Energy and Pricing

Unfortunately, accurately and fairly comparing energy consumption at the system level between the S822L and other systems wasn't something we were able to do, as there were quite a few differences in the hardware configuration. For example, the IBM S822L had two SAS controllers and we had no idea how power hungry that chip under the copper heatsink was. Still there is no doubt that the dual CPU system is by far the most important power consumer when the server system is under load. In case of the IBM system, the Centaur chips will take their fair share too, but those chips are not optional. So we can only get a very rough idea how the power consumption compares.

Xeon E5 299 v3/POWER8 Comparison (System)
Feature 2x Xeon E5-2699v3 2x IBM POWER8 3.4 10c
IBM S822L
Idle 110-120W 360-380W

Running NAMD (FP)


540-560W

700-740W
Running 7-zip (Integer)

300-350W


780-800W

The Haswell core was engineered for mobile use, and there is no denying that Intel's engineers are masters at saving power at low load.


The mightly POWER8 is cooled by a huge heatsink

IBM's POWER8 has pretty advanced power management, as besides p-states, power gating cores and the associated L3-cache should be possible. However, it seems that these features were not enabled out-of-the box for some reason as idle power was quite high. To be fair, we spent much more time on getting our software ported and tuned than on finding the optimal power settings. In the limited time we had with the machine, producing some decent benchmarking numbers was our top priority.

Also, the Centaur chips consume about 16W per chip (Typical, 20W TDP) and as we had 8 of them inside our S822L, those chips could easily be responsible for consuming around 100W.

Interestingly, the IBM POWER8 consumes more energy processing integers than floating point numbers. Which is the exact opposite of the Xeon, which consumes vastly more when crunching AVX/FP code.

Pricing

Though the cost of buying a system might be only "a drop in the bucket" in the total TCO picture in traditional IT departements running expensive ERP applications, it is an important factor for almost everybody else who buys Xeon systems. It is important to note that the list prices of IBM on their website are too high. It is a bad habit of a typical tier-one OEM.

Thankfully we managed to get some "real street prices", which are between 30% (one server) and 50% (many) lower. To that end we compared the price of the S822L with a discounted DELL R730 system. The list below is not complete, as we only show the cost of the most important components. The idea is to focus on the total system price and show which components contribute the most to the total system cost.

Xeon E7v3/POWER8 Price Comparison
Feature Dell R730 IBM S822L
  Type Price Type Price
Chassis R730 N/A S822L N/A
Processor 2x E5-2697 $5000 2x POWER8 3.42 $3000
RAM 8x 16GB
DDR4 DIMM
$2150 8x 16 GB CDIMM (DDR3) $8000
PSU 2x 1100W $500 2x 1400W $1000
Disks SATA or SSD Starting at
$200
SAS HD/SSD +/- $450
Total system price (approx.)   $10k   $15k

With more or less comparable specs, the S822L was about 50% more expensive. However, it was almost impossible to make an apples-to-apples comparison. The biggest "price issue" are the CDIMMs, which are almost 4 times as expensive as "normal" RDIMMs. CDIMMs offer more as they include an L4-cache and some extra features (such as a redundant memory chip for each 9 chips). For most typical current Xeon E5 customers, the cost issue will be important. For a few, the extra redundancy and higher bandwidth will be interesting. Less important, but still significant is the fact that IBM uses SAS disks, which increase the cost of the storage system, especially if you want lots of them.

This cost issue will be much less important on most third party POWER8 systems. Tyan's "Habanero" system for example integrates the Centaur chips on the motherboard, making the motherboard more expensive but you can use standard registered DDR3L RDIMMs, which are much cheaper. Meanwhile the POWER8 processor tends to be very reasonably priced, at around $1500. That is what Dell would charge for an Intel Xeon E5-2670 (12 cores at 2.3-2.6 GHz, 120W). So while Intel's Xeon are much more power efficient than the POWER8 chips, the latter tends to be quite a bit cheaper.

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  • extide - Friday, November 6, 2015 - link

    No he meant that in a lot of the european countries they use the dot as a comma, so it would be 50.000 to mean 50 thousand. Reply
  • Murloc - Sunday, November 8, 2015 - link

    the international system dictates that , and . are the same thing, and as a separator you should use a space.
    In many countries in Europe, ' is also used. That's fine too as there is no ambiguity.
    Using . and , for anything that is not the decimal separator in international websites just creates confusion imho.
    I guess AT doesn't have a style book though.
    Reply
  • duploxxx - Friday, November 6, 2015 - link

    nice review.
    but Xeon is not 95% of the market. AMD is still just a bit above 5% on its own. so it deserves a bit salt :) not to mention the fact that competition is good for all of us. if reviewers continue like this all narrowed readers will think there is no competition.
    Reply
  • silverblue - Friday, November 6, 2015 - link

    I'm left wondering what a Steamroller-based 16+ core CPU would do here, considering multithreading is better than with previous models. Yes, the Xeons have a large single-threading lead, but more cores = good in the server world, not to mention that such a CPU would severely undercut the price of the competition.

    Shame it isn't ever going to happen!
    Reply
  • lmcd - Friday, November 6, 2015 - link

    Or even an Excavator! It's a shame AMD didn't just keep Bulldozer developing internally until at least Piledriver, and iterate on Thuban. Reply
  • Kevin G - Saturday, November 7, 2015 - link

    AMD killed off both Streamroller and Excavator chips early on as the Bulldozer and Piledriver chips weren't as competitive. More importantly, OEMs simply were not interested even if those parts were upgrades based upon existing designs. Thus the great AMD server drought began as they effectively have left that market and are hoping for a return with Zen.

    Also I should point out that Seattle, AMD's first ARM based Opteron has yet to arrive. This was supposed to be out a year ago and keep AMD's server business going throughout 2015 during the wait for Zen and K12 in 2016. Well K12 has already been delayed into 2017 and Seattle is no where to be found in commercial systems (there are a handle of Seattle developer boards).
    Reply
  • JoeMonco - Saturday, November 7, 2015 - link

    When you account for only 5% of the market while the other side commands 95%, you aren't really much of a credible competitor. Reply
  • xype - Sunday, November 8, 2015 - link

    That’s not always correct, though. You can have 5% of the market and 20% of the profits, for example, which would put you in a way better position than your competitors (because only a small increase in market share would pay big time). Reply
  • Murloc - Sunday, November 8, 2015 - link

    that applies more to consumer products, e.g. apple. Reply
  • dgingeri - Friday, November 6, 2015 - link

    I've been dealing with IBM Power based machines for 5 years now. Such experience has only given me a major disdain for AIX.

    I do NOT advise it for anyone. It sucks to work on. There is a certain consistent, spartan logic to it, but it is difficult to learn, and learning materials are EXTREMELY expensive. I never liked the idea of paying $12,000 for a one week class that taught me barely a tenth of what I needed to know to run an AIX network. (My company paid for the class, but I could not get them to pay for the rest of them, for some reason.) This makes people who can support AIX extremely expensive to employ. Figure on paying twice the rate of a Windows admin in order to employ an AIX admin. Then there is the massive expense of maintenance agreements. Even the software only maintenance agreement, just to get patches for AIX, is $4000 per year per system. They may be competitive in cost up front, but they drain money like vampires to maintain.

    Even the most modern IBM Power based machine takes 20-30 minutes to reboot or power up due to POST diagnostics. That alone is annoying enough to make me avoid AIX as much as I can.
    Reply

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