax, Cinebench
Virtualization 33-50% 34%   VMmark

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    
Software Dev. 7% None    
Web 10-14% MCS eFMS (Real world vApus benchmark) 36.80% 39%
HPC 4-6% LS-DYNA (Industry Standard) 57.00% 101%
<1% LINPACK 15.00% 1%
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.

Pricing Bottom Line
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  • gwolfman - Tuesday, March 31, 2009 - link

    Why was this article pulled yesterday after it first posted? Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Tuesday, March 31, 2009 - link

    Because the NDA date was noon in the pacific zone and not CET. We were slightly too early... Reply
  • yasbane - Tuesday, March 31, 2009 - link

    Hi Johan,

    Any chance of some more comprehensive Linux benchmarks? Haven't seen any on IT Anandtech for a while.

    cheers
    Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Tuesday, March 31, 2009 - link

    Yes, we are working on that. Our first Oracle testing is finished on the AMD's platform, but still working on the rest.

    Mind you, all our articles so far have included Linux benchmarking. All mysql testing for example, Stream, Specjbb and Linpack.
    Reply
  • Exar3342 - Monday, March 30, 2009 - link

    Thanks for the extremely informative and interesting review Johan. I am definitely looking forward to more server reviews; are the 4-way CPUs out later this year? That will be interesting as well. Reply
  • Exar3342 - Monday, March 30, 2009 - link

    Forgot to mention that I was suprised HT has such an impact that it did in some of the benches. It made some huge differences in certain applications, and slightly hindered it in others. Overall, I can see why Intel wanted to bring back SMT for the Nehalem architecture. Reply
  • duploxxx - Monday, March 30, 2009 - link

    awesome performance, but would like to see how the intel 5510-20-30 fare against the amd 2378-80-82 after all that is the same price range.

    It was the same with woodcrest and conroe launch, everybody saw huge performance lead but then only bought the very slow versions.... then the question is what is still the best value performance/price/power.

    Istanbul better come faster for amd, how it looks now with decent 45nm power consumption it will be able to bring some battle to high-end 55xx versions.
    Reply
  • eryco - Tuesday, April 14, 2009 - link

    Very informative article... I would also be interested in seeing how any of the midrange 5520/30 Xeons compare to the 2382/84 Opterons. Especially now that some vendors are giving discounts on the AMD-based servers, the premium for a server with X5550/60/70s is even bigger. It would be interesting to see how the performance scales for the Nehalem Xeons, and how it compares to Shanghai Opterons in the same price range. We're looking to acquire some new servers and we can afford 2P systems with 2384s, but on the Intel side we can only go as far as E5530s. Unfortunately there's no performance data for Xeons in the midrange anywhere online so we can make a comparison. Reply
  • haplo602 - Monday, March 30, 2009 - link

    I only skimmed the graphs, but how about some consistency ? some of the graphs feature only dual core opterons, some have a mix of dual and quad core ... pricing chart also features only dual core opterons ...

    looking just at the graphs, I cannot make any conclusion ...
    Reply
  • TA152H - Monday, March 30, 2009 - link

    Part of the problem with the 54xx CPUs is not the CPUs themselves, but the FB-DIMMS. Part of the big improvement for the Nehalem in the server world is because Intel sodomized their 54xx platform, for reasons that escape most people, with the FB-DIMMs. But, it's really not mentioned except with regards to power. If the IMC (which is not an AMD innovation by the way, it's been done many times before they did it, even on the x86 by NexGen, a company they later bought) is so important, then surely the FB-DIMMs are. They both are related to the same issue - memory latency.

    It's not really important though, since that's what you'd get if you bought the Intel 54xx; it's more of an academic complaint. But, I'd like to see the Nehalem tested with dual channel memory, which is a real issue. The reason being, it has lower latency while only using two channels, and for some benchmarks, certainly not all or even the majority, you might see better performance by using two (or maybe it never happens). If you're running a specific application that runs better using dual channel, it would be good to know.

    Overall, though, a very good article. The first thing I mention is a nitpick, the second may not even matter if three channel performance is always better.
    Reply

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