Performance and RAS features took a giant leap forwared when Intel replaced the Xeon 7400 with the Xeon 7500. The memory subsystem went from a high latency, totally bandwidth choked loser (hardly 10GB/s for 24 cores) to a low latency and very high bandwidth champion (up to 70GB/s). The Xeon E7 builds further on that excellent platform, and adds up to 35% higher performance.

We now have a proven platform with excellent RAS features that needs slightly less power now while it provides a decent performance boost. That's excellent, but the Xeon E7 still has a few weakness. One weakness is the relatively high power consumption at idle load. Compared to the high-end Power 7 servers, this kind of power consumption is probably very reasonable. The Power 7 CPUs are in the 100 to 170W TDP range, while the Xeon E7s are in the 95 to 130W TDP range. A quad 3.3GHz Power 755 with (256GB RAM) server consumes 1650W according to IBM (slide 24), while our first measurements show that our 2.4GHz E7-4870 server will consume about 1300W in those circumstances.

Considering that the 3.3GHz Power 7 and 2.4GHz E7-4870 perform at the same level, we'll go out on a limb and assume that the new Xeon wins in the performance/watt race. AMD might take advantage of this "weakness", but availablility of quad 16-core "Bulldozer" servers is still months away and we don't know what the power use will be yet.

The 10-core Xeons are pretty expensive ($3000-4600 per CPU), but many of these systems are bought to run software that will cost 10 times more. In a nutshell, Intel's Xeon E7 moves up the server CPU food chain. The Xeon E7 closes the performance gap with the best RISC CPUs (see the SAP benchmarks), offers lower power and cost, and the rest of the x86 competition is relegated to the low-end of the quad x86 market.

For those looking for a virtualization platform, there is no x86 server that is able to offer such low response times at such high consolidation ratios. However, in order to get a good performance/watt ratio, you need to make sure that your quad Xeon E7 servers are working under high CPU loads. The quad Xeon E7 server is a good platform for consolidating CPU intensive applications. For less intensive VMs, it makes a lot more sense to check out the dual Xeon and quad Opteron offerings.

I would also like to thank to Tijl Deneut for his invaluable assistance.

Real-World Power


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  • - Thursday, May 19, 2011 - link

    I did not see anything in the article about RAS, or at least my understanding of the acronym as its used in IT. Are you using it to mean "Reliability, Availability, and Serviceability"? If so, where was that addressed in the article? If not, what was RAS supposed to mean?,_Availabi...
  • haplo602 - Thursday, May 19, 2011 - link

    I second this comment. You mention that the new Xeons have exceletn RAS features but do not describe a single one.

    How about an article on that topic ? And comparing to Opteron and Itanium while you are at it ? I have no clue about IBM or Sparc chips (Itanium is my daily bread), so I'd be very much interested in such a comparison.

    The last thing I saw from a Nehalem Xeon was that it threw an MCA and rebooted the box. The only benefit was that it enabled some diagnostic. An Itanium system would deconfigure the CPU and boot stable with 1 less socket. The Xeon system just kept rebooting at the same point over and over again.
  • Casper42 - Thursday, May 19, 2011 - link

    Go back and read the reviews on the Nehalem EX from 9 months ago.
    There are no major new RAS features in Westmere EX that I am aware of as its a die shrink and not a major feature change.

    One of the things I remember was the ability to identify and disable a bad DIMM or even a bad memory chip within a DIMM in such a way that (if the OS supports it) the machine wouldn't crash and could keep running.
    Also supports memory sparing so you can even load some extra memory in there to take over for the bad DIMM.

    But I'm no expert, go back and read the older articles.
  • haplo602 - Friday, May 20, 2011 - link

    I know, that's what I remember. In my world, that's not RAS, and as I witnesed first hand, it does not always work as expected. Reply
  • L. - Thursday, May 19, 2011 - link

    Well .. if that's all the Intel 32nm process has to offer, I believe I can say there's blood in the water.

    The "crappy" old phenom-2 based Opterons are in fact keeping up in perf/watt WITH ONE LESS DIE SHRINK.

    This is just huge ... it means that unless AMD manages to fuck up the bulldozer extremely bad (as in making it worse than the phenom 2), just the die shrink will give them a clear perf/watt advantage.

    Add in the speed gained through the new process and the Xeons will look like power-hungry overpriced pieces of junk ... and that's still not considering that the bulldozer architecture is any better than the ph2.
  • L. - Thursday, May 19, 2011 - link

    Also, if there ever was any time to buy amd stock . now it is. (like I said for nVidia back in July 2010, double within 6 months) Reply
  • Casper42 - Thursday, May 19, 2011 - link

    While it looks that way on paper, the reality is the opposite.

    Intel CPUs, especially with Nehalem/Westmere families, just outright sell themselves. For whatever reason, and I cant explain it myself, the AMDs just dont sell as well.

    Personally I love the new AMD line for servers.
    They use the same CPUs for high end 2P and all 4P servers.
    All the CPUs have the same memory speeds and loading rules
    Quad channel memory even on 2P
    They give you Cores-o-plenty (this can be a downside in the world of Oracle)

    Then they have a much cheaper 1P/2P option with half the cores and Dual Channel memory
    Each CPU family only has like 5/6 CPUs as well.
    Its such a simple lineup its so easy for a enterprise customer to standardize a large cross section of the DC.

    Now look at Intel.
    1P is the 3000 family
    2P is the 5000 family
    4P is both the 6000 and 7000 family
    8P is usually the 7000 family.
    1/2 and 4/8 have different memory designs including Tri vs Quad channel
    on 1/2 you get different memory speeds depending on what model CPU you buy.
    Which is really fun because they have like a dozen or more CPU models on each of 1P and 2P.

    So even though AMD seems like the better choice, Intel is still dominating the market.
    Sandy Bridge 2P Servers will be out before the end of the year. Right now it looks like Bulldozer might beat them to market by a matter of a few months. If AMD slips that date, Intel will still have quite a competitive product and BD had better basically be FLAWLESS.

    So for the next gen servers, I think the purchasing habits of most companies will not change unless AMD pulls a major rabbit out of their hat.
  • haplo602 - Friday, May 20, 2011 - link

    on top of that, AMD gives you the same CPU virtualisation support in each model (does not matter if 1P, 2P, 4P+) while Intel differs between models. Reply
  • L. - Friday, May 20, 2011 - link

    I have trouble understanding you : sandy bridge 2p servers will be out before the end of the year ?

    Aren't they out yet ?

    And even if they're there, they will NOT compete with the AMD chips, as I said above, a 45nm Ph2-based Opteron is as power efficient as a 32nm sb-based xeon - lolwut ?

    The only thing that will somehow be bad for bulldozer is Ivy Bridge 22nm IF it comes out as Intel planned it - and even then, it's only a repeat of the same core arch.

    If Bulldozer is no more efficient than the phenom, you will have AMD win in perf/watt/dollar until ib is out, and then the only advantage will be the 3d gate, which Intel said would amount to a dozen % improvement over standard 22nm.

    As a summary, if the Bulldozer Architecture is 12% more efficient than the Phenom 2, then the Bulldozer will destroy the Westmere-EX at the same process, and face the ivy bridge as an equal.

    Considering the design options picked by AMD on bulldozer, I'm quite confident it'll be at least 12% more efficient through architecture.

    And even if Intel is good at marketing, AMD has been gaining share and will gain more in the future.

    Intel said this ?" With their latest chip, Intel promises up to 40% better performance at slightly lower power consumption."

    Well that means that shrinking from 45nm to 32nm yields 30% (pinch of salt ;) ) improvement.

    Make no mistake, Bulldozer will totally kill the Sandy Bridge based offerings, by at least a 30% margin on perf/watt/dollar and I would expect this to be in the 40-50% range with the architecture changes.
  • alent1234 - Monday, May 23, 2011 - link

    nobody ever got fired for buying IBM. or these days Intel and Microsoft.

    by the time you price out a HP Proliant with AMD CPU's it's the same price or more than an Intel based server. maybe just a little cheaper. and the AMD CPU's do a lot worse on benchmarks that test more real world performance like database OLTP and other more common server tasks.

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