Put me in front of a dual processor motherboard and a pair of eight core Xeons with HyperThreading and I will squeal with delight.  Then I will take it to the cleaners with multithreaded testing to actually see how good it is.  Watching a score go up or the time taken to do a test going down is part of the parcel as a product reviewer, so watching the score go higher or the time taken going down is almost as good as product innovation.

Back in research, two things can drive the system: publication of results and future relevance for those results.  Understanding the system to get results is priority number one, and then being able to obtain results could be priority number two.  In theoretical fields, where a set of simulations can take from seconds to months and even years, having the hardware to deal with many simulations (or threads within a simulation) and the single threaded speed means more results per unit time.  Extremely useful when you get a weeks worth of results back and you missed a negative sign in the code (happens more often than you think).  Some research groups, with well-developed code, take it to clusters.  Modern takes on the code point towards GPUs, if the algorithm allows, but that is not always the case.

So when it comes to my perspective on the GA-7PESH1, I unfortunately do have not much of a comparison to point at.  As an overclocking enthusiast, I would have loved to see some overclock, but the only thing a Sandy Bridge-E processor with an overclock will do is increase single threaded speed – the overall multithreaded performance on most benchmarks is still below an i7-3960X at 5 GHz (from personal testing).  For simulation performance, it really depends on the simulation itself if it will blaze though the code while using ~410 watts.

Having an onboard 2D chip negates needing a dedicated display GPU, and the network interfaces allow users to remotely check up on system temperatures and fan speeds to reduce overheating or lockups due to thermals.  There are plenty of connections on board for mini-SAS cabling and devices, combined with an LSI SAS chip if RAID is a priority.  The big plus point over consumer oriented double processor boards is the DIMM slot count, with the GA-7PESH supporting up to 512 GB.

Compared to the consumer oriented dual processor motherboards available, one can criticize the GA-7PESH1 for not being forthcoming in terms of functionality.  I would have assumed that being a B2B product that it would be highly optimized for efficiency and a well-developed platform, but the lack of discussion and communication between the server team and the mainstream motherboard team is a missed opportunity when it comes to components and user experience.

This motherboard has been reviewed in a few other places around the internet with different foci with respect to the reviewer experience.  One of the main criticisms was the lack of availability – there is no Newegg listing and good luck finding it on eBay or elsewhere.  I send Gigabyte an email, to which I got the following response:

  • Regarding the availability in the US, so far all our server products are available through our local branch, located at:

    17358 Railroad St.
    City of Industry
    CA 91748
    +1-626-854-9338

As a result of being a B2B product, pricing for the GA-7PESH1 (or the GA-7PESH2, its brother with a 10GbE port) is dependent on individual requirements and bulk purchasing.  In contrast, the ASUS Z9PE-D8 WS is $580, and the EVGA SR-X is $650.

Review References for Simulations:

[1] Stripping Voltammetry at Microdisk Electrode Arrays: Theory, IJ Cutress, RG Compton, Electroanalysis, 21, (2009), 2617-2625.
[2] Theory of square, rectangular, and microband electrodes through explicit GPU simulation, IJ Cutress, RG Compton, Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry, 645, (2010), 159-166.
[3] Using graphics processors to facilitate explicit digital electrochemical simulation: Theory of elliptical disc electrodes, IJ Cutress, RG Compton, Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry, 643, (2010), 102-109.
[4] Electrochemical random-walk theory Probing voltammetry with small numbers of molecules: Stochastic versus statistical (Fickian) diffusion, IJ Cutress, EJF Dickinson, RG Compton, Journal of Electroanlytical Chemistry, 655, (2011), 1-8.
[5] How many molecules are required to measure a cyclic voltammogram? IJ Cutress, RG Compton, Chemical Physics Letters, 508, (2011), 306-313.
[6] Nanoparticle-electrode collision processes: Investigating the contact time required for the diffusion-controlled monolayer underpotential deposition on impacting nanoparticles, IJ Cutress, NV Rees, YG Zhou, RG Compton, Chemical Physics Letters, 514, (2011), 58-61.
[7] D. Britz, Digital Simulation Electrochemistry, in: D. Britz (Ed.), Springer, New York, 2005, p. 187.
[8] W.H. Press, S.A. Teukolsky, W.T. Vetterling, B.P. Flannery, Numerical Recipes: The Art of Scientific Computing, Cambridge University Press, 2007.
[9] D.E. Knuth, in: D.E. Knuth (Ed.), Seminumerical Algorithms, Addison-Wesley, 1981, pp. 130–131
[10] K.Gregory, A.Miller, C++ AMP: Accelerated Massive Parallelism with Microsoft Visual C++, 2012, link.
+ others contained within the references above.

System Benchmarks
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  • nevertell - Sunday, January 06, 2013 - link

    The K version may not, but the standard i7-3770 does in fact support VT-D, TXT and ECC memory from the get go. Vt-D has to be also supported by the motherboard, which may be problematic on consumer motherboards. I have a i5-2400 myself, and Vt-d is a pain to setup and to this day I still haven't found out whether is it that I am unable to set up Xen properly or just that my cheap motherboard worn't support VT-d, to properly assign a video card to a virtual machine. Reply
  • KAlmquist - Sunday, January 06, 2013 - link

    The 3770K lacks those features, but that doesn't invalidate my point.

    Using ECC memory improves system availability, and likely decreases the probability of undetected errors resulting in incorrect computations. If these are important to you, then you should be thinking about full double or triple redundancy. Why not buy three 3770K based systems and run the same simulation on all of them? Most of the time you will get identical results on all three systems, but on rare occasions one of the systems will die during the run. No problem; you have the simulation results from the other two systems. On even rarer occasions, one of the systems will produced an incorrect result due to an undetected bit error. Again no problem; you take the results from the two simulations that agree.

    With full redundancy it doesn't matter where in the system the error occurs because full redundancy addresses faults anywhere in the system. This makes it superior to ECC memory, which only addresses faults in the memory subsystem. So the only reason to go with ECC memory instead of full triple redundancy is if the ECC memory approach costs less. Based on the numbers I posted, you aren't going to get a lower cost based on hardware costs alone. Possibly you could get there by including administrative costs and the like.

    I'm not saying that the system Ian tested wouldn't make sense under *any* circumstances. My point is that the system has a poor price performance ratio, so it only makes sense when a lot of things are working in its favor.

    The second feature you mention is VT-D, which makes it more efficient to emulate device hardware in virtual machines. I don't have any benchmarks, but my guess is that the performance improvement from VT-D is fairly small. In any case, if you want VT-D you can buy the 3770 rather than the 3770K. You can't overclock the 3770, but my comments about the 3770K offering "similar performance" were based primarily on the performance of the 3770K at stock frequency. If you assume that everyone is going to take the time to find an optimal overclock for their CPU, then the E5-2690 (which cannot be overclocked) looks even worse.

    I suppose it's off topic to debate the merits of "trusted execution technology" here, so I will simply note that if for whatever reason you want a processor that supports it, the solution is the same as for VT-D: get the 3770 instead of the 3770K.
    Reply
  • Kevin G - Saturday, January 05, 2013 - link

    A very well written article that sticks toward its purpose: scientific computing. Really pleased to see articles like this on the site even if I have a few minor quibbles.

    On page 2 "To those unfamiliar with server boards, of note is the connector just to the right of center of the picture above." is either oddly worded to describe the front panel connector at the bottom the board (which is indeed right of center but not in the center of the picture) or describing a connector that isn't even documented in the manual. For clarification I'm looking at the connector just right of the top PCI-E 16x slot (above and to the left of the battery). Actually, what is that connector labeled as? I've seen it on other Xeon boards but have never seen it used.

    The last paragraph on page 2 should read omits the possibility of nonbuffered ECC memory and implies the usage of unbuffered non-ECC memory. I haven't found confirmation that this board can accept unbuffered, non-ECC memory (opposed to the possibility of an ECC requirement as some server vendors enforce).

    A couple of notes on the little processor talk on page 6. Dealing with cache thrashing between L3 and L2 is possible but when dealing with a high number of threads general coherency becomes a bigger factor. The overhead is beginning to exceed the benefit of having the additional hardware to run them. If you're lucky to be dealing with an algorithm that doesn't need such coherency overhead, then chances are it is very ideal for GPU compute (and memory capacity isn't a factor). A minor nicety would have been to see some more testing without Hyperthreading on the i7-3770k, i7-3930k, and i7-3960X to better indicate scaling with/without Hyperthreading. I suspect that those single socket processors would have been able to show some small gains with Hyperthreading where the dual socket system did not.

    An extension to the L2/L3 cache talk on page 6 is the move to dual sockets and NUMA. There is a performance penalty due to latency for having one thread access memory that is found on a remote socket. Memory mirroring between sockets can eliminate that remote penalty while increasing RAS but at the cost of halving effective memory capacity. The manual isn't clear if mirroring mode or the lockstep mode is across different sockets (it can be done across memory channels as well).

    I'd also would have loved to have heard some comparisons with the Gigabyte GA-X79S-UP5. While the name implies an X79 chipset, it uses the C606 chipset. It'll support ECC memory with socket 2011 Xeons and plenty of over clocking features (for the daring). Comparing the GA-7PESH1 to the GA-X79S-UP5 would have been able to answer if the move to dual sockets would have been worth the extra cost.
    Reply
  • Hakon - Saturday, January 05, 2013 - link

    Somehow does read like an anonymous peer review :-) Reply
  • Kevin G - Sunday, January 06, 2013 - link

    A little bit. :)

    Part of my criticism isn't about the article itself but rather the general state of massively multithreaded hardware and software. The hardware portion is quickly running into software limitation that were never expected to be reached in the professional space. A decade ago who thought that a scientist could purchase a 240 simultaneous thread processor that would fit on a mere expansion card? In some cases we don't reach Amdal's Law before hitting an artificial barrier due to scheduling or coherency overhead.

    I just noticed that the system was using Win 7 Professional which has a limit of 64 concurrent threads per process. A quad socket LGA 2011 config would actually be at the very limit of what Window 7 (or rather 2008R2 since professional only scales to two sockets) can handle. OpenMP can handle more than 64 concurrent threads but on Windows it has to submit this limitation.
    Reply
  • psyq321 - Sunday, January 06, 2013 - link

    As for the GA-X79S-UP5 Clocking features are only working for 1P Xeons, which are basically similar to HEDT i7 (36xx) line. With those, customer has an advantage of ECC RAM support and still some overclocking headroom.

    Clocking 2P/4P Xeons E5 (sadly, these are the only 8-core parts so far) is next to impossible due to the lack of ICC configuration data allowing changing BCLK ratios. These Xeons can only be bumped by direct BCLK increase, which is dangerous above few MHz. At most, 5-6 MHz is feasible as tested on ASUS Z9PE-D8-WS and EVGA SR-X boards.

    Memory overclocking is another matter, completely. I have excellent results with Samsung's 1.35v ("low voltage") ECC RAM. It is not just the cheapest 16 GB ECC option (~$160 for the 16 GB ECC stick last time I checked, I got mine for 140 EUR in Germany 7 months ago), but it is the fastest while still keeping the low voltage. This RAM can be overclocked to 2133 MHz by a simple voltage bump to 1.55v, which is still within Xeon's VSa limits.
    Reply
  • Kevin G - Sunday, January 06, 2013 - link

    Weird that Intel doesn't provide the ICC configuration data. The 'gear ratio' change is something I'd still expect to change on true X79 boards regardless of processors (I can see Intel crippling this on C600 series). Then again, I've heard some weird situations with LGA 2011 Xeons in desktop boards. There are some scattered reports of unlocked chips but as the internet goes there are lots of speculation and rumors but little real confirmation.

    Those Samsung 16 GB ECC sticks are registered? I thought that the GA-X79S-UP5 didn't registered DIMMs.

    As for the ability to overclock those low voltage DIMMs, not really surprised as they've historically been impressive in that regards. I have some older 4 GB 1.35v DDR3-1333 rated sticks that can go to 1866 Mhz at 1.5v. :) The timings had to be changed but still impressive.
    Reply
  • PEPCK - Saturday, January 05, 2013 - link

    Worth noting that the three miniSAS connectors yield 8 SAS and 4 SATA connectors in the specification table. Reply
  • krumme - Sunday, January 06, 2013 - link

    For this article Ian get the über nerds Gold Award only given ones in a century Reply
  • lowenz - Sunday, January 06, 2013 - link

    A brilliant article.

    More of these, please.
    Reply

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