The Clarkdale Review: Intel's Core i5 661, i3 540 & i3 530by Anand Lal Shimpi on January 4, 2010 12:00 AM EST
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AES-NI: Much Faster Encryption & Bitlocker Performance
Westmere (and thus Clarkdale) adds some new instructions to x86, although the big expansion comes with AVX and Sandy Bridge next year. Westmere gets six new encryption/decryption instructions. The group of instructions accelerate AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) and are thus referred to as AES-NI.
Many businesses require that all corporate PCs have the contents of their hard drives encrypted through the use of software like Bitlocker that comes with Microsoft Windows 7. These sorts of applications can be accelerated by AES-NI and to show the potential benefit I dug up a test I did while preparing for one of our SSD articles several months ago.
If you turn on Bitlocker in Windows 7 there's an immediate and measurable impact to performance. Disk performance generally drops by a noticeable amount and actual application usage performance drops by a smaller amount. Every write to the disk has to be encrypted first so there's some obvious CPU overhead. Clarkdale should reduce that overhead significantly as the common encryption operations are now hardware accelerated.
To test this I ran three tests. I first ran PCMark Vantage's HDD suite on my Windows 7 testbed SSD (an OCZ Summit) on a Core i5 661, then encrypted the drive using Bitlocker and ran the same test on the same processor. For the last test I swapped out the i5 661 for a Lynnfield based Core i5 750 (no AES-NI) and re-ran the HDD test. The results below were quite promising:
|Processor||PCMark Vantage HDD||% of Unencrypted Performance|
|Clarkdale - Unencrypted||16713|
|Clarkdale - Bitlocker Encryption||13785||82.5%|
|Lynnfield - Bitlocker Encryption||11744||70.3%|
There's a definite benefit to Clarkdale's AES-NI instructions. There's still a performance hit from enabling Bitlocker, but it's not nearly as great as on Lynnfield and other architectures that don't have AES-NI support. With a smaller decrease in I/O performance from enabling full disk encryption, there's also a smaller hit to application performance as well. This is huge for corporate desktops/notebooks.
Most of those machines aren't quad-core encoding monsters; they use dual-core processors. The upgrade from Core 2 seems like it'd be worth it, or at least AES-NI will probably keep AMD out of the running for consideration.