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.

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  • usamaah - Monday, March 30, 2009 - link

    Is it me or is page 2 of this article missing some information? The title of that 2nd page is "What Intel and AMD are Offering," but in the body of the text there are only descriptions of Intel's Xeon chips? Perhaps a new title to reflect the body, or add AMD info? Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Monday, March 30, 2009 - link

    I moved the AMD vs Intel pricing data to the back of the article as the pricing info is more interesting once you have seen the results. But forgot to change the title.. fixed. Thanks. Reply
  • usamaah - Monday, March 30, 2009 - link

    Cool, thank you. Next time I'll finish reading the article before I make a comment, sorry ;-) Anyway wonderful article. Reply
  • Ipatinga - Monday, March 30, 2009 - link

    Very nice to see a comparison over some generations of Xeon platform, including the new one (yet to be released).

    I would like to see a new article with Core i7 vs Xeon 5500... to check out if my Core i7 @ 3,7GHz is good enough in Maya 2009 (Windows XP 64bit, 12GB DDR3), or if a Xeon 5500 (each at 2,4GHz, for instance) in dual processor configuration will be a much better buy.
    Reply

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