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Introducing AMD's Opteron 6200 Series

When virtualization started to get popular (ca. 2005-2007), there was a fear that this might slow the server market down. Now several years later, the server market has rarely disappointed and continues to grow. For example, IDC reported a 12% increase in revenue when comparing Q1 2010 and Q1 2011. The server market in total accounted for $12 billion revenue and almost two million shipments in Q1 2011, and while the best desktop CPUs generally sell for $300, server chips typically start at $500 and can reach prices of over $3000. With the high-end desktop market shrinking to become a niche for hardcore enthusiasts--helped by the fact that moderate systems from several years back continue to run most tasks well--the enterprise market is very attractive.

Unfortunately for AMD, their share of the lucrative server market has fallen to a very low percentage (4.9%) according IDC's report early this year (some report 6-7%). It is time for something new and better from AMD, and it seems that the Bulldozer architecture is AMD's most server-centric CPU architecture ever. We quote Chuck Moore, Chief Architect AMD:

By having the shared architecture, reducing the size and sharing things that aren’t commonly used in their peak capacity in server workloads, “Bulldozer” is actually very well aligned with server workloads now and on into the future. In fact, a great deal of the trade-offs in Bulldozer were made on behalf of servers, and not just one type of workload, but a diversity of workloads.

This alginment with server workloads can also be found in the specs:

  Opteron 6200
"Interlagos"
Opteron 6100
"Magny-cours"
Xeon 5600
"Westmere"
Cores (Modules)/Threads 8/16 12/12 6/12
L1 Instructions 8x 64 KB 2-way 12x 64 KB 2-way 6x 32 KB 4-way
L1 Data 16x 16 KB 4-way 12x 64 KB 2-way 6x 32 KB 4-way
L2 Cache 4x 2MB 12x 0.5MB 6x 256 KB
L3 Cache 2x 8MB 2x 6MB 12MB
Memory Bandwidth 51.2GB/s 42.6GB/s 32GB/s
IMC Clock Speed 2GHz 1.8GHz 2GHz
Interconnect 4x HT 3.1 (6.4 GT/s) 4x HT 3.1 (6.4 GT/s) 2x QPI (4.8-6.4 GT/s)

The new Opteron has loads of cache, faster access to memory and more threads than ever. Of course, a good product is more than a well designed microarchitecture with impressive specs on paper. The actual SKUs have to be attractively priced, reach decent clock speeds, and above all offer a good performance/watt ratio. Let us take a look at AMD's newest Opterons and how they are positioned versus Intel's competing Xeons.

AMD vs. Intel 2-socket SKU Comparison
Xeon Cores/
Threads
TDP Clock
(GHz)
Price Opteron Modules/
Threads
TDP Clock
(GHz)
Price
High Performance High Performance
X5690 6/12 130W 3.46/3.6/3.73 $1663          
X5675 6/12 95W 3.06/3.33/3.46 $1440          
X5660 6/12 95W 2.8/3.06/3.2 $1219          
X5650 6/12 95W 2.66/2.93/3.06 $996 6282 SE 8/16 140W 2.6/3.0/3.3 $1019
Midrange Midrange
E5649 6/12 80W 2.53/2.66/2.8 $774 6276 8/16 115W 2.3/2.6/3.2 $788
E5640 4/8 80W 2.66/2.8/2.93 $774          
          6274 8/16 115W 2.2/2.5/3.1 $639
E5645 6/12 80W 2.4/2.53/2.66 $551 6272 8/16 115W 2.0/2.4/3.0 $523
          6238 6/12 115W 2.6/2.9/3.2 $455
E5620 4/8 80W 2.4/2.53/2.66 $387 6234 6/12 115W 2.4/2.7/3.0 $377
High clock / budget High clock / budget
X5647 4/8 130W 2.93/3.06/3.2 $774          
E5630 4/8 80W 2.53/2.66/2.8 $551 6220 4/8 115W 3.0/3.3/3.6 $455
E5607 4/4 80W 2.26 $276 6212 4/8 115W 2.6/2.9/3.2 $266
Power Optimized Power Optimized
L5640 6/12 60W 2.26/2.4/2.66 $996          
L5630 4/8 40W 2.13/2.26/2.4 $551 6262HE 8/16 85W 1.6/2.1/2.9 $523

The specifications (16 threads, 32MB of cache) and AMD's promises that Interlagos would outperform Magny-cours by a large margin created the impression that the Interlagos Opteron would give the current top Xeons a hard time. However, the newest Opteron cannot reach higher clock speeds than the current Opteron (6276 at 2.3GHz), and AMD positions the Opteron 6276 2.3GHz as an alternative to the Xeon E5649 at 2.53GHz. As the latter has a lower TDP, it is clear that the newest Opteron has to outperform this Xeon by a decent margin. In fact most server buyers expect a price/performance bonus from AMD, so the Opteron 6276 needs to perform roughly at the level of the X5650 to gain the interest of IT customers.

Judging from the current positioning, the high-end is a lost cause for now. First, AMD needs a 140W TDP chip to compete with the slower parts of Intel's high-end armada. Second, Sandy Bridge EP is coming out in the next quarter--we've already seen the desktop Sandy Bridge-E launch, and adding two more cores (four more threads) for the server version will only increase the performance potential. The Sandy Bridge cores have proven to be faster than Westmere cores, and the new Xeon E5 will have eight of them. Clock speeds will be a bit lower (2.0-2.5GHz), but we can safely assume that the new Xeon E5 will outperform its older brother by a noticeable margin and make it even harder for the new Opteron to compete in the higher end of the 2P market.

At the low-end, we see some interesting offerings from AMD. Our impression is that the 6212 at 2.6-2.9GHz is very likely to offer a better performance per dollar ratio than the low-end Xeons E560x that lack Hyper-Threading and turbo support.

Okay, we've done enough analyzing of paper specs; let's get to the hardware and the benchmarks. Before we do that, we'll elaborate a bit on what a server centric architecture should look like. What makes server applications tick?

What Makes Server Applications Different?
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  • DigitalFreak - Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - link

    Good to see that CPU-Z correctly reports the 6276 as 8 core, 16 thread, instead of falling for AMD's marketing BS. Reply
  • N4g4rok - Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - link

    If each module possess two integer cores to a shared floating point core, what's to say that it can't be considered as a practical 16 core? Reply
  • phoenix_rizzen - Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - link

    Each module includes 2x integer cores, correct. But the floating point core is "shared-separate", meaning it an be used as two separate 128-bit FPUs or as a single 256 FPU.

    Thus, each Bulldozer module can run either 3 or 4 threads simultaneously:
    - 2x integer + 2x 128-bit FP threads, or
    - 2x integer + 1x 256-bit FP threads

    It's definitely a dual-core module. It's just that the number of threads it can run is flexible.

    The thing to remember, though, is that these are separate hardware pipelines, not mickey-moused hyperthreaded pipelines.
    Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - link

    You can get into a long discussion about that. The way that I see it, is that part of the core is "logical/virtual", the other part is real in Bulldozer . What is the difference between an SMT thread and CMT thread when they enter the fetch-decode stages? Nothing AFAIK, both instructions are interleaved, and they both have a "thread tag".

    The difference is when they are scheduled, the instructions enters a real core with only one context in the CMT Bulldozer. With SMT, the instructions enter a real core which still interleave two logical contexts. So the core still consists of two logical cores.

    It is gets even more complicated when look at the FP "cores". AFAIK, the FP cores of Interlagos are nothing more than 8 SMT enabled cores.
    Reply
  • alpha754293 - Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - link

    I think that Johan is partially correct.

    The way I see it, the FPU on the Interlagos is this:

    It's really a 256-bit wide FPU.

    It can't really QUITE separate the ONE physical FPUs into two 128-bit wide FPUs, but it more probably in reality, interleaves them (which is really just code for "FPU-starved").

    Intel's original HTT had this as a MAJOR problem, because the test back then can range from -30% to +30% performance increase. Floating-point intensive benchmarks have ALWAYS suffered mostly because suppose you're writing a calculator using ONLY 8-byte (64-bit) double precision.

    NORMALLY, that should mean that you should be able to crunch through four DWORDs at the same time. And that's kinda/sorta true.

    Now, if you are running two programs, really...I don't think that the CPU, the compiler (well..maybe), the OS, or the program knows that it needs to compile for 128-bit-wide FPUs if you're going to run two instances or two (different) calculators.

    So it's resource starved in trying to do the calculation processes at the same time.

    For non-FPU-heavy workloads, you can get away with that. For pretty much the entire scientific/math/engineering (SME) community; it's an 8-core processor or a highly crippled 16-core processor.

    Intel's latest HTT seems to have addressed a lot of that, and in practical terms, you can see upwards of 30% performance advantage even with FPU-heavy workloads.

    So in some cases, the definition of core depends on what you're going to be doing with it. For SME/HPC; it's good cuz it can do 12-actual-cores worth of work with 8 FPUs (33% more efficient), but sucks because unless they come out with a 32-thread/16-core monolithic die; as stated, it's only marginally better than the last. It's just cheaper. And going to get incrementally faster with higher clock speeds.
    Reply
  • alpha754293 - Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - link

    P.S. Also, like Anand's article about nVidia Optimus:

    Context switching even at the CPU level, while faster, is still costly. Perhaps maybe not nearly as costly as shuffling data around; but it's still pretty costly.
    Reply
  • Samus - Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - link

    Ouch, this is going to be AMD's Itanium. That is, it has architecture adoption problems that people simply won't build around. Maybe less substantial than IA64, but still a huge performance loss because of underutilized integer units. Reply
  • leexgx - Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - link

    think they way CPU-z reporting it for BD cpus is correct each core has 2 FP, so 8 cores and 16 threads is correct

    to bad windows does not understand how to spread the load correctly on an amd cpu (windows 7 with HT cpus Intel works fine, spreads the load correctly, SP1 improves that more but for Intel cpus only)

    windows 7 sp1 makes biger use of core parking and gives better cpu use on Intel cpus as i have been seeing on 3 systems most work loads now stay on the first 2 cores and the other 2 stay parked, on amd side its still broke with cool and quite enabled
    Reply
  • Stuka87 - Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - link

    So, what is your definition of a core?

    Bulldozers do not utilize hyper threading, which takes a single integer core and can at times put two threads into that single integer core. A Bulldozer core has actual hardware two run two threads at the same time. This would suggest there are two physical cores.

    Does it perform like an intel 16 core (if there was such a thing), no. But that does not mean that it is not in fact a 16 core device. As the hardware is there. Yes they share an FPU, but that doesn't mean they are not cores.
    Reply
  • Filiprino - Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - link

    Actually, Bulldozer is 16 cores. It has two dedicated integer units and a float point unit which can act as two 128 bit units or one 256 bit unit for AVX. So, you can have 2 and 2 per module.
    Bulldozer does not use hyperthreading.
    Reply

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