Benchmark Configuration and Methodology

For our look at the ThunderX2, all of our testing was conducted on Ubuntu Server 17.10, Linux kernel 4.13 64 bit. Normally we would use an LTS version, but since the Cavium shipped with that Ubuntu version, we did not want to take any unnecessary risks by changing the OS. The compiler that ships with this distribution is GCC 7.2.

Unfortunately however, our AMD EPYC system has missed the deadline for this article. We ran into problems with that system right up to press time and are still debugging the matter. But in short, the system did not perform well after we performed a kernel upgrade.

Finally, you will notice that the DRAM capacity varies among our server configurations. The reason is simple: Intel's system has 6 memory channels, while Cavium's ThunderX2 has 8 memory channels.

Gigabyte - Cavium "Saber"

CPU Two Cavium ThunderX2 CN9980 (32 cores at 2.2 - 2.5 GHz)
RAM 512 GB (16x32GB) Micron Reg. DDR4 @2666
Internal Disks SANDISK Cloudspeed Gen II 800 GB
Motherboard Cavium Sabre
BIOS version 18/2/2018
PSU Dual 1600W 80+ Platinum


Intel's Xeon "Purley" Server – S2P2SY3Q (2U Chassis)

CPU Two Intel Xeon Platinum 8176  (28 cores at 2.1 GHz, 165W)
RAM 384 GB (12x32 GB) Hynix DDR4-2666
Internal Disks SAMSUNG MZ7LM240 (bootdisk)
Intel SSD3710 800 GB (data)
Motherboard Intel S2600WF (Wolf Pass baseboard)
Chipset Intel Wellsburg
BIOS version 9/02/2017
PSU 1100W PSU (80+ Platinum)

The typical BIOS settings can be seen below. I should also note that we have both hyperthreading and Intel's virtualization technology enabled.

Other Notes

Both servers are fed by a standard European 230V (16 Amps max.) power line. The room temperature is monitored and kept at 23°C by our Airwell CRACs.

Energy Consumption

One thing that concerned us was the fact that the Gigabyte "Saber" system consumed 500W while simply running Linux (so mostly idle). Under load however the system consumed around 800W, which is in line with our expectations, as we have two 180W TDP chips inside. So as is typically the case for early test systems, we are not able to do any accurate power comparisons.

In fact, Cavium claims that the actual systems from HP, Gigabyte and others will be far more power efficient. The "Sabre" testing system we received had several power management problems: immature fan management firmware, a BMC bug, and an oversized (1600W) PSU.

The ThunderX2 SKUs: 16 to 32 Cores Memory Subsystem Measurements


View All Comments

  • Gunbuster - Wednesday, May 23, 2018 - link

    Because it's hard to explain the critical line of business software or database is having some unknown edge case issue because you thought look at me I'm so smart and saved 1% of the project cost using unproven low penetration hardware. Reply
  • daanno2 - Wednesday, May 23, 2018 - link

    I'm guessing you've never dealt with expensive enterprise software before. They are mostly licensed per-core, so getting the absolute best performance per core, even if the CPU is 2-3x more expensive, is worth it. At the end of the day, the CPUs might be <5% of the total cost. Reply
  • SirPerro - Wednesday, May 23, 2018 - link

    You can swallow a big risk if the benefit is 75% of the cost. Hey, it's definitely worth the try.

    If your hardware makes up for 5% of the cost, saving a 3% of the total budget is not worth the risk of migration.
  • FunBunny2 - Thursday, May 24, 2018 - link

    "You can swallow a big risk if the benefit is 75% of the cost. Hey, it's definitely worth the try."

    the EOL of today's machines, the amortization schedules must be draconian. only if a 'different' server pays off in dozens of months, not years, will it have chance. to the extent that enterprise software is a C/C++ and *nix codebase, porting won't be onerous. but, I'm willing to guess, even Oracle code isn't all that parallel, so throwing a truckload of teeny cpu at it won't necessarily work.
  • name99 - Thursday, May 24, 2018 - link

    The bigger problem here is the massive uncertainty around the meaning of the word "server" and thus the target for these new ARM CPUs.
    Some people seem to think "server" means primarily boxes that run SAP or ORACLE, but I think it's clear that the ARM ecosystem has little interest in that, at least right now.

    What's of much more interest is racks on racks of CPUs running commodity (LAMP) or homegrown software, ie data warehouses and HPC. I'm not even sure the Java benchmarks being run are of much interest to this market. The things that matter are the sorts of things Cloudflare was measuring when they tested Centriq -- memcached, nginx, transforming one type of data into another (compression/decompression, encrypt/decrypt, transcode,...) at massive throughput.
    That's where I'd expect to see the big sales of the ARM "server" cores -- to Cloudflare, Baidu, Google, and so on.

    Also now that Marvell is in the game, will be interesting to see the extent to which they pull this downward, into their traditional sorts of markets like infrastructure network and storage control (eg to go into network appliances and NAS boxes).
  • Ed469546 - Wednesday, June 13, 2018 - link

    Some of the commercial software you pay per core. Intel had the best single threaded performance mening power license costs.

    Interesting question is how the Thunderx2 cores are counted in this case: one core can run 4 threads.
  • andrewaggb - Wednesday, May 23, 2018 - link

    I wonder what workloads they are targeting? High throughput with poor single threaded results is somewhat limiting. Reply
  • peevee - Wednesday, May 23, 2018 - link

    Web app servers. VM servers. Hadoop/Spark nodes. All benefit more from having more threads running in parallel instead of each request waiting or switching contexts.

    If you are concerned about single-thread performance on 256-thread server (as 2-CPU server with this CPU will provide) AT ALL, you choose outrageously wrong hardware for the task to begin with. Go buy a 2-core i3. Practically the only test in this article which matters is Critical jOPS (assuming the used quality of service metric was configured realistically).
  • GeekyMcGeekface - Friday, May 25, 2018 - link

    I’m building a cluster now with a few hundred Raspberry Pi’s because scale up is expensive and stupid. By distributing across a pool of clusters, I can handle far more memory bandwidth and compute. Consider 100 Raspberry PIs have 400 64-bit cores and 100GB of RAM. Total cost $3500 + power, mounting and switches.

    Running three clusters of those with Kubernetes, Couchbase and Azure Functions provides 1200 64-bit cores, about 100GB of extremely high performance storage, incredible failover and a map-reduce environment to die for.

    Add some 64GB MicroSD cards and an object storage system to the cluster and there’s 12TB of cold storage (4TB when made redundant).

    Pay a service fee to some sweatshop in the Eastern Block to do the labor intensive bits and you can build a massively parallel, almost impossible to crash, CI/CD friendly, multi-tenant, infinitely scalable PaaS... for less than the cost of the RAM for a single one of the servers here.

    The only expensive bits in the design are the Netscalers.

    Oh... and the power foot print is about the same as one of these servers.

    I honestly have no idea what I what I would use a server like these in a new design for.
  • jospoortvliet - Wednesday, May 30, 2018 - link

    single-core performance with your pi's is considerably lower, as is inter-core bandwidth. If your tasks require little inter-process communication you're good but with highly interdependent compute it won't perform well. But for specific tasks, yes, it might be very cost effective. Reply

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