The Bottom Line

An investor might lose some sleep over the Intel versus AMD war, but an ICT professional cares about return on investment. Does it pay off to invest in Xeon 55xx servers if you want to replace your 3-5 year old dual Xeon 50xx, quad Xeon 70xx or even slower Xeon 51xx based servers? Our power measurements show that the ASUS server (dual Xeon 5570) consumes about 285W to 330W under load, with 24GB of RAM (six DIMMs). To consolidate, you need a bit more as you need at least 48GB (12 DIMMs). We assume 320W on average for simplicity sake. Our 5080-based servers consume 460W to 480W under load, with 16GB of DIMMs. We assume that all our servers have between 8GB and 16GB, and simplify our calculation by assuming they need 450W.

Nehalem Power Comparison
Server Application Intel Xeon X5570 vs. 3 year old server based on 50xx CPUs Power consumption + 50% cooling (before) Power consumption + 50% cooling (After) Power consumption Saving per year Energy Savings per year ($0.10 per KWh)
SAP SD 2-tier (Industry Standard benchmark) 4.87 x faster (5 x 450W) * 1.5 = 3.3 KW 320W * 1.5 = 0.48 KW 24364 KWh $2436
Oracle Charbench (Free available benchmark) 4.44 x faster (4 x 450W) * 1.5 = 2.7 KW 320W * 1.5 = 0.48 KW 19180 KWh $1918
Dell DVD Store (Open Source benchmark tool) 3.96 x faster (4 x 450W) * 1.5 = 2.7 KW 320W * 1.5 = 0.48 KW 19180 KWh $1918
MS SQL Server (Real world vApus benchmark) 7.14 x faster (7 x 450W) * 1.5 = 4.7 KW 320W * 1.5 = 0.48 KW 36676 KWh $3668
MS Exchange LoadGen (MS own load generator for MS Exchange) 5.57 x faster (5 x 450W) * 1.5 = 3.3 KW 320W * 1.5 = 0.48 KW 24364 KWh $2436
MCS eFMS (Real world vApus benchmark) 2.84 x faster (3 x 450W) * 1.5 = 1.9 KW 320W * 1.5 = 0.48 KW 12052 KWh $1200
3DSMax (Our own bench) 3.13 x faster (3 x 450W) * 1.5 = 1.9 KW 320W * 1.5 = 0.48 KW 12052 KWh $1200

Power consumption alone is paying back about half to one third of the investment in the server (which is probably in the $4000-$6000 range). In the case of Oracle, MS SQL server, SAP, and Exchange you may add significant savings in software licensing too. One server is far easier to manage than three to seven servers, so there are lots of cost savings in terms of manpower. Less rack space saves quite a bit of money too… and so on. It is clear that the new generation is well worth the investment even if we didn't make a detailed TCO calculation.

Conclusion

The Nehalem architecture only caused a small ripple in the desktop world, mostly due to high pricing and performance that only shines in high-end applications. However, it has created a giant tsunami in the server world. The Xeon 5570 doubles the performance of its predecessor in applications that matter to more than 80% of the server market. Pulling this off without any process technology or clock speed advantage, without any significant increase in power consumption, is nothing but a historic achievement for the ambitious and talented team of Ronak Singhal.

With native quad-core, fast interconnects between the CPUs, a shared L3 cache that allows faster cache coherency synchronization, and an integrated memory controller, Intel's team followed in the footsteps of AMD's team. However, they were determined to do better in every aspect, especially the memory controller, and they could count on a much more potent integer processing engine. It will be interesting to see how the clearly motivated AMD engineering teams will react. The trend of the past few months is good, but it will take some brilliant ideas and flawless execution to stay in the slipstream of today's Intel.

For the IT professional in these difficult economic times, the new generation of server CPUs are an excellent investment. Especially if you are consolidating on less but more powerful servers, the investment will pay off quickly and generate cost savings after 1-1.5 year or even less.

Market Analysis
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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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