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Quad Core CPUs Shift The Paradigm

Original Article Date: 2007-1-23

In this issue I wanted to catch up on three new developments that have occurred in the server and workstation space over the last couple of months, namely:

1. Intel launches the Quad-Core Xeon - the 5300 series.
2. Intel launches "Core 2 Duo" for Server - the Xeon 3000 series.
3. DDR-2 Quad-Core Ready 4 and 8-way AMD systems now shipping.

Quad Core CPUs Shift the Paradigm

Our first Quad Core Workstation, built earlier this month 

It doesn't seem that long ago that I was talking excitedly about the release of dual-core CPUs and what that meant for the server and workstation market. In fact, Intel were quite a bit behind AMD in releasing the dual-core Xeon 5000/5100 series only 9 months ago.

Well Intel are on a roll, it seems, as they've followed up on the 5000 and 5100 series with the Quad-Core 5300 ("Clovertown") series so soon. The chips were released to general availability only last month, and immediately we had customers place orders for workstations based on two of these powerhouse CPUs at the heart of the machine.

2 "Processors" x 4 Cores = 8 Cores!

We got our hands on the chips just a few weeks ago, and here are some pictures of one of the workstations, including screenshots showing the amazing statistic of EIGHT CPUs available to the operating system. Remember that hyper-threading is no longer a feature of Xeon CPUs, so when you see 8 CPUs in Task Manager, it means you are actually getting eight real, meaty CPUs to play with. Such awesome power, only 12 months ago would have cost you upwards of $12,000, in the guise of a 4P (four-socket) dual-core AMD system. The machine you can see in the picture (yes, that beautiful case is a Lian-Li, if you're wondering) cost just under $6,000!

Stop and think about that for a minute. A server with four times the power of a 2P (dual-socket) single-core solution that was your only Intel choice just a year ago, and for not much more money. This is a paradigm shift of consequence for server density and power. Imagine having one of these in a 1U form-factor doing the same amount of work as four 1U single-core dual-xeons previously. That's quadruple the computing density.

No, not a product of Hyperthreading, but 8 Genuine CPUs available to Windows XP!

Just as important is the change to the workstation space. Engineering and visual effects professionals want oodles of power, but don't want a noisy 4P or 8P behemoth sitting on their desk. With a 2P quad-core workstation like the one in the picture, they can get monstrous amounts of rendering power on their desk, with the whisper-quiet operation of a desktop chassis. The reason these new quad-core workstations can be so quiet is because the Clovertown CPUs are highly efficient in terms of power usage. The workstation pictured used a maximum of 330W of power, and that included a Quadro FX3500 graphics card in the equation. It ran very quietly, even at full load. Intel really do have the edge over AMD right now, on the performance-per-watt metric.

Ok, so you've probably heard, the Clovertown 5300 series CPU is not a true quad-core CPU on a single piece of silicon, but two dual-core dies stuck together. This is true, but it's nit-picking to say so really, as you're getting a 4MB L2 cache shared between each pair, giving you 8MB in total. Are you going to complain about that?

"True" quad-core is expected to hit the market first by AMD, expected in late Q2 07, with Intel following shortly after. You can watch this space, but not too closely because, right now, you can have eight cores under the hood!

And it's not just the Clovertown 5300 series that has gone quad-core. The Xeon 3000 series for 1P servers (see section below), and Core 2 CPUs for desktops and entry-workstations are now also shipping with Quad Core. In short, ALL our Intel based solutions can now be configured with one or two quad core CPUs!

Intel's Best Desktop CPU Comes to the Entry Server Market

Many of you are aware of the Intel Core 2 Duo CPU and how it has revolutionized the desktop market since its launch earlier last year. The replacement for the veteran Pentium series, the Core 2 Duo took many ideas its design from the much vaunted Pentium M chip, and incorporated other new features and refinements that enabled much more computing power to be performed during a given clock cycle.

The result was that this chip could perform more powerfully that it's immediate predecessor - the Pentium D, at a much lower clock speed. As power input and heat output are directly related to clock speed, this meant that the Core 2 Duo could get about the same amount of work done at only half the power of a Pentium D, and with only half the cooling requirements, which means that they run very quiet even at full load.

We have featured the Core 2 Duo in our entry workstation, the CANNAE model, since the CPU's launch, but we waited eagerly for a development of serverboards that would host this awesome chip for our entry server models. As it turned out, we had to wait a while, and in the end they didn't launch serverboards for the Core 2 Duo, but rather, a new processor, the Xeon 3000!

Intel were smart - they decided to leverage the "Xeon" name heritage, and repackage the Core microarchitecture for the server market as a Xeon. A 3000 series designation for 1P (single socket) designs has been used, lower in numbering compared to the 5000 series for 2P and the 7000 series for 4P. It had always been my opinion that branding the Pentium for the server market was a mistake, as it told buyers that "all you're really getting is a desktop in that rack" when they were considering an entry server. By deciding to go with Core on the server market as Xeon, Intel are using a consistent image across that space, distinct from the desktop side.

We have two server solutions available using the Xeon 3000 series - the BARNARD 1U entry server, and the PALOMAR entry tower server. Both represent unprecedented levels of power at these low price points, and with the now legendary low wattage levels available with the Core microarchitecture, the 24/7 running costs of these machines will also be much lower than the previous Pentium generation.

8-Way AMD Supercomputing Now Quad-Core Ready

The last of the recent technology releases that I wanted to mention has been on the supercomputing side from AMD.

As I mentioned in October's article, AMD have fought back against the Intel onslaught with the new Socket F DDR2 Quad-Core Ready platform, launched in Q3 of last year. In addition to the 1P and 2P capable CPUs in that launch came the 8200 series CPUs, dual-core DDR2 and up to 8P capable.

But we had to wait until recently before platform support became available. With the launch of the Tyan VX50-B4985 platform, we can now provide the FUJI server and SOLOMON workstation solutions of 4P and 8P with the new Socket F design.

As Socket F is Quad-Core ready, any 4P and 8P systems that we build now can later be upgraded to Quad-Core upon the release of these CPUs. This means that, potentially, you will be able to run an 5U 8P box, with each socket housing four cores - that's 32 cores in total! 32 CPUs at your disposal. Small Business Supercomputing suddenly just doubled in potential!

Ben Ranson
Chief Systems Engineer