If you wanted to find out what the fastest desktop CPU is, it would just take a few clicks and you would have 10 reviews at your disposal. If you're trying to put together a workstation system, you'll have a bit less to go off of but there is still more than enough information available to help make your decision. But when it comes to servers, the information flow is severely reduced.

Generally speaking, you'll find reviews of individual servers from Dell and HP but you won't find the type of component level comparisons we're used to seeing in the desktop and workstation sectors.

There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, it's very difficult to test the performance of CPUs and platforms in a server environment without actually setting up such an environment. Especially as you get into the 4-way and beyond realms, it becomes very difficult to stress those systems. There are industry standard benchmarks that can be used but again, they are very costly to run and require a great deal of setup. In the desktop and workstation worlds, you simply load up the application you wish to measure performance under and find a benchmark to help you gauge performance.

Putting the difficulty of finding benchmarks aside, other issues need to be taken into account. A huge value in the server market lies in manageability features, which are generally platform/motherboard specific and even system specific. With servers hundreds or thousands of miles away from those that need to work on them, being able to perform simple tasks like flashing a BIOS, power cycling a system or faulting a failed SCSI drive is critical to uptime. If you've ever tried to reboot your crashed home PC while 30 minutes away at work you'll realize that these features must be added by an OEM. These features don't shine through, however, when you're just comparing two CPUs and how they perform in a particular server application. You may have one CPU that is twice as fast as another, but it lacks any platforms with the manageability features necessary for the market.

Then there are issues of reliability and support that are even more difficult to test. In the end, there is good reason for the lack of component level testing for servers. When we have to upgrade our servers, we don't turn to Dell or HP; we configure the platforms ourselves and it's helpful to know what offers the most bang for your buck and what does end up offering the best performance. After all, we manage these servers ourselves and we are in the position to try solutions that aren't necessarily proven but just need a chance to shine. If you ask a Fortune 500 company to move over their servers to AMD's first multiprocessor platform ever, they won't even return your phone calls, but we'll definitely do it (and we have).

That brings us to the current issue at hand; when the Intel Xeon processor launched last May it performed well but was easily beaten by the 1.2GHz Athlon MP processor just one month later. On the desktop end, the new 0.13-micron Northwood based Pentium 4 processors are finally outperforming the Athlon XPs, but will this translate into similar results in the server world?

We asked ourselves the same question as we took the three databases that power AnandTech and benchmarked the latest entry-level 2-way server CPUs. The data ended up being extremely useful to us and thus we decided to share it.

The Contenders: Athlon MP 2000+ vs. Intel Xeon 2.2GHz
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