Conclusions

To help summarize the current situation in the server CPU market, we have drawn up a comparison table of the performance we have measured so far. We'll compare the new Interlagos Opteron 6276 against the outgoing Opteron 6174 as well as teh Xeon X5650.

  Opteron 6276 vs.
Opteron 6174
Opteron 6276 vs.
Xeon X5650
ESXi + Linux -1% -2%
ESXi + Windows = +3%
Cinebench +2% +9%
3DS Max 2012 (iRay) -9% to + 4% -10% to +3%
Maxwell Render +4% +6%
Blender -4% -24%
Encryption/Decryption AES +265% / +275% +2% / +7%
Encryption/Decryption Twofish/Serpent +25% / +25% 31% / 46%
Compression/decompression +10% / +10% -33%/ +22%

Let us first discuss the virtualization scene, the most important market. Unfortunately, with the current power management in ESXi, we are not satisfied with the Performance/watt ratio of the Opteron 6276. The Xeon needs up to 25% less energy and performs slightly better. So if performance/watt is your first priority, we think the current Xeons are your best option.

The Opteron 6276 offers a better performance per dollar ratio. It delivers the performance of $1000 Xeon (X5650) at $800. Add to this that the G34 based servers are typically less expensive than their Intel LGA 1366 counterparts and the price bonus for the new Opteron grows. If performance/dollar is your first priority, we think the Opteron 6276 is an attractive alternative.

And then there is Windows Server 2008 R2. Typically we found that under heavy load (benchmarking at 85-100% CPU load) the power consumption was between 3% (integer) to 7% (FP) higher on the Opteron 6276 than on the Xeons and Opteron 6100, a lot better than under ESXi. Add to this the fact that the new Opteron energy usage at low load is excellent and you understand that we feel that there is no reason to go for the Opteron 6100 anymore. Again, AMD still understands that it should price its CPUs more attractive than the competition, so from the price/performance/watt point of view, the Opteron 6276 is a good cost effective alternative to the Xeon...on the condition that you enable the "high performance" policy and that AMD keeps the price delta the same in the coming months.

That is the good news. We cannot help but to feel a bit disappointed too. AMD promised us (in 2009/2010) that the Opteron 6200 would be significantly faster than the 6100: "unprecedented server performance gains". That is somewhat the case if you recompile your software with the latest and greatest optimized compiler as AMD's own SPEC CINT (+19%), CFP 2006 (+11%) and Linpack benchmarks (+32%) show.

One of the real advantages of a new processor architecture (prime examples where the K7 and K8) is if it performs well in older software too, without requiring a recompile. For some people of the HPC world, recompiling is acceptable and common, but for everybody else (that is probably >95% of the market!), it's best if existing binaries run faster. Administrators generally are not going to upgrade and recompile their software just to make better use of a new server CPU. Hopefully AMD's engineers have been looking into improving the legacy software performance of their latest chip the last few months, because it could use some help.

On the other side of the coin, it is clear that some of the excellent features of the new Opteron are not leveraged by the current software base. The deeper sleep and more advanced core gating is not working to its full potential, and the current operating systems frequently don't appear to know how to get the best from Turbo Core. The clock can be boosted by 39% when half of the cores are active, but an 18% boost was the best we saw (in a single-threaded app!). Simply turning the right knobs gave some tangible power savings (see ESXi) and some impressive performance improvements (see Windows Server 2008).

In short, we're going to need to do some additional testing and take this server out for another test drive, and we will. Stay tuned for a follow-up article as we investigate other options for improving performance.

Other Tests: TrueCrypt and 7-Zip
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  • zappb - Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - link

    Thanks Johan for the ungodly amount of time you and your team spent on this review, also thanks to all contributors to the comments which was very useful to get more context to someone like myself who is not very up to speed with server tech.

    The 45 Watt and 65 watt Opterons not mentioned on the front page of the article (but mentioned in the comments - are these based on Interlagos?)

    To me it looks like a big win for AMD - and these benchmarks are are not even optimised for the architecture (Linux kernel 3 was not used - can't wait to see updated benchmarks, something like FreeBSD or when we get an updated scheduler for the windows server OS's...should make a big difference.

    Really low idle power consumption is nice, and Im planning to pick one of these up (for home use) to play around with FreeBSD, vm's, etc...just for training purposes,

    The other point about Intel's sandybridge Xeons, these are just going to be 8 core 3960x right? Which may not change the current server landscape very much depending on their prices.
    Reply
  • JWesterby - Friday, February 10, 2012 - link

    Respect is due, Johan! You did a very useful review under significant limitations. The very best part is to point an unbiased light at a damned interesting CPU. There is an important "next step," which I will address shortly.

    As always, just the mention of AMD brings out hysterical attacks. One would think we were talking about Stem Cell research!! There is no real discussion -- it's pitchforks, lit torches, and a stake ready for poor Johan and anyone else ready and willing to consider the mere possibility that AMD have produced worthy technology!!

    Computer technology - doing it, anyway - has changed. It's become ALL about the bloody money, and the "culture" of the people doing technology has also changed -- it has become much more cut-throat, there is far less collegiality, and the number of people willing to take risks on projects has become really uncommon. Qualified people doing serious technology just because they can is uncommon.

    There is no end to posers (including some on this board), Machiavellian Fortune 500 IT managers, and "Project Managers" who are clueless (there ARE some great IT managers and wonderful PM's but their numbers are shrinking). My hat to those in Open Source - they are the Last Bastion of decency for the sake of decency, and technology merely for the joy of doing it !!

    "Back in the day" people seemed really into the technology, solving difficult problems, and making good things happen. There was truly a culture. For example not taking a moment to help someone on the team or otherwise made you a jerk. Development was a craft or an art, and we were all in it together. We are loosing that, and it's become more dog-eat-dog with a kind of mean spirit. What a shame. Many of the comments here are perfect examples -- people who would rather burn down the temple than give a new and challenging technology a good think.

    Personally I can't wait to get my hands on a couple of AMD's new CPU's, build a decent server, and carefully work out the issues with patience. These new Opterons are like a whole new tech that may be the beginning of all new territory.

    My passion and some professional work is coding at the back end in C/C++ and I'm just beginning to understand CUDA and using GPU's to beef up parallel code. My work is all around (big) data warehousing, cutting edge columnar databases, almost everything running virtual, all the way through to analytics on BI platforms. I do all of that both on MS Server 2008, Solaris and FreeBSD. All that is a perfect environment to test AMD's "new territory."

    Probably worth a blog at some point because these processors are new territory and using them well will take some work just keeping track of all the small things that shake out. That's the "next step" that this and other reviews require to really understand AMD's Bulldozers. Doing that well, if AMD is right with these chips, means being able to build some great back-end servers at a much more approachable price; more importantly without paying an "Intel" tax, and in the end having two strong vendors and thereby more freedom to make the best choice for the requirement.
    Reply
  • PhotoPrint - Sunday, December 25, 2011 - link

    you should make fair comparison at the same price range!
    lts like comparing GTX580 VS AMD RADEON 6950!
    Reply
  • g101 - Wednesday, January 11, 2012 - link

    Wow, anad let the truth about bulldozer leak out. Reply
  • ppennisi - Wednesday, March 07, 2012 - link

    To obtain maximum performance from my Dell R715 server equipped with dual Interlagos processor I had to DISABLE C1E in the BIOS.

    Under VMware the machines performance changed completely, almost doubled in performance.

    Maybe you should try it.
    Reply
  • anti_shill - Monday, April 02, 2012 - link

    Here's a more accurate reflection of Bulldozer/ interlagos performance, untainted by intel ad bucks...

    http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=article&...

    But if u really want to see what the true story is, have a look at AMD's stock price lately, and their server wins. They absolutely smoke intel on virtualization, and anything that requires a lot of threads. It's not even close. That would be the reason this review pits Interlagos against an Intel processor that costs twice as much.
    Reply

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