What Intel and AMD Are Offering

Before we can dive into benchmarks, it is good to see how the vendors position their CPUs. Before we do that, here's a quick spec sheet overview of the most important AMD and Intel CPUs.

Processor Speed and Cache Comparison
Model Number
of cores
Clock speed L2 Cache (KB) L3 Cache (MB) Interconnect
Bandwidth
(one direction)
AMD Opteron 8439 SE 6 2.8 6 x 512 KB 6MB 9.6GB/s
Intel Xeon X7460 6 2.66 3 x 3MB 16MB Via FSB & chipset
AMD Opteron 8435 6 2.6 6 x 512 KB 6MB 9.6GB/s
Intel Xeon E7450 6 2.4 3 x 3MB 12MB Via FSB & chipset
AMD Opteron 8431 6 2.4 6 x 512 KB 6MB 9.6GB/s
Intel Xeon E7440 4 2.4 2 x 3MB 16MB Via FSB & chipset
AMD Opteron 8389 4 2.9 4 x 512 KB 6MB 8.8GB/s
Intel Xeon E7430 4 2.13 2 x 3MB 12MB Via FSB & chipset
Intel Xeon E7420 4 2.13 2 x 3MB 8MB Via FSB & chipset

Excluding the low power models, AMD offers three hex-core CPUs and Intel offers two. The gap between the top Xeon models and the midrange is remarkable: the 7440 only has four cores. That means that there is probably - roughly estimated - a gap of 30 to 50% performance between the 7440 and 7450. That gap does not exist in the AMD line-up: the Opteron 8389 has also four cores but clocks 21% higher than the 8431. The performance gap is therefore small. The pricing reflect our remarks:

Pricing
Intel Xeon Model Speed (GHz) /
TDP (W)
Price AMD Opteron Model Speed (GHz) /
ACP (W)
Price
Hex-Core
X7460 2.66/ 130W $2729 8439 SE 2.8 / 105-125W $2649
      8435 2.6 / 75 - 115W $2649
E7450 2.4 / 90W $2301 8431 2.4 /75 - 115W $2149
Quad-Core
E7440 2.4 / 90W $1980 8389 2.9 / 75- 115W $2149
E7430 2.13 / 90W $1391 8387 2.7 / 75 -115W $1865
E7420 2.13 / 90W $1177 8378 2.4 / 75 -115W $873
Dual Sockets
X5570 2.93 / 95W $1386      
X5550 2.66 / 95W $958 2435 2.6 / 75-115W $989

AMD feels that the E7450 is no match for the 8435. As a result, the latter comes with a pretty heavy price tag. Whether this is justified is easy to check, even if we do not test the E7450 in this review. As the E7450 is the same die as the X7460 at a slightly lower voltage and clock speed, the E7450 is about 7 to 8% slower than the X7460. The 2.4GHz 8378 is quite interesting: still clocked at a decent 2.4GHz, it is by far the cheapest quad socket processor. As the number of VMs that you can run on a server is often limited by the amount of memory and not processor power, a quad 8378 might make sense.

The question remains whether the best dual socket processors of Intel or AMD are a threat to the quad socket servers. Two X5570 will set you back less than $2800, while four Xeon E7420 start at $4700. Even a relatively entry-level X7430 2.13GHz based server (32GB, 4 CPUs) will cost in the range of $13000. That is three times as much as similar dual 2435 servers and 2.6 times as much as a dual X5550 machine. That is why we include the fastest dual socket machines in this test too.

Platforms Overview Benchmark Methods and Systems
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  • blasterrr - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    how about itanium 2 benchmarks.
    we use itanium 2 in our company for our SAP Systems. i d like to compare itanium 2 performance with x86 performance.
    does anyone know which architecture is better for most sap applications?
    Reply
  • joekraska - Thursday, October 8, 2009 - link

    Gentlemen,

    I run a large virtualization enterprise for a fortune 500 company. The platform of choice for virtualization is two socket systems. There are several reasons for this. First, VMWare charges roughly $2600 per socket. Second, 4 socket systems don't generally double the performance of two 2 socket systems. Third, 4 socket systems cost significantly more than two socket systems. Finally, the best 2 socket systems for virtualization have a large number of DIMM slots per cpu (e.g., our choice: Dell M/R710, 9 DIMM slots per CPU, or theoretically CISCO UCS 250, 24 slots per cpu), and virtualization enterprises want memory. VMWare doesn't charge you for the amount of memory you install, and that's what you need: memory.

    As an aside I favor 2 socket systems categorically. If and only if someone has a high-count single system SMP need would I consider or permit anything else. 4 socket systems cost too much for what you get. It requires a problem that can not be solved without one to justify the investment.

    Joe Kraska
    San Diego CA
    USA
    Reply
  • solori - Wednesday, October 7, 2009 - link

    The vAPUS tile graphics marked as 2345 are really 2435... What happended to the 2389 in those tests? Reply
  • solori - Wednesday, October 7, 2009 - link

    John,

    Good follow-up to your earlier comparisons. A lot of work goes into these things and your team's done compiling the information here. I have just a few comments:

    With respect to the VMmark reference, you've taken a vector value (X@Y) and made a scalar out of if. The performance number (X) is granted across a number of VMs running (Y, in tiles) which, in turn, helps to increase the scalar part you refer to a "speed" (i.e. 13% slower, etc.) In fact, your speed component could be determined by taking the X/Y and looking at the "tile ratio" to determine unit performance per tile. In doing so, you should see the "performance" gap close a bit.

    This evaluation method also lends itself to what VMmark was created to achieve - a determination of performance as the platform scales across VMs. In other words, the implication of VMmark is that a system cannot scale due to its constituent applications being thread bound. By employing virtualization, the net number of active threads is maximized with little degradation on the per-application performance. When resource availability is impacted, the number of application groups (tiles) is at its maximum.

    Perhaps a significant reason VMmark and vAPUS differ so widely is that VMmark creates a case for resource exhaustion and vAPUS use of resources is more arbitrary. Fitting a benchmark to the available resources for one system seems very hard to avoid, and your attention to hex-core versus quad-core scheduling is right on point -hence the significant difference in vAPUS.1 results. Kudos again for taking that into account - it is something that systems architects need to be more aware of and a lot of benchmarks step around.

    One interesting result of the 24 vCPU case is that the difference between 2P,12-core opteron and 2P,16-thread Xeon is down to the ratio of their clock speeds. Likewise, the difference between the 4P and 2P cases would indicate that the number of vAPUS tiles could have been increased for those systems.

    The issue still puzzling me about vAPUS is the sizing of the OLTP VMs. On the AMD machines you have in the lab, you could easily use the full database size with memory to spare and increase the size of RAM to the VMs accordingly. Doing so in the memory-cramped EP box would likely cripple its performance, but produce an admittedly more "real world" result. We don't see databases getting smaller out there anytime soon, nor do we see them being split-up to fit nominal hardware... The 24GB Xeon is kind of base-model compared to the 64GB Opterons - you might want to reconsider your testing policy where that's concerned.

    On the virtualization use case, you cannot divorce the CAPEX economics of "right-sizing" your memory component. Too little memory and the Xeon has more threads than you can practically use. Too much memory, and you either out-strip the thread capacity (AMD or Intel) and get into higher $/VM due to memory costs. With 8GB/DDR2 about 1/2 the cost of 8GB/DDR3 (reg, ecc for both) you are looking at memory being the largest single factor between 5500's and 2400's where $/VM is concerned. Mixing consolidation and performance workloads across a VMM cluster (i.e. DRS in VMware) make the value of additional GB/core per-platform important.

    Likewise, if you look at mature virtualization market approaches - rack or blade systems - you will not see many 2P systems force-fitted into 4P use cases. Likewise, you will not see 4P systems used where 2P systems would suffice. Therein, the advantage to having a 2P and 4P eco-system that supports seamless migration (i.e. vMotion or Live Migration) requires (today) coming down in one camp or the other. In this case, the advantage lies with AMD (for now), and your report shows that to be a decent choice.

    I agree that EX will create a significant price gulf between EP and likely not help the Intel case in the 4P use virtualization use case. With AMD's Magny-Cours on track for Q1/2010 in 2P and later 4P (same basic platform) use cases today that are solid 4P Istanbul contenders have a drop-in for 2P Magny-Cours with solid enhanced migration capabilities. This can't do anything but put pressure on Intel to create a 4P competitor in both capability and price for AMD's offering.

    We've done significant research in terms of CPU/memory pairings to find the "sweet spot" in $/VM which points to a lag in the market for consolidation utilization (or at least market intelligence). If the "typical" utilization scenario is 12-18 VM's, it is clear from your results that a significant amount of potential is wasted in either Nehalem or Istanbul platform. To maximize return, $/VM and Watt/VM must be considered in the deployment, pushing those numbers up by at least 50% per host. That said, memory re-enters the equation as a limiting factor - well beyond the 20GB in today's vAPUS test case.

    As for the hex-core Xeon, the writing was on the wall in the virtualization use case as 8P/quad-core Opterons have proven all but equal on performance (about 95%) to 8P/hex-core Xeons. Dunnington's power use did not help its cause either...

    Like you indicated in your piece, specialized systems like Twin2 and blades create a better performance/watt opportunity for both 5500 and 2400 platforms (especially with Fiorano and SR5600 socket-F options.) Perhaps as great follow-up for this series would be a Twin2 comparison of the 5500 and 2400 variants...

    Collin C. MacMillan
    Solution Oriented LLC
    http://blog.solori.net">http://blog.solori.net
    Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Thursday, October 8, 2009 - link

    Hi Collin,

    There is too much interesting stuff in your reaction to address every good point you make, so I will take a bit more time to digest this and send you an e-mail.

    A few things on top of my head. Yes, a 64 GB Quad Opteron machine using only 20 GB or so is not optimal. At the same time we verify DQL (Disk Queue Length) so we are pretty sure that you are not going to gain much from making the cache larger. I'll check, maybe we simplified too much there. The reason for doing this is keeping things simple, as it is already hard enough to control the complexity of virtualized benchmarking. It is good suggestion to increase the cache size of the OLTP component for systems with larger amounts of memory, I'll think about it.

    The resource exhaustion as done by VMmark is not perfect either as you might be going for maximum throughput at the cost of the response time of individual applications. It is a pretty hard exercise, I Guess we'll have to set a certain SLA: a max response time for each app and then measure total throughput.
    Reply
  • skrewler2 - Wednesday, October 7, 2009 - link

    Why do you never use a Sun box for your benchmarks? Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Wednesday, October 7, 2009 - link

    Which Sun box do you have in mind? And of course, like everyone, we are waiting to see what Oracle will do with Sun . While the Sun people used to send us testservers quite a few times a year or two ago, it is been very silent the past year. Reply
  • duploxxx - Wednesday, October 7, 2009 - link

    Great article, however it might have been a bit more interesting if you would also start to add priceranges, comparing the best at all time is nice, but many people start to think that whatever version thye might buy will always be a better choice for them because they saw the highest benchmarks. Reply
  • duploxxx - Wednesday, October 7, 2009 - link

    edit, wasn't finished yet :)

    knowing that you can buy a 2s E5530 2.4ghz system at the same price as a 2s 2435 2.6GHZ might bring already a whole different perspective.

    Also comparing 2s against 4s is nice and i really like your virtual benchmark, it gives much more realistic results just as we have seen in our own sw benchmarking that Vmmark is no longer representative to real world. You still can't compare power consumption. First of all LP dimms costs now as much as normal dimms and secondly you only require 20GB ram in your test as you mentioned so 44GB is wasted but is still consuming a lot of power.

    Choosing between 2s and 4s is a difficult choice, we deploy about 400-500 2s servers a year on VM, preferring more availability amount then bigger servers, 4s also needs a lot more fine tuning on IO then a 2s does, for sure if you use DRS, hitting the farm much harder on HA failure etc. Since 2004 we started on AMD and not moving back to intel just because they now have 1 decent server platform and as mentioned, check price/performance and think again if 55xx are so more far superior then 24xx series if you buy mid level servers like 90% of the server market does. Oh and we like Enhanced Vmotion off course.

    Reply
  • SLIM - Tuesday, October 6, 2009 - link

    Any thoughts on the effect of AMD's new server chipset on vmmark performance (http://www.amd.com/us/products/server/platforms/Pa...">http://www.amd.com/us/products/server/p...core-pro... They claim it will help with I/O and particularly virtualized I/O performance. Reply

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