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

  • imaheadcase - Sunday, May 27, 2018 - link

    Yah i tried that for a bit, it worked ok. But was not foolproof, it missed some stuff. Reply
  • repoman27 - Wednesday, May 23, 2018 - link

    Just to provide a counter point, this article made my day. And that’s coming entirely from intellectual curiosity—I don’t plan on deploying any servers with these chips in the near future. I always enjoy Johan’s writing, and was really looking forward to seeing how ThunderX2 would stack up. Many people are convinced that ARM is really only suitable in low power / mobile scenarios, but this is the chip that may finally prove otherwise. That has significant ramifications for the entire industry (including the consumer space), especially when you consider that Cavium could put out a TSMC 10nm or even 7nm shrink of ThunderX2 before Intel can get off of 14nm. Reply
  • HStewart - Wednesday, May 23, 2018 - link

    This does not proved that ARM is suitable in higher end space - look at the core specific speed - it extremely low compare to Intel and AMD server chips. Keep in mind it takes 128 total cores - running at 4SMT system. And what about other operations - what about Virtual Machine situation - where you have many virtual x86 machines on VMWare server,

    How about high end mathematical and vector logic?

    It does seem like ARM can run more threads - but maybe Intel or AMD has never had the need to

    I think this latest Core battle is silly - I think it really not the number of cores you have but combination of type and speed of cores along with number of cores.
  • Wilco1 - Wednesday, May 23, 2018 - link

    It certainly does prove that Arm can do high end servers - the results clearly show IPC/GHz is very close on SPECINT. Base clock speeds are the same as the Intel cores, and that's the speed the server runs at when not idle. But there are more cores as you say, so who will win is obvious.

    Now imagine a next-gen 7nm version before Intel manages 10nm. Not a pretty picture, right?
  • HStewart - Wednesday, May 23, 2018 - link

    Ok I have learn to agree to disagree with some people

    Can this server run the VMWare server

    The answer is no - just one example - many more,

    On 10nm - it not number that matters - it technology behind it - Intel supposely has a i3 and Y based for CannonLake coming this year - probably more.
  • Wilco1 - Wednesday, May 23, 2018 - link

    There are plenty of VMs for Arm, so virtualization is not an issue.

    10nm will be behind 7nm even if it ends up as originally promised and not using relaxed rules to become viable for volume production.
  • ZolaIII - Thursday, May 24, 2018 - link

    When optimized for SIMD NEON extension things changed dramatically. All tho NEON isn't exactly the best SIMD never the less number's speak for them self.
    Tho Centriq is a bit pricier, bit overly slower than this but main point is it whose built on comparable lithography to current Intel's 14nm. So you get cheaper hardware, which can be packaged tighter & will consume much less power while being compatible regarding the performance. Triple win situation (initial cost, cost of ownership and scaling) but it still isn't turn key one whit isn't crucial for big vendor server farms anyway.
  • name99 - Thursday, May 24, 2018 - link

    ARM (and this particular chip) aren't trying to solve every problem in the world. They're trying to offer a better (cheaper) solution for a PARTICULAR subset of customers.

    If you think such customers don't exist, then why do you think Intel has such a wide range of Xeons, including eg all those Xeon Silvers that only turbo up to 3GHz? Or Xeon Gold's that max out at 2.8GHz?
  • lmcd - Thursday, May 24, 2018 - link

    Second page: supports SR-IOV, which is important for KVM and Xen. If you're not aware, Xen and KVM are powerful virtualization solutions that cover the feature set of VMWare quite nicely. Reply
  • HStewart - Wednesday, May 23, 2018 - link

    "I really think Anandtech needs to branch into different websites. Its very strange and unappealing to certain users to have business/consumer/random reviews/phone info all bunched together."

    I different in this - I don't think AnandTech should concentrate on just gaming in focus - this is rather old school - I am not sure about mobile phones in the mess of all this

    But comparing ARM cpu's to Intel/AMD is interesting subject. It basically RISC vs CISC discussion - yes RISC can do operations quicker in some cases - but by definition of the architecture they are Reduce in what they do. Fox example it would take RISC a ton of instructions to executed a single AVX style operation.

    This article is closest I have seen in comparing ARM vs x86 base machines - but even though I see some holes - it comes close - but having just be Linux based leaves out why people purchase such machine - I think Virtual Machine server is huge - but like everything else on the internet that is just an opinion

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