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Intel releases its new E5-2600 Xeon v2 server CPUs

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September 15, 2013

Intel has released its new Ivy Bridge-EP Xeon E5-2600 v2 server CPUs. How are these new processors going to stack up to the existing Sandy Bridge-EP Xeon E5-2600 v1 chips? Let's find out. The three variants of the Xeon E5-2600 v2 chips plug into the same sockets as the prior v2 processors and have the same thermal envelopes, and that means server makers don't have to do a lot of reengineering to fit the new CPUs.

Because of the three new variants, which have a more balanced cache and main memory bandwidth and performance as the cores scale up, server makers will be able to more precisely target specific chip SKUs to particular workloads.

But overall, the main differences between the two chip families for two-socket units make the price/performance comparisons difficult at the chip and system level.

For this new batch of CPUs, Intel doesn't provide relative performance metrics, and largely relies on the benchmark tests from its server partners to demonstrate the IT industry.

We are providing here a basic price/performance comparison between the v1 and v2 families of the Xeon E5-2600 chips, but just keep in mind that adding up the aggregate clocks in each chip and dividing that into the cost of each chip isn't particularly scientific.

Enterprise customers don't buy processors, except in the cases of many high frequency stock traders and some supercomputer customers who always need top performance. They buy systems, and they want to know what the performance differences will be at the system level and how the price may change as well.

Hewlett Packard is dropping the Xeon E5-2600 v2 processors into the bulk of its ProLiant 8th Generation family from the get-go, including the ProLiant DL-350, DL-360, and DL-380 servers, the BL460 blades, and the SL230, SL250, and SL270 hyperscale machines.

Jim Ganthier, vice president of marketing for the HP Servers division, says that in some cases, the Ivy Bridge-EP SKUs cost a little more, but that HP has a number of other levers it can pull in the system configuration that can offset these costs.

One of those levers is the three-rank registered DIMM memory stick that it has designed with several memory makers. This USB stick features 24 GB of capacity of 1.35 volt memory onto a stick that costs the same as a 16 GB RDIMM stick. That 24 GB stick uses 35 percent less power and offers about 25 percent better performance than the 16 GB stick.

"I would call them roughly the same," Ganthier says of the prices on ProLiant machines using the v1 and v2 processors. "The price increase is minimal, but the performance increase will be pretty damned decent."

As for target customers, those using ProLiant servers with Xeon 5500 or older processors are prime candidates, with their machines being more than four years old at this point.

HP does have processor upgrade kits available for those ProLiant, SL6500, and SL2500 Gen8 customers, and the SmartSocket it created for the 8th Generation servers to help make installing processors easier (without bending the pins) will certainly help those customers who want to do a socket swap.

"The bulk of our systems will be new products," Ganthier says. "There aren't a lot of people who want to crack open a server."

Over at supercomputer maker Cray, Barry Bolding, vice president of marketing, expects plenty of upgrades and also to ship the new chips in high-end servers that were booked for sale months ago but which are being built for delivery now.

Like HP, Cray isn't expecting to change the price of a rack of its high-end XC-30 machines, which use its Aries XC interconnect system, or more traditional CS-300 clusters and which generally have Infini Band interconnects between the nodes.

But Cray is expecting a big performance boost based on the SKUs it places into its systems. "We are most happy that this isn't just a clock speed or core upgrade," says Bolding, "but a balanced upgrade with cache and bandwidth scaling."

In the XC-30 supers, Cray only supported the 8-core variants of the Xeon E5-2600 v1 processors, and with the v2 chips, only the ten-core and twelve-core variants will be supported.

The CS-300 line will support a wider variety of SKUs than the XC-30s, but then again, given the parallel nature of the workloads, enterprise customers will tend to want to push the core count and not the clocks.

Bolding says that if your workload is memory-constrained – such as a heavy fluid dynamics application – then the ten-core Ivy Bridge-EP is generally better for your specific needs. If you don't have memory constraints then the twelve-core chip will offer better performance for the money.

So how much extra floppage is there in the Cray servers using top-bin parts moving from the Xeon E5-2600 v1 chip to the V2? If you take a rack of the XC-30 machines, you will get 99 teraflops per rack with the v2 chips compared to 66 teraflops for the v1 chips.

The less dense air-cooled XC30-AC machines will have thirty-three teraflops for the new chips, and 22 teraflops for the older processors.

And a rack of the CS-300s will weigh in at just 41 teraflops compared to 28 teraflops with the earlier Xeon E5-2600s.

As a rule of thumb, the important element to remember here is that the new processors represent about 20 to 30 percent of the cost of a system, depending on the architecture of the server.

It's a higher percentage in a plain vanilla and a lower percentage in a supercomputer node that has something as sophisticated as the Aries interconnect system. If a processor price goes up by 10 or 15 percent, the net effect on the system price is much smaller, maybe only 2 to 5 percent of a price increase at the system level.

For its part, SGI is telling enterprise customers to expect something in the order of 40 percent more aggregate performance per rack with its ICE-X node clusters, and similarly that the prices at the system level for its ICE-X and Rackable machines, which were initially aimed mostly at hyperscale data center operators but have been tailored to run Hadoop big data munchers, will go up a tiny bit.

Bill Mannel, vice president of product marketing at SGI, says the 80-20 rule is used among its customers, differentiating the processor cost from the value of the rest of the system, and therefore the system costs are not expected to rise by all that much.

But what SGI is no doubt looking ahead for is the delivery of the Ivy Bridge-EP variants of the Xeon E5-4600 v2 processors, which will give its "Ultraviolet" UV 2000 shared memory systems a significant performance boost.

For now, Intel hasn't said when to expect these variants of its new Xeon line of processors, which are designed for less-costly four-socket servers, but which SGI puts together in two-socket units using the extra QuickPath Interconnect links on the chip to hook into its NUMALink 6 interconnect system.

Source: Intel Corp.

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