In all honesty, most of us at AnandTech expected the Dual Xeon platform to outperform the Dual Athlon MP in our database server tests from our 760MP review.  Although database server environments do benefit from more and faster CPUs, if you ignore the memory and I/O on a database server regardless of how fast your CPUs are, you’re going to have a poorly performing solution.  In database serving environments, especially ones as data intensive as the AnandTech Forums Database which is currently over 3GB in size, moving data around quickly is key to high server performance.  The Intel Xeon’s i860 chipset provided a 400MHz data bus from the CPU to the Memory Controller Hub (MCH), offering 3.2GB/s of bandwidth to the dual processors, and the MCH also offered a dual channel RDRAM memory controller offering an equal 3.2GB/s of bandwidth to the memory.  To make the platform even more attractive, the i860’s MCH includes a small cache to improve performance as well. 

In spite of all of this, when placed in the very environment of our AnandTech Forums Database Server, a Dual Intel Xeon 1.7GHz system was outperformed by an identical Dual Athlon MP 1.2GHz setup.  And thus came the following conclusion to our 760MP review back in June:

"If you can't tell by now, we're very impressed with the AMD 760MP chipset. In fact, one of the reasons we spent so long on this comparison is because the outcome of our results would influence what platform we used in our next database server for the AnandTech Forums. The choice is simple; the AMD 760MP is the DP workstation and server platform to have. It's reliable, it's high performing and it's very flexible; everything you'd expect from an Intel based server solution, except that it's from AMD instead."

Fast forwarding to the present day, we like to stand behind our recommendations at AnandTech and since then two of our in-lab systems have been moved to 760MP yet we still hadn't upgraded our "aging" Forums Database Server.

The word aging appears in quotes because our Forums Database Server has not been up in our Pittsburgh Colocation Facility more than 6 months; we upgraded it in January of this year.  Since then, the number of registered users on the AnandTech Forums has increased tremendously; today the Forums are close to 70,000 registered users of which, 600 – 700 are logged in at once, and 2,000 more are browsing at any given time. 

The database itself has close to 300,000 threads in which over 3 million messages are posted.  Behind closed doors are 1.9 million private messages that are exchanged among the members.  The database itself, as mentioned before, is over 3GB in size - how big is the largest file on your hard drive?

While the I/O performance of our Forums Database Server was up to par, it was clear that the bottleneck of the server was becoming the CPUs.  Our Dual Pentium III 866s were pegged at 90%+ CPU utilization, across both CPUs.  Think about the daily tasks you run on your computer, for the most of us, it's very rare that we can completely max out two CPUs doing something other than RC5 or heavy mathematical/rendering calculations.  It was clear that the Database Server required an upgrade, and we had already found the best candidate for the upgrade – the real trick was in the approach.

The Problems

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