A Confusing Market

IT managers have it tough; Intel's Xeon line honestly does not make much sense. Initially things were simple, Intel had dual processor Xeons simply branded as the Intel Xeon, and quad processor Xeons that were aptly named Xeon MP. The regular Xeon processors were validated for up to 2-way operation, while the Xeon MP could be used in 2-way, 4-way and 8-way servers.

The regular 2-way Xeons were basically desktop Pentium 4s, while the Xeon MPs included an on-die L3 cache. Fast forward today and things have definitely changed.

We are comparing three different Intel cores to AMD's one and only Opteron core, so let's focus on the Intel cores first. Intel's Prestonia core is the 0.13-micron heart and soul of the 2-way Xeon processor now. The latest and greatest Prestonia based Xeon runs at 3.2GHz and features a 512KB L2 cache as well as a 2MB on-die L3 cache. This Prestonia should sound very familiar as it is basically a Xeon version of the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, which was a Pentium 4 version of the Xeon MP at a higher clock speed. Yes, Prestonia is a server version of a desktop version of a server processor. In fact, the only difference between Prestonia and the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition (other than packaging) is that the Prestonia only supports the 533MHz FSB. Front Side Bus bandwidth is actually a very serious issue when it comes to Intel CPUs, but we'll talk about that shortly.

Next we have the Xeon MP processors based off of Intel's 0.13-micron Gallatin core. The Gallatin core is what the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition was derived from, and offers 1MB, 2MB and now 4MB on-die L3 cache configurations. Prior to this article the largest cache size available on a Gallatin core was 2MB, but today Intel is launching their 4MB Gallatin parts. Both the Gallatin 2MB and 4MB parts continue to use a 400MHz FSB, which is the Xeon MP's Achilles' heel. The Gallatin 4MB parts are available in speeds of up to 3.0GHz, which we are including in this review today.

AMD's offerings are much simpler; the Opteron is available in 1-way, 2-way and 4-way+ configurations: the 1xx, 2xx and 8xx series respectively. AMD's offerings haven't changed since our web server comparison, although we should see 2.4GHz Opterons debut in the near future.

Index FSB Impact on Performance: Intel's Achilles' heel


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  • Jason Clark - Tuesday, March 2, 2004 - link

    Pumpkin, maybe next time there is 4GB of DDR400 ECC laying around we'll give it a run. It wasn't readily available to us when these tests were run. And in all honesty I doubt it would change any numbers by anything more than a percent. The bigger picture would remain the same.

  • Blackbrrd - Tuesday, March 2, 2004 - link

    It would have been real interesting to see a comparison with the Athlon MP processor platform... Reply
  • Pumpkinierre - Tuesday, March 2, 2004 - link

    #24 Opterons are now specified for DDR 400. So you should have tested them (and all the cpu's) at their maximum spec.. It might have made the difference in the 2way test where the opterons were close but not quite up to the Xeons.
  • Jason Clark - Tuesday, March 2, 2004 - link

    William, all we had on hand were the Xeons tested... we had requested 1MB parts but they didnt make it.

    Tyan S4880 is one that I know of, and the system we used is a reference amd system ("Quartet"). Appro makes a server based on it I think and a few other companies.
  • Jason Clark - Tuesday, March 2, 2004 - link


    Slow DDR333? It isn't slow, and it was what we had and it remained the same across platforms. These are servers not watercooled tweaked out systems running DDR500 :) This is a CPU test not a memory round up guys.
  • Jason Clark - Tuesday, March 2, 2004 - link

    zomg555 broaden your thinking to an IT director who is about to spend 50K on a server that has to last him X years. Do you spend it on a cpu capable of 32 bit only or a cpu capable of 64 bit that is also faster in 32 bit?. Then, look at the cost of each platform as per our cost graphs.

  • William Yu - Tuesday, March 2, 2004 - link

    If you already have 4P Xeon servers, there's no point in switching. But for a new 4P server, the difference isn't just 10%. It's $8800 based on the list price difference between the Xeon MP 4MB 3.2 and the Opteron 848. If it's somebody else's money, what the hell, buy the Xeon. If you have a direct stake in the financial status of the company... Reply
  • zomg555 - Tuesday, March 2, 2004 - link

    I was a little surprised by how close this test was. 10% more performance isn't enough to get most shops to switch from Intel Xeon to a new platform.
    It would have been interesting to see some tests with more than 4GB of memory, though. In these tests, the Xeons weren't paying a PAE bounce penalty, which would be sapping a lot of performance in servers with more physical memory.
  • hirschma - Tuesday, March 2, 2004 - link

    What hardware was used on these tests, just out of curiousity? Where can one get 4-way boards for Operton? I'd sure love to build a monster like that.

  • William Yu - Tuesday, March 2, 2004 - link

    Can you run these tests on the "crippled" Xeons with no L3 and 1MB L3? That would give a good picture for those who currently have Xeons and are exploring upgrades to their servers. (I.e., popin replacement for $$$ versus wholesale replacement.) Reply

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