Five years. That is how much time has passed since we have seen an affordable server processor that could keep up with or even beat Intel's best Xeons. These days no less than 95% of the server CPUs shipped are Intel Xeons. A few years ago, it looked like ARM servers were going to shake up the market this year, but to cut a long story short, it looks like the IBM POWER8 chip is probably the only viable alternative for the time being.

That was also noticeable in our Xeon E7 review, which was much more popular than we ever hoped. One of the reasons was the inclusion of a few IBM POWER8 benchmarks. We admit that the article was however incomplete: the POWER8 development machine we tested was a virtual machine with only 1 core, 8 threads and 2 GB of RAM, which is not enough to do any thorough server testing.

After seeing the reader interest in POWER8 in that previous article, we decided to investigate the matter further. To that end we met with Franz Bourlet, an enthusiastic technical sales engineer at IBM and he made sure we got access to an IBM S822L server. Thanks to Franz and the good people of Arrow Enterprise Computing Solutions, Arrow was able to lend us an IBM S822L server for our testing.

A Real Alternative?

Some of you may argue that the POWER based servers have been around for years now. But the slide below illustrates what we typically associated IBM's POWER range with:

Proudly, the IBM sales team states that you can save 1.5 million dollars after you have paid them 2 million dollars for your high-end 780 system. There is definitely a market for such hugely expensive and robust server systems as high end RISC machines are good for about 50,000 clients. But frankly for most of us, those systems are nothing more than an expensive curiosity.

Availability can be handled by software and most of us are looking/forced to reduce our capital expenses rather than increase them. We want fast, "reliable enough" servers at low costs that are easy to service. And that is exactly the reason why the single and dual sockets Xeon servers have been so popular the past decade. Can an IBM POWER server be a real alternative to the typical Xeon E5 server? The short but vague answer: a lot has changed in the past years and months. So yes, maybe.

Challenging the Xeon
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  • joegee - Thursday, November 19, 2015 - link

    It was an awesome community. I learned so much from everyone. I remember the days when we'd write pages arguing whether AMD's new 64 bit extension to x86 was truly 64 bit. The discussions could be heated, but they were seldom rude. I wish there were something similar today. :/ Reply
  • Kevin G - Saturday, November 07, 2015 - link

    Aces brings back memories for me as well even though I mainly lurked there.

    A solid chunk of that group have moved over to RWT.
    Reply
  • joegee - Thursday, November 19, 2015 - link

    What is RWT? Reply
  • psychobriggsy - Friday, November 06, 2015 - link

    Get back to Aces Hardware you! Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Saturday, November 07, 2015 - link

    Like Ryan said, I have been working 11 years at Anand. In other words, it is great working at Anandtech. AT is one of the few tech sites out there that still values deep analysis and allows the editors to take the time to delve deep. Reply
  • joegee - Friday, November 06, 2015 - link

    And still writing as well as you ever did! Keep up the good work, Johan! Reply
  • rrossi - Saturday, November 07, 2015 - link

    Dear Johan nice article. Did u ever consider sparse system solving (with preconditioning) as a sensitive benchmark? It is a crucial stage of most scientific applications and it is a bandwidth limited operation with a high degree of parallelism. It would be definitely interesting to see how the power 8 fares on such a test. If you are interested I think I could provide a pointer to a simple benchmark (to be compiled). If you feel it may be interesting just drop me an email. Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Saturday, November 07, 2015 - link

    Interested... mail me, I don't have your mail. See the author link on top of the article. Reply
  • Ian Cutress - Saturday, November 07, 2015 - link

    I'd also like to be pointed to such a benchmark for workstation style tests on x86. Please email ian@anandtech.com with info :) Reply
  • MartinT - Friday, November 06, 2015 - link

    Johan's been with Anandtech for more than a decade, and has been publishing on the subject since the late 90s.

    But I very much second your "Niiiiice!," as reading his name always reminds me of the old days over at aceshardware, and I'm always looking forward to his insights!
    Reply

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