Dual Core Server Performance: AMD's Opteron x75 Series

Our first comparison of AMD's new dual core parts is in the server world - where AMD's new CPUs will be shipping to first.  Of course, no review is complete without a handful of interesting experiences from the lab, and this dual core launch was no exception. 

Server Test Platforms

Our Dual Core samples arrived a few weeks ago from AMD, well in advance of the launch date of April 21st. At the time of the samples' arrival, we didn't have a stable server board to use for our tests. The Tyan S2891 board that we had on hand was still going through BIOS changes and was not recommended for use with the Dual Core parts. As per AMD's recommendation, we secured a Tyan S2895 Workstation board, which AMD had verified was stable. We were uneasy running server based benchmarks on a workstation board and felt that a server based board recommended by AMD would have been more appropriate. That being said, both the S2891 and S2895 are very similar and are both nForce 4 based chipsets, so performance is virtually identical.

Intel is expected to release their Dual Core Xeon parts in the first quarter of 2006. So, we requested from Intel their latest Xeon MP system, since we were essentially putting a "4P" system against a Dual Xeon with the current hardware that we have in the lab. Intel, as always, came through with their SR4850HW4 4P system along with 4 Cranford 3.6 GHz 1MB L2 cache processors and 4 Potomac 3.3 GHz 8MB L3 Cache processors.

The SR4850HW4 system uses Intel's new E8500 server chipset "Twin Castle", which most importantly includes a new dual bus architecture that runs at 667MHz, up from 400MHz on older Xeon platforms. As you may have read in our last Quad Xeon article, the Xeon was in dire need of some front side bus bandwidth. Aside from the new bus architecture, the E8500 uses DDR2 based memory, in line with the current DP based Xeon systems.

Intel Front Intel memory Intel Cpu

When we began our testing on the new Intel platform, we quickly learned another "feature" of the SR4850HW4. After unpacking the system and setting it up, we proceeded to power it up with the default configuration with which the system had been shipped. The system wouldn't power up. With barely 2-3 days until the launch of this article, we were (needless to say) "on edge" about getting the benchmarks running. We placed an E-mail into our Intel contact, and within about 5 minutes, an engineer gave us a call. After a few minutes on the phone, the engineer asked, "What do you have the system plugged in to?" We responded, "Well, a wall plug in our lab." He then broke the news: "That system requires 208V to run." Now what? Off to Home Depot we went and grabbed some 12 gauge wire and breaker, and within an hour, we were installing Windows. Another Lab adventure for the books?

Breaker Panel Plug

Server Test Hardware Configuration

Motherboard: Tyan S2895
Memory: 4GB Kingston PC3200 ECC (2GB for Web benchmarks)
OS: Windows 2003 Enterprise/Windows 2003 Web edition (Web benchmarks)
RAID: LSI Logic 320-2 with 8 Seagate 15K Cheetahs in Raid 0

Memory: 4GB Infineon DDR2
OS: Windows 2003 Enterprise/Windows 2003 Web edition (Web benchmarks)
RAID: LSI Logic 320-2 with 8 Seagate 15K Cheetahs in Raid 0

The Lineup - Athlon 64 X2 Web Tests - FuseTalk .NET


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  • liebremx - Thursday, April 21, 2005 - link

    Anand, great reading as always.

    I have an observation:

    On the 'Development Performance - Compiling Firefox' section you write
    "This particular test is only single threaded, ..."

    Why not launch a multithreaded build?

    "make -j3 -f client.mk build_all"
  • Jalf - Thursday, April 21, 2005 - link

    Makes good sense for AMD to keep their (server) dualcore chips pricey. AMD has limited manufacturing capacity, and they have best singlecore solution. In other words, they might as well keep the dualcore prices high, to a) make more money in cases where people are willing to fork over lots of money, and b) keep people who are on a budget interested in their singlecore offerings, at least until their new fab goes online. Reply
  • GentleStream - Thursday, April 21, 2005 - link

    I have some comments about the Firefox compile test. First, thanks alot for including it. Now I have some comments about it. First, you are using GNU make and it supports parallel compiles. So, you should be able to replace the line:

    make -f client.mk build_all

    with the line:

    make -j 2 -f client.mk build_all

    to perform a parallel compile using 2 processors. The -j option specifies how many processors or threads you are using. You can do parallel compiles on a single processor machine as well as multi-processor or multi-core machines. It is often the case that using -j 2 or -j 3 on a single processor machine will give the best results because of it's allowing the overlaping of cpu computations and I/O.

    You don't say whether you did a debug or optimized build. I would recommend doing both the debug and optimized builds and reporting the results of both. When doing parallel optimized compiles, you may want to make sure you are not swapping although for the server tests it looks like you have plenty of memory - 4 GBytes. I did not see immediately how much memory you were using for the X2 tests. Anyway, I would recommend doing both debug and optimized compiles with -j n where n is 1, 2, 3, and 4 or perhaps just 1, 2, and 4. Since compiles are essential to development work and also embarassingly parallel, this should provide a really good comparison of the multitasking capabilities of these systems.

    Hope you can do this or at least some of it and thanks alot for adding a really good compile test to your test suite.

  • michaelpatrick33 - Thursday, April 21, 2005 - link

    The server market is where AMD is going headed to get large margins in their chips. With Supermicro joining the AMD camp (they must have seen the performance of the Opteron dualcore, blinked their eyes and said, "we're in") Dell is left alone holding Intel only product lines. Intel will not have a response on the server front until Q1 2006. That is troubling for Intel because it give AMD six months of market buildup and Fab36 time to come online and increase volume tremendously. It should be interesting.

    Imagine a 4800+ on a 939 DFI board running at 2-2-2-8 1t timings versus the P4 Extreme dualcore. Drooling just thinking about having either processor, but especially the AMD
  • erwos - Thursday, April 21, 2005 - link

    "AMD would probably have problems delievering a lower cost dual core in quantities ."

    This is exactly it. Why should AMD let demand outstrip supply? Just jack up the price until you've got just enough demand to consume your supply.

    I mean, yes, I'd love an Athlon64 X2 5000+ with 1mb of cache for ~$250, but that's life. AMD stockholders should be pleased with this decision.

    There's also the impending move to socket M2 to consider... the Athlon64 X2 makes sense for people with very low-end A64's, but M2 is going to be the better upgrade path for FX and/or 3800+ users. I would be surprised to see any 939 Athlon64's past 5200+.
  • eetnoyer - Thursday, April 21, 2005 - link

    While our desires as desktop users are for high volumes of X2s at low prices, we have to balance that with what AMD as a company needs to survive...money. AMD is currently capacity constrained with regard to dual-core CPUs with only Fab30. They have entered into agreements with both IBM and Chartered for additional capacity (probably on the lower end chips), but that won't come online until late this year. Just before production starts to ramp at Fab36.

    In the meantime, AMD has stated that their order of priority goes Server -> Mobile -> Desktop with the profitability motive in mind. For most users that will be heavily into the multi-tasking benefits of dual-core CPUs, spending $5xx for the low-end X2 vs $1000 for the PEE 840 will be a no-brainer. Seeing how that is a small minority of users, AMD can reasonbly supply the demand for them while still maintaining the highlest level of availability of dual-core Opterons at much better ASPs. Remember that AMD wants to capture as much market share in the server market as possible while Intel has no response.

    As a share-holder, I hope that the demand for dual-core Opteron is deafening based on the incredible price/performance ratio (thus limiting their ability to produce X2 in high quantity). As a middle-of-the-road desktop user, I'm quite content with my mildly OC'd A64 for the next year or two.
  • ksherman - Thursday, April 21, 2005 - link

    w00t! Ill have to read it later tho... Reply
  • MrHaze - Thursday, April 21, 2005 - link

    Certainly impressive.

    I think it is important to remember that the "Athlon64 X2" was actually an Opteron running ECC RAM at 2T on a less-than-stable motherboard. I think it is best think of this as a comparison of Intel's dual cores, AMD's single cores, and a hog-tied Athlon64 X2.
    Makes you wonder how an actual X2 with fast memory on a fast motherboard will perfom.

    Regardless, I'm really excited about the upgrade potential, and I hope that AMD sticks with socket 939 for a long while.

  • kirbalo - Thursday, April 21, 2005 - link

    Great review Anand...Thanks for fixing your gaming bar charts...they were wacked before!

  • Tapout1511 - Thursday, April 21, 2005 - link

    Sure would have been nice if they had included a single core A64 at 2.2GHz w/ 1MB cache (3500+ right?) to illustrate instances where the extra core was useful and when it wasn't.

    Oh well.

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