Friday, December 22, 2006

Tech Link (Platform): Octa-Core Computing : Intel’s Cloverton Xeon Processor

This is a bit late, but I since I missed posting it, I figure better late than never. So, GamePC has put up an article for which I can't do because, well, I'll get my ass kicked for breaking NDA. Anyway, they have a comprehensive review, but I only have one peeve: they mentioned they have a Maxon Cinebench 9.5 benchmark but they actually don't have it in there :(. Bummer....

The Final Word

Intel’s new quad-core Xeon 5300 series processors can offer spectacular performance at fairly low clock speeds, while at the same time consuming no more power or creating no more heat compared to higher-clocked dual-core variants. On a technical level, we feel that the chip is certainly a success, as one can now deploy eight-core systems just as easily as dual and quad-core systems of yesteryear. With new standard ATX sized Xeon motherboards from Tyan and Supermicro, it’s also now possible to have eight-core computing in a standard ATX sized case, something which would simply be impossible as of last year. Eight-core systems used to require proprietary (read : ultra expensive) components and were extremely limited, whereas with these new Xeon 5300’s, one can assemble an eight-core system using over the counter components.

As one would expect, Intel’s quad-core Xeon processors are quite expensive - roughly double the price of their dual-core brethren at the same clock speeds. Price wise, an eight-core setup with 2 x 1.86 GHz quad-core processors will cost about the same as a quad-core setup with 2 x 3.0 GHz dual-core processors. So, which is better, more cores or higher-clocked cores? Turns out that in the majority of our benchmarks, a highly-clocked quad-core setup will outperform a lower-clocked eight-core system in most real-world applications. This is simply due to the fact that most applications don’t know how to handle eight cores, whereas most multi-threaded applications can properly handle four cores without getting too confused. If you have an application which is heavily multi-threaded and can take advantage of eight cores, the Xeon 5300’s actually provide better price/performance compared to the dual-core 5100 series. However, such applications are extremely rare on the market.

For everyone outside of the high-end server market, or those who heavily multi-task with multi-threaded applications, this chip will simply be overkill. However, an interesting area to consider will be virtualization, which will very likely show these eight-core processors in a much more positive light. A fairly inexpensive eight-core system could potentially run dozens of servers at with low power consumption and low-heat, which is certainly attractive for potential rackmount customers. For workstation and desktop users though, we would recommend sticking with the dual-core Xeon 5100 series until quad-core prices drop and software can catch up with what this hardware is capable of.

While it’s a great product to drool over, the real-world benefits of an eight core system are few and far between for the vast amount of users out there. Even during heavy multi-tasking, we couldn’t feel a difference between and eight-core and a four-core system. We applaud Intel for getting the prices of eight-core systems down to a far lower-level than they once we, and once again raising the stakes against AMD (who won’t have eight-core systems available until mid-2007). We’ll update our scores once Intel starts shipping the high-grade (2.33/2.66 GHz) quad-core Xeons in the coming month.

Source:Octa-Core Computing : Intel’s Cloverton Xeon Processor

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