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Intel wants vintage x64 servers on rubbish heap

Time to buy Westmere, says Westmere maker

Intel colored glasses

The scenario that Intel painted above is a particularly rosy one, given that Java performance gains over the Xeon 5500s are highest for the Xeon 5600s, an increase of 46 per cent according to Intel's tests. Also painting some more pink on the lenses in Intel's benchmark comparisons is the fact that it pitted a six-core 130 watt Xeon X5680 part running at 3.33 GHz against a four-core Xeon 5570 running at 2.93 GHz to come up with its benchmark ratings.

That's not exactly a kosher comparison, since very few server buyers will go anywhere near the 130 watt parts and will be happier with the 95 watt Xeon 5600s, which top out at the same 2.93 GHz with the Xeon X5670. If performance scales roughly with clock speed, that clock speed differential (3.33 GHz versus 2.93 GHz) accounts for about 14 per cent of the performance increase of the move from Xeon 5500s to Xeon 5600s and also helps with consolidation ratios from older machines, too.

You have to read the fine detail with all chip makers.

On what Intel calls mainstream enterprise applications, SAP ERP performance on the top-end Xeon 5680 was only up 27 per cent compared to the Xeon X5570, and raw integer performance is up 40 per cent, virtualization VM guest count is up 42 per cent based on the VMark benchmark, and energy efficiency (as gauged by the SPECpower_ssj2008 benchmark) was up 42 per cent.

For the propellerheads, memory bandwidth is up by 20 per cent, floating point math is up by 25 per cent, and on many HPC and financial services applications, performance improvements on a two-socket server using the 3.33 GHz Xeon 5680 are more than 60 per cent higher than on a machine using two 2.93 GHz Xeon 5570s. (These tests included the Linpack Fortran benchmark commonly used on supercomputers as well as Black Sholes risk calculations commonly used by financial institutions.)

In a like-for-like comparison, Intel pitted the X5570 against the X5670, both running at 2.93 GHz and both rated at 95 watts, and the latter chip delivers 40 per cent more performance per watt on the SPECpower_ssj2008 benchmark. For some reason, Intel used the SPEC_int_rate2006 test to do a energy efficiency comparison, saying that a newer low-voltage six-core Xeon L5640 running at 2.26 GHz and rated at 60 watts could deliver the same performance as a 2.93 GHz Xeon X5570 while consuming 30 per cent less electricity.

As El Reg has previously reported, the Westmere-EP chips include instructions for encrypting and decrypting data using the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) algorithm. And Boyd says the significance of this is huge. Using a Web-based banking application, Intel took a Xeon 5500 server from last year and found it could support around 13,000 users.

Turning on SSL encryption, which uses the AES algorithm, reduces the number of banking users the system can support to 10,500 - a 19.2 per cent performance hit for turning on security. But moving to a two-socket box (again, using that hot 3.33 GHz Xeon X5680 instead of the 2.93 GHz X5670) allows the banking app to have SSL encryption turned on and support 16,000 users.

That is much more dramatic than admitting that the extra performance embodied in the two extra cores in the Westmere-EPs will be burned up supporting SSL. (Yes, I know the AES is actually in all six cores). But what is true is that now Intel and its server partners can make a compelling case to that additional cryptographic processors are not necessary in x64 servers.

While all of this helps the Intel Westmere-EP sales pitch, nothing perhaps helps more than the fact that according to the analysts at Gartner, about a million servers that would have been replaced in 2009 were not, and another bunch of servers will need to be retired this year, no matter what. By Intel's estimate, about a third of the x64 installed base is still comprised of single-core x86 and x64 boxes and that a whopping 80 per cent of the installed base, when you toss in dual-core machines and even some older quad-core machines, are up for a refresh this year.

That doesn't mean those tens of millions of machines will be replaced, but it does mean that Intel and its server partners are going to make the strongest case possible that they ought to be. ®

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