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The Quad Opteron Alternative

Servers with the newest Intel six-core Xeon hit the market in April. The fastest six-cores Xeons were able to offer up to twice the performance of six-core Opteron “Istanbul”. The reason for this was that the age of the integer core in AMD's Opteron was starting to show. While the floating point part got a significant overhaul in 2007 with the AMD "Barcelona" quad-core chip, the integer part was a tuned version of the K8, launched back in 2003. This was partly compensated by large improvements in the multi-core performance scaling departement: HT-assist, faster CPU interconnects, larger L3 caches, and so on.

To counter this lower per-core performance, AMD's efforts focused on the "Magny-Cours" MCMs that scaled even better thanks to HT 3.0 and four DDR3 memory controllers. AMD’s twelve-core processors were launched at the end of March 2010, but servers based on these “Magny-Cours” Opterons were hard to find. So for a few months, Intel dominated the midrange and high-end server market. HP and Dell informed us that they would launch the "Magny-Cours" servers in June 2010. That is history now, and server buyers have an alternative again for the ubiquitous Xeon Servers.

AMD’s strategy to make their newest platform attractive is pretty simple: be very generous with cores. For example, you get 12 Opteron cores at 2.1GHz for the price of a six-core Xeon 2.66GHz (See our overview of SKUs). In our previous article, we measured that on average, a dual socket twelve-core Opteron is competitive with a similar Xeon server. It is a pretty muddy picture though: the Opteron wins in some applications, the Xeon wins in others. The extra DDR3 memory channel and the resulting higher bandwidth makes the Opteron the choice for most HPC applications. The Opteron has a small advantage in OLAP databases and the virtualization benchmarks are a neck and neck race. The Xeon wins in applications like rendering, OLTP and ERP, although again with a small margin.

But if the AMD platform really wants to lure away significant numbers of customers, AMD will have to do better than being slightly faster or slightly slower. There are many more Xeon based servers out there, so AMD Opteron based servers have to rise above the crowd. And they did: the “core generosity” didn’t end with offering more cores per socket. All 6100 Opterons are quad socket capable: the price per core stays the same whether you want 12, 24 or 48 cores in your machine. AMD says they have “shattered the 4P tax, making 2P and 4P processors the same price.”

So dual socket Opterons servers are ok, offering competitive performance at a slightly lower price, most of the time. Nice, but not a head turner. The really interesting servers of the AMD platforms should be the quad socket ones. For a small price premium you get twice as many DIMM slots and processors as a dual socket Xeon server. That means that a quad socket Opteron 6100 positions itself as a high-end alternative for a Dual Xeon 5600 server. If we take a quick look at the actual pricing of the large OEMs, the picture becomes very clear.

Compared to the DL380 G7 (72GB) speced above, the Dell R815 offers twice the amount of RAM while offering—theoretically—twice as much performance. The extra DIMM slots pay off: if you want 128GB, the dual Xeon servers have to use the more expensive 8GB DIMMs.

Quad Opteron Style Dell
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  • cgaspar - Friday, September 10, 2010 - link

    The word you're looking for is "authentication". Is a simple spell check so much to ask? Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Friday, September 10, 2010 - link

    Fixed. Reply
  • ESetter - Friday, September 10, 2010 - link

    Great article. I suggest to include some HPC benchmarks other than STREAM. For instance, DGEMM performance would be interesting (using MKL and ACML for Intel and AMD platforms). Reply
  • mattshwink - Friday, September 10, 2010 - link

    One thing I would like to point out is that most of the customers I work with use VMWare in an enterprise scenario. Failover/HA is usually a large issue. As such we usually create (or at least recommend) VMWare clusters with 2 or 3 nodes. As such each node is limited to roughly 40% usage (memory/CPU) so that if a failure occurs there is minimal/0 service disruption. So we usually don't run highly loaded ESX hosts. So the 40% load numbers are the most interesting. Good article and lots to think about when deploying these systems.... Reply
  • lorribot - Friday, September 10, 2010 - link

    It would be nice to see some comparisons of blade systems in a similar vein to this article.

    Also you say that one system is better at say DBs whilst the the other is better at VMware, what about if you are running say a SQL database on a VMware platform? Which one would be best for that? How much does the application you are running in the VM affect the comparative performance figures you produce?
    Reply
  • spinning rust - Saturday, September 11, 2010 - link

    is it really a question, anyone who has used both DRAC and ILO knows who wins. everyone at my current company has a tear come to their eyes when we remember ILO. over 4 years of supporting Proliants vs 1 year of Dell, i've had more hw problems with Dell. i've never before seen firmware brick a server, but they did it with a 2850, the answer, new motherboard. yay! Reply
  • pablo906 - Saturday, September 11, 2010 - link

    This article should be renamed servers clash, finding alternatives to the Intel architecture. Yes it's slightly overpriced but it's extremely well put together. Only in the last few months has the 12c Opteron become an option. It's surprising you can build Dell 815's with four 71xx series and 10GB Nics for under a down payment on a house. This was not the case recently. It's a good article but it's clearly aimed to show that you can have great AMD alternatives for a bit more. The most interesting part of the article was how well AMD competed against a much more expensive 7500 series Xeon server. I enjoyed the article it was informative but the showdown style format was simply wrong for the content. Servers aren't commodity computers like desktops. They are aimed at a different type of user and I don't think that showdowns of vastly dissimilar hardware, from different price points and performance points, serve to inform IT Pros of anything they didn't already know. Spend more money for more power and spend it wisely...... Reply
  • echtogammut - Saturday, September 11, 2010 - link

    First off, I am glad that Anandtech is reviewing server systems, however I came away with more questions than answers after reading this article.

    First off, please test comparable systems. Your system specs were all over the board and there were way to many variables that can effect performance for any relevant data to be extracted from your tests.

    Second, HP, SGI and Dell will configure your system to spec... i.e. use 4GB dimms, drives, etcetera if you call them. However something that should be noted is that HP memory must be replaced with HP memory, something that is an important in making a purchase. HP, puts a "thermal sensor" on their dimms, that forces you to buy their overpriced memory (also the reason they will use 1GB dimms, unless you spec otherwise).

    Third, if this is going to be a comparison, between three manufactures offerings, compare those offerings. I came away feeling I should buy an IBM system (which wasn't even "reviewed")

    Lastly read the critiques others have written here, most a very valid.
    Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    "First off, please test comparable systems."

    I can not agree with this. I have noticed too many times that sysadmins make the decision to go for a certain system too early, relying too much on past experiences. The choice for "quad socket rack" or "dual socket blade" should not be made because you are used to deal with these servers or because your partner pushes you in that direction.

    Just imagine that the quad Xeon 7500 would have done very well in the power department. Too many people would never consider them because they are not used to buy higher end systems. So they would populate a rack full of blades and lose the RAS, scalability and performance advantages.

    I am not saying that this gutfeeling is wrong most of the time, but I am advocating to keep an open mind. So the comparison of very different servers that can all do the job is definitely relevant.
    Reply
  • pablo906 - Saturday, September 11, 2010 - link

    These VMWare benchmarks are worthless. I've been digesting this for a long long time and just had a light bulb moment when re-reading the review. You run highly loaded Hypervisors. NOONE does this in the Enterprise space. To make sure I'm not crazy I just called several other IT folks who work in large (read 500+ users minimum most in the thousands) and they all run at <50% load on each server to allow for failure. I personally run my servers at 60% load and prefer running more servers to distribute I/O than running less servers to consolidate heavily. With 3-5 servers I can really fine tune the storage subsystem to remove I/O bottlenecks from both the interface and disk subsystem. I understand that testing server hardware is difficult especially from a Virtualization standpoint, and I can't readily offer up better solutions to what you're trying to accomplish all I can say is that there need to be more hypervisors tested and some thought about workloads would go a long way. Testing a standard business on Windows setup would be informative. This would be an SQL Server, an Exchange Server, a Share Point server, two DC's, and 100 users. I think every server I've ever seen tested here is complete overkill for that workload but that's an extremely common workload. A remote environment such as TS or Citrix is another very common use of virtualization. The OS craps out long before hardware does when running many users concurrently in a remote environment. Spinning up many relatively weak VM's is perfect for this kind of workload. High performance Oracle environments are exactly what's being virtualized in the Server world yet it's one of your premier benchmarks. I've never seen a production high load Oracle environment that wasn't running on some kind of physical cluster with fancy storage. Just my 2 cents. Reply

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