High-End x86: The Nehalem EX Xeon 7500 and Dell R810by Johan De Gelas on April 12, 2010 6:00 PM EST
The stellar performance of the Xeons based on the Nehalem and Westmere architectures had a dark side for Intel: it cast a big shadow on Intel's top of the line Xeon 7400 series. You can talk about RAS features all you want but when a dual-CPU configuration outperforms quad-CPU configurations of your top-of-the-line CPU, something is wrong. And if this happens in the applications the latter is supposed to excel in, something is very wrong. SAP, OLTP, and other high-end server workloads are the workloads that are supposed to run better on the most expensive Xeon, not on the "popular" Xeon. Even worse, the AMD six-core 8000 series outperforms Intel's Xeon X7460 by a large margin as of several months ago. Quad dodeca-CPU servers will start to pop up in the shops of several tier-one OEMs any moment now, so Intel's new Xeon EX has a serious challenge.
Intel emphasizes that its Xeon X7500 series plays in a higher league than the competition from Austin. The mission of the X7560 is to beat the RISC chips. That's not a bad strategy, as the RISC server buyers are used to paying a lot more for their servers. For example, a very basic IBM Power 7 configuration startsat $34000. Intel created an octal-core 16-thread giant based on the successful Nehalem architecture. To fit in with the other RISC monsters the CPU also comes with a massive L3 cache (24MB) and a bucket load of RAS features.
On the lower-end of the targeted high-end server market, the market where x86 traditionally did well, Intel is going to get fierce completion. AMD's latest 2.2GHz twelve-core 6174 comes with a price tag of $1165, regardless of whether the server features two or four sockets. Intel however expects the server manufacturers to cough up to $3692 for a 2.26GHz X7460. It's clear that both competitors are targeting a different market.
AMD is going after the cost conscious HPC/virtualization market, offering the best price/performance and performance/watt. Intel has no intention to compete on price/performance. It targets the higher-end market where software license costs are more important than the hardware, where downtime is so costly that people are willing to pay a premium for extra reliability features, and/or where the performance demands are extremely high. Intel's objective is to offer better performance than RISC vendors with similar RAS features at a lower price point. Up to 64 cores (8x8) and 128 threads and 512GB RAM can be found in a single Xeon 7500 series machine, so scalability should be quite impressive. For those who need RAS features but have no need for high performance, Intel offers the Xeon 6000 series. In this article we take a closer look at one of the most affordable Xeon 7500/6500, the Dell R810.