Despite its incredible importance, it is difficult to find independent hardware advice on database servers. Only a few major hardware and software vendors publish the majority of the TPC and other benchmark numbers. Although a discussion on TPC benchmarks is beyond the scope of this article, it is clear that there is no substitute for independent benchmarking.

Benchmarks that vendors provide have a tendency to be to rosy or perhaps even flawed. Vendors may use hardware setups or software configurations that are unlikely to exist in the real world, yet attain the highest score on a particular benchmark. Benchmarking done by Jason and Ross are a notable exception on the internet, of course.

Because many of our readers are interested or are engaged in this field, we started a new databaseserver benchmarking project just a few months ago.

The primary objective of this project is to determine the hardware that makes sense for a database server of small and medium-sized organizations. We tested DB2, and My SQL on SUSE SLES 8 on many different systems based on four different Xeons CPUs and two Opteron configurations.

"Servers are all about large caches and fast I/O." This is a generalization that is heard a lot in the IT community and the cliché has been proven, more or less, to be accurate in the high-end server market. But does this common wisdom also apply to the smaller dual processor systems that act as database servers? Should you pay more for a Xeon that has a healthy amount of L3-cache, or will a less expensive Intel without L3-cache do just fine? Does 64-bit really matter? How important is memory latency/bandwidth? Is a hyperthreaded CPU better equipped when the database is accessed by many users simultaneously?

While we still continue to improve the quality of our benchmarks, we decided to report our first impressions.

A gigantic market
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  • JohanAnandtech - Thursday, December 2, 2004 - link

    About SLES9 and NUMA: NUMA is also supported by Linux kernel 2.4.21 and it boosts performance only a tiny bit. The reason are the very speedy HT links which keep latency at a minimum.

    It is still possible that kernel 2.6 NUMA support is far better of course, but I doubt it makes a difference for quad or dual systems as there is only hop in quad systems. With two hops (8 CPUs) from CPU 1 to 8 for example, this will become important.
  • AtaStrumf - Thursday, December 2, 2004 - link

    A TYPO:

    So for now, the Opteron has an advantage still, but it ***can*** /can't/ knock out the Xeon, as it could have a few months ago, before the Xeon Nocona arrived.

  • HardwareD00d - Thursday, December 2, 2004 - link

    There have been enough benchmarks on the web for a long time which show that Opteron generally wipes Xeon's a$$ hands down, and scales far better in multi processor configurations. The latest Xeon is nothing special compared to prior versions and will no doubt preform better mostly due to its increased clock speed. Xeon will never be better than Opteron no matter how much cache and tweaks Intel adds.

    Maybe Intel's next server architecture will be something to woo, but that's a ways off.
  • jshaped - Thursday, December 2, 2004 - link

    as a long-time reader of aceshardware, i'll be the first to welcome Johan here, great first article. keep them coming!!!!
  • HardwareD00d - Thursday, December 2, 2004 - link

    I don't think there are enough variations of the way requests are handled to make a realistic conclusion for either chip. I'm sure you could create a situation where Intel bests AMD in My Sql, and vice versa. This article really needs more benchmarks and more in-depth analysis. Still, it provides enough information to conclude that both Xeon and Opteron have their strengths and weaknesses.
  • mczak - Thursday, December 2, 2004 - link

    Nice read. I really think though you should have used SLES 9. Not only does it use kernel 2.6, but it's also NUMA-aware (and DB2 should specifically support it, though it might not have been released yet). SLES 9 also ought to be faster especially on x86_64 due to newer compiler (not that it would matter much with precompiled databases, but every bit counts...). Though for 2-cpu boxes, NUMA might not be that important - but it's safe to predict a landslide victory for a 4-cpu opteron with NUMA support vs. a 4-cpu xeon box. Xeons simply don't scale to 4 cpus, intel might sell them but they are useless (especially since the Xeon MPs are still limited to 400 (or was that 533?) Mhz FSB.
    A pity though the quad opterons don't support ddr-400. I guess manufacturers decided it's more important to have a boatload of ram slots than fewer slots (with shorter traces) with higher speeds...
    And btw, where are the 90nm Opterons? AMD's latest roadmap shows them as available in 2004, which doesn't leave too much time...
  • bthomas - Thursday, December 2, 2004 - link

    Bogus conclusions about IBM tests IMO. From the

    > If we had published a similar report back in
    > August, the Opteron would enjoyed a landslide
    > victory. Luckily for Intel, Nocona is very
    > competitive and is about 5% faster than the Opteron 250.

    and later in the "conclusion":

    > Nevertheless, AMD cannot sit on its laurels.
    > Intel made a very good comeback with Nocona, as > this 3.6 GHz CPU is just a tiny bit faster in >

    It has not.

    You fail to specify that this is comparing the _32 bit_ mode for the Opteron. IF you compare the Nocoma performance to the Opteron 64 bit sweeps the the Nocona in all tests.

    The true conclusion is that based on the results in the article, for neither of the databases tested do *any* of the Intel processors compete with the Opteron.
  • fitten - Thursday, December 2, 2004 - link

    Randomized benchmarks are hard to verify as well. You could get a "good" distribution that really takes advantage of cache locality while another randomization may be very cache unfriendly. I agree with #5 to a degree. A database that fits entirely inside of RAM isn't very interesting, ultimately.

    Still, I am happy that AnandTech is going down these paths of benchmarking instead of just being about Doom3, HL2, and FarCry like most other sites. I eagerly await further database benchmark articles.
  • PrinceXizor - Thursday, December 2, 2004 - link

    #5 - Since when do top tier e-commerce cites compare to mid-level company database users as the beginning of the article mentioned?

    My company is an engineering firm that does custom electronics. Our database server handles all the transactions for our Inventory/MRP system which is mostly reads. These benchmarks are very appropriate. I wish I could have convinced my boss to go Opteron. Its funny, they had Athlon MP's before and then switched to Xeons when Opteron was out. Go figure.

    Anyway, great article. I'm not IT guy by any stretch, but I enjoyed the article.

  • Jason Clark - Thursday, December 2, 2004 - link

    #6, done ages ago..

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