Comparing Benchmarks: AT vs IBM

Before we close things out, let's spend a moment summarizing our results and comparing the performance we saw to the kind of performance advantages that IBM advertises POWER8 is capable of.

From a high level perspective, the S822L is more expensive and consumes a lot more power than a comparable Xeon system.

With limited optimization and with the current Ubuntu 15.04, the performance-per-watt ratio favors Intel even more as the POWER8 barely outperforms the very efficient 120W TDP Xeons. So there is no denying that the Intel systems offer a superior performance/watt ratio.

However, it would be unfair to base our judgement on our first attempt as we have to admit this our first real attempt to benchmark and test the POWER8 platform. It is very likely that we will manage to extract quite a bit more performance out of the system on our second attempt. IBM POWER8 also has a big advantage in memory bandwidth. But we did not manage to port OpenFOAM to the POWER platform, probably the most likely candidate for leveraging that advantage.

We are less convinced that the POWER8 platform has a huge "raw CPU compute advantage," contrary to what for example IBM's SPECJBB (85% faster ) and SAP (29% faster) results seem to suggest.

For example, IBM's own SPECjEnterprise®2010 benchmarking shows that:

SAP is "low IPC" (hard to run many instructions in parallel in one thread) software that benefits much from low latency caches. The massive L3-cache (12-cores, 96 MB) and huge thread count are probably giving the IBM POWER8 the edge. The RAM bandwidth also helps, but in a lesser degree. IBM clearly built POWER8 with this kind of software in mind. We had individual threadcount intensive benchmarks (LZMA decompression) and L3-cache sensitive benchmarks (ElasticSearch), but t o be fair to IBM, none of our benchmarks leveraged the three strongest points (threadcount, L3-cache size and memory bandwidth) all at once like SAP.

SPECJBB2013 has recently been discontinued as it was not reliable enough. We tend to trust the jEnterprise test a lot more. In any case, the best POWER8 has a 17% advantage there.

Considering that the POWER8 inside that S824 has 20% more cores and a 3% higher clockspeed, our 3.4 GHz 10-core CPU would probably be slightly behind the Xeon E5-2697 v3. We found out that the 10-core POWER8 is slightly faster than Xeon E5-2695 v3. The Xeon E5-2695 v3 is very similar to the E5-2697 v3, it is just running at a 10% lower clockspeed (All core turbo: 2.8GHz vs 3.1GHz). So all in all, our benchmarks seems to be close to the official benchmarks, albeit slightly lower.

Closing Thoughts: A Mix of Xeon "E5" and "E7"

So let's sum things up. The IBM S822L is definitely not a good choice for those looking to lower their energy bills or operate in a location with limited cooling. The pricing of the CDIMMs causes it to be more expensive than a comparable Xeon E5 based server. However, you get something in return: the CDIMMs should offer higher reliability and are more similar to the memory subsystem of the E7 than the E5. Also, PCIe adapters are hot-pluggable on the S822L and can be replaced without bringing down the system. With most Xeon E5 systems, only disks, fans and PSU are hot-pluggable.

In a number of ways then, the S822L is more a competitor to dual Xeon E7 systems than it is to dual Xeon E5 systems. In fact, a dual Xeon E7 server consumes in the 600-700W range, and in that scenario the power usage of S822L (700-800W) does not seem outrageous anymore.

The extra reliability is definitely a bonus when running real time data analytics or virtualization. A failing memory chip may cost a lot when you running fifty virtual machines on top of a server. Even in some HPC or batch data analytics applications where you have to wait for hours for a certain result that is being computed in an enormous amount of memory, the cost savings of being able to survive a failing memory chip might be considerable.

One more thing: for those who need full control, the fact that every layer in the software stack is open makes the S822L very attractive. For now, the available "OpenCompute" Xeon servers that are also "open" seem to mostly density optimized servers and the openess seems limited on several levels. Rackspace felt that the current OpenCompute servers are not "open enough", and went for OpenPOWER servers instead. In all those markets, the S822L is very interesting alternative to the dual Xeon E5 servers.

Ultimately however, the performance-per-dollar Xeon E5 competitors will most likely be OpenPOWER third party servers. Those servers do not use CDIMMS, but regular RDIMMs. Other components such as disks, networkcards and PSUs will probably be cheaper but potentially also slightly less reliable.

All in all, the arrival of OpenPOWER servers is much more exciting than most of us anticipated. Although the IBM POWER8 servers can not beat the performance/watt ratio of the Xeon, we now have a server processor that is not only cheaper than Intel's best Xeons, but that can also keep up with them. Combine that with the fact that IBM has lined up POWER8+ for next year and a whole range of server vendors is building their own POWER8 based servers, and we have a lot to look forward to!

Energy and Pricing


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  • FunBunny2 - Friday, November 6, 2015 - link

    "The z10 processor was co-developed with and shares many design traits with the POWER6 processor, such as fabrication technology, logic design, execution unit, floating-point units, bus technology (GX bus) and pipeline design style, i.e., a high frequency, low latency, deep (14 stages in the z10), in-order pipeline." from the Wiki.

    Yes, the z continues the CISC ISA from the 360 (well, sort of) rather than hardware RISC, but as Intel (amongst others) has demonstrated, CISC ISA doesn't have to be in hardware. In fact, the 360/30 (lowest tier) was wholly emulated, as was admitted then. Today, we'd say "micro-instructions". All those billions of transistors could have been used to implement X86 in hardware, but Intel went with emulation, sorry micro-ops.

    What matters is the underlying fab tech. That's not going anywhere.
  • FunBunny2 - Friday, November 6, 2015 - link

    ^^ should have gone to KevinG!! Reply
  • Kevin G - Saturday, November 7, 2015 - link

    The GX bus in the mainframes was indeed shared by POWER chips as that enabled system level component sharing (think chipsets).

    However, attributes like the execution unit and the pipeline depth are different between the POWER6 and z10. At a bird's eye view, they do look similar but the implementation is genuinely different.

    Other features like SMT were introduced with the POWER5 but only the most recent z13 chip has 2 way SMT. Features like out-of-order execution, SMT, SIMD were once considered too exotic to validate in the mainframe market that needed absolute certainty in its hardware states. However, recent zArch chips have implemented these features, sometimes decades after being introduced in POWER.

    The other thing is that IBM has been attempting to get get more and more of the zArch instruction set to be executed by hardware and no microcode. Roughly 75% to 80% of instructions are handled by microcode (there is a bit of a range here as some are conditional to use microcode).
  • JohanAnandtech - Saturday, November 7, 2015 - link

    I believe that benchmark uses about 8 threads and not very well either? Secondly, it is probably very well optimized for SSE/AVX. So you can imagine that the POWER8 will not be very good at it, unless we manually optimize it for Altivec/VSX. And that is beyond my skills :-) Reply
  • UrQuan3 - Monday, December 21, 2015 - link

    I'm sure no one is still reading this as I'm posting over a month later, but...

    I tested handbrake/x264 on a bunch of cross-platform builds including Raspberry Pi 2. I found it would take 24 RPi2s to match a single i5-4670K. That was a gcc compiled handbrake on Raspbian vs the heavily optimized DL copy for Windows. Not too bad really. Also, x264 seems to scale fairly well with the number of cores. Still, POWER8 unoptimized would be interesting, though not a fair test.

    BTW, I'd encourage you to use a more standard Linux version than 6-month experimental little-endian version of Ubuntu. The slides you show advertise support for Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, not 15.04. For something this new, you may need the latest, but that is often not the case.
  • stun - Friday, November 6, 2015 - link

    @Johan You might want to fix "the platform" hyperlink at the bottom of page 4. It is invalid. Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Friday, November 6, 2015 - link

    Thanks and fixed. Reply
  • Ahkorishaan - Friday, November 6, 2015 - link

    Couldn't read past the graphic on page 1. It's 2015 IBM, time to use a font that doesn't look like a toddler's handwriting. Reply
  • xype - Sunday, November 8, 2015 - link

    To be fair, it seems that the slide is meant for management types… :P Reply
  • Jtaylor1986 - Friday, November 6, 2015 - link

    Using decimals instead of commas to denote thousands is jarring to your North American readers. Reply

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