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

AMD
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
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

AMD
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

Intel
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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  • Nighteye2 - Thursday, April 21, 2005 - link

    Small observation: in the article DDR2 is mention as a solution to AMD memory bandwidth, while in the news posts there's a bit about AMD skipping DDR2...

    Anyway, that being said, it's looking good...I wonder how long until there'll be sub-300 A64 X2's available? ^_^

    Also, about the hardware problems...isn't running a dual-socketed MB with a single CPU asking for trouble?
    Reply
  • Spacecomber - Thursday, April 21, 2005 - link

    I really enjoyed taking a look at what you could bring us about these upcoming Athlon dual core processors. It looks like dual core will be the future for all of us, at least at some point.

    Just a quick comment on the price comparisons that you provided between the dual core opterons and their single core predecessors, I found it interesting to compare prices on the basis of the number of cores.

    So,

    Opteron 248: 2x$455=$910
    Opteron 174: $999

    Opteron 848: 4x$873=$3492
    Opteron 275: 2x1299=$2598

    Assuming the performance scales simply based on the number of cores involved, the pricing of the new dual core opterons looks more attractive.

    Space
    Reply
  • Quanticles - Thursday, April 21, 2005 - link

    pwnt Reply
  • fishbits - Thursday, April 21, 2005 - link

    It's odd that some picture game developers immediately supporting the PhysX chip as soon as it's available, but think they'll drag their feet to take advantage of another whole CPU core at their disposal.

    Maybe that will be the reality though, as MT programming is supposed to be a lot harder. Still, to be able to get a game out the door that blows away any of the competition, it might happen sooner than we think. And I could see how Intel would want to push this along to help their sales, and might contribute resources towards making it happen. "OMG, that new game is great, but it totally rules on a new dual core rig! Saw it at my friend's house the other day!"

    Who knows, maybe games'll gobble up that second core so fast, it won't be long before we complain about how sluggish the system is when multi-tasking, and that we're shutting down background processes, anti-virus, etc all over again. "We need quad core!" :P
    Reply
  • Aenslead - Thursday, April 21, 2005 - link

    Ah, well... most of you are forgetting something: sure, the chip's cost is almost 50% higher than the cheapest Intel offer, however, to use a Pentium D, you require a new motherboard (i955x @ 180USD, probably... nF4 IE @ 200USD), AND DDR2 memory... plus, if you have an AGP card, the PCIe video card as well. That's about 650USD for the whole Intel upgrade. AMD, on the other side, is just the processor, which ends up being FAR cheaper.

    And that is all I have to say about that.
    Reply
  • Jep4444 - Thursday, April 21, 2005 - link

    the X2 4400+ does not parralel to the 3500+, it parallels to the upcoming socket 939 3700+(which a 939 4000+ could be underclocked to compare)

    the 3500+ would be best compared to a X2 4200+

    the X2 4600+ is dual 3800+ and the 4800+ are dual 4000+
    Reply
  • xtknight - Thursday, April 21, 2005 - link

    It's too bad that gamers or people that don't multitask are basically left in the dark (extra-performance-wise) by dual-core. I'm not going to break the bank for something that's going to give me less performance than I already have.

    There's multitasking and then there's multitasking. One kind is having a main program up that gets most of the CPU's attention and another BitTorrent or whatever that's taking up <5% CPU. Usually I'm not trying to encode a video while I play a game, which would be the other type of multitasking. Only the second kind would greatly benefit from these new CPUs, which is a shame. In the first multitasking type I talked about, dual core will improve responsiveness but not raw processing performance.

    Does this mark the end for single-threaded performance? Programmers will have a hell of a time creating dual core-beneficial applications, unless by nature the program would benefit from it (i.e. a game server browser, or an AI-heavy game). If the PhysX chip comes through, dual-core won't help too much with physics either. The only benefit that would ever see the light of day for me is the fact that the rest of my system isn't lagged while something else is taking up 100% CPU. For example I could still move my mouse and use Windows Explorer while I'm compressing some files with WinRAR. Even then these scanarios don't come up too often for me personally.

    When it comes to raw number crunching performance, the dual-core CPUs don't show any improvement over single-core ones. Sadly enough I think it's going to take forever for programmers to multi-thread their applications. That being said, any program I make from now on will be multithreaded as much as possible.
    Reply
  • AtaStrumf - Thursday, April 21, 2005 - link

    Nice review as usual :-)

    ...but I do have one complaint. I would like to have seen a top of the line Intel single core CPU (there were no single core P4s in your tests) compared to "X2 4400+" and a 3500+ 939 Athlon 64 which runs at the same 2,2 GHz as the "X2 4400+" to see a direct effect of the second core instead of the 2,4 GHz 3800+.

    Some multitasking tests were a bit weird, dare I say unrealistic, but OK for starters. The way I multitask is usually a bunch of IE windows (12 ATM), one folding at home client, 3 - 6 bittornado clients, 1 or 2 (sometimes more) word documents, 1 or 2 (sometimes more) excel documents, outlook express, possibly Photoshop CS, a bunch of Windows Explorer windows, few notepads, some winzip/winrars every now and then, windows media player playing MP3s, Kaspersky antivirus, a dictionary, ACDsee from time to time, Opera with a few open tabs if IE isn't right for the job, ... and I rarely play any games anymore. OK I think that's it. This is not at all uncommon for me, so I'm really looking forward to dual cores, I'm just very sorry that AMD can't offer anything at a competitive price, so instead of going for a Socket 939 from a socket 754, I might go for an Intel platform. I don't know jet, a lot depends on how hard those PD are too cool. No word on that yet from you. I wonder why?
    Reply
  • morcegovermelho - Thursday, April 21, 2005 - link

    At AMD site:

    http://www.amd.com/us-en/Processors/ProductInforma...

    Hypertransport Links:

    152 - (3 links - 0 coherent links)
    252 - (3 links - 1 coherent link)
    852 - (3 links - 3 coherent links)

    that means they are different. Time to change page 3? ;)
    Reply
  • SLIM - Thursday, April 21, 2005 - link

    Nice review AT. One small suggestion would be to compare one x75 to two 248s to see the effects of memory bandwidth as well as having two cores communicating directly with each other.

    BTW, that's pretty damn funny that you have to install new circuit breakers and outlets just to power up the zeons.
    Reply

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