Enterprise versions of Linux based on kernel 2.6, and 64 bit database servers are now very mature. Dual core 64 bit Opteron and 64 bit Xeons with 2 MB L2-caches are available. It was definitely time to update our previous Linux Database Server CPU comparison.

In this article, you will find a comparison of the latest Xeon (Irwindale), the previous Xeon (Nocona), the old Xeon (Galatin), the Dual core Opteron, and the "normal" Opteron, of course. We also included the Pentium-D to get an idea of what a Dual core Xeon could do, although the comparison is not completely fair: the memory subsystem of a Dual core Xeon will have higher latency and slightly lower bandwidth as it will use ECC buffered DIMMs instead of non-buffered DIMMs.

In our previous article, we used SUSE SLES 8 (kernel 2.4.21) and the Xeon 3.6 GHz "Nocona" matched the performance of the Opteron 250 in 32 bit DB2, but failed to impress in MySQL. Intel's Xeon was not recognized as a 64 bit capable CPU by SLES 8 with kernel 2.4 however, and the Opteron gained 12% (DB2) and 30% (MySQL) when running in 64 bit.

On SLES 9, we can unleash the full 64 bit potential of both the Intel Xeon and Opteron. Kernel 2.6 includes better and improved support for NUMA, 64 bit, large memory pages, threading and fully recognizes EM64T CPUs as 64 bit capable. How do the Xeon and Opteron compare when they both run 64 bit applications on a 64 bit enterprise version of Linux? Should you invest in Dual core CPUs, or are these expensive CPUs beaten by two single CPUs? Should you wait for Dempsey, the dual core Xeon?

These are a few of the questions that we will answer. While we still continue to improve the quality of our benchmarks, we decided to report our first impressions.

The scope and focus of this test

Our last Database server comparison generated quite a bit of very useful and interesting feedback. Living up to the excellent AnandTech tradition, we have read them carefully and taken many suggestions to heart.

In a nutshell, the foci of this article are as follows:
  • Only CPU and CPU-chipset-memory database performance tests
  • Mostly Database reads
  • DB2 and MySQL on SUSE SLES 9 - Kernel 2.6.5
  • Database use of small and medium-sized enterprises
  • single and dual processing systems.
Our benchmark Quality assurance methods include:
  • Checking the disk activity with iostat and vmstat
  • Constant monitoring of the Client's CPU load, network load and memory usage
  • Tests were repeated at least 3 times
  • All tests were performed with two different clients: a Dual Opteron 850 2.4 GHz and a Quad Opteron 848 2.2 GHz
  • Improved and optimised Client program
Real world databases are in many cases disk limited. Jason and Ross have been running 8 x 36GB 15,000RPM Ultra320 SCSI drives in RAID-0 to avoid the Enterprise Class Performance tests being limited by disk I/O performance.

However, the Lab of the Technical University of Kortrijk where we performed our tests did not dispose of such an impressive disk array, and we were determined to focus on the database performance of the different CPUs and CPU-chipset-memory combinations. All tests were done (99% of the time) with in-memory queries. Investigating the performance of different disk storage systems is a time-consuming and completely different project.

We still tested with our 1 GB big database imported in MySQL MyISAM, InnoDB and IBM's DB2 8.2 .

Some of you might still be convinced that in-memory tests are not really relevant. Consider that the availability of cheap 64 bit system makes it possible to use much more RAM than before. Flat 64 bit addressing of more than 4 GB of RAM used to be a privilege of very expensive servers (Power4, etc.), but this is no longer the case with the introduction of Intel's EM64T Xeons and AMD's AMD64 Opteron.

With the current prices of 1 GB DDR(-II) sticks, it is very easy and inexpensive to build a database server with 8 GB of RAM. Even 16 GB (16x1 GB) is not that expensive, considering the price of a quad Opteron server. As a seasoned sys-admin told me, "the performance of database servers can be brought back to life with some extra RAM." It is in many cases that a large amount of RAM can do more than very expensive 15,000RPM SCSI disks.

Again, this article is not about the typical huge central databases of banks that need to handle a large number of transactions, with writes operations being very frequent.

We test on SUSE SLES 9 (SUSE Enterprise Edition) SP1, Linux kernel 2.6.5-151smp. Yes, this is not the latest kernel version, which is 2.6.12 at the time of this article. We used 2.6.5 because it is the last kernel available for our enterprise version of SUSE. The very nature of this project also forces us to check our numbers with at least 5 consecutive tests, and a lot of time is spent in checking parameters and so on, so we need to "freeze" the kernel version for a few weeks. We did perform a few tests on Gentoo, however, with kernel version 2.6.12.

The current market situation
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  • Guspaz - Friday, June 17, 2005 - link

    Why are there no graphs like other Anandtech articles? Why is everything in hard to read tables with broken formatting? This one seems a bit rough around the edges compared to the usual Anandtech quality.
  • juhl - Friday, June 17, 2005 - link

    I find it quite odd that you claim to be testing with a 2.6.12 Linux kernel despite the fact that that kernel has not yet been released in a final version.
    If you are using one of the pre-release kernels you should explicitly say so, and tell us which one.
    The latest stable kernel at the time I write this is, the latest development kernels are 2.6.12-rc6, 2.6.12-rc6-git8 & 2.6.12-rc6-mm1 . There's also the question of wether or not you used a stock kernel or a "patched to hell-and-back with crap" gentoo kernel...

    So, what were you really using?

  • sinisterDei - Friday, June 17, 2005 - link


    Correct me if I'm wrong, but would not the query cache positively affect the scores of both vendor's chips?

    I suppose I don't have a pair of database machines just sitting around to test it out, but I'd imagine that if query cache was enabled the Opteron would experience similar performance boosts to the Xeon- if not more of a boost thanks to the higher-performing memory subsystem.

    Just my $.02 to counteract the fear-monger :)
  • Viditor - Friday, June 17, 2005 - link

    "Translation: We didn't want our beloved AMD to lose, so we doctored the test"

    Translation of the translation...
    Shoot the messenger! :-)
  • michaelpatrick33 - Friday, June 17, 2005 - link

    #20 Ah yes the conspiracy theories begin. Just like AMD with Tomshardware. The server results here appear pretty consistent with every other server test I have seen on review sites but who knows.
    # 19. Intel is only at 90nm but do have 300mm wafers. That is why Fab36 is so important for AMD. 300mm wafers and 65nm by Q2 of 2006 should put them pretty equal with Intel's fabrication level. Production level is still way, way in favor of Intel though.

    Pricing, as I said before the Opteron dualcore chips are way cheaper than Intel dualcore server chips because Intel doesn't have any.
  • Questar - Friday, June 17, 2005 - link

    "The " query cache" was off, as we wanted to test worst case performance. In some cases, the query cache was able to push a single Xeon to 1000 queries per second, and the CPU was still capable of doing more, as the CPU load was at 50% - 70%. "

    Translation: We didn't want our beloved AMD to lose, so we doctored the test.
  • thegagman - Friday, June 17, 2005 - link

    BTW guys, one reason why AMD may be pricing its chips mihc higher is the MFG process. Unless I am mistaken (and someone correct me if I am wrong), they are still using 200mm wafers on a 90 or 110 process. Intel is using 300mm at 65 nm...this results in a huge difference in throuhput. Since AMD is already pricing its CPUs very agressively to gain market share, and the die of those dual-cores is much bigger (anybody know the real %?) then it is to be anticipated that their dual-cores are much more exspensive. They are probably gambling on selling dual-core Opterons at high-margins via Sun and other OEMs first,which will probably take most of their wafers. This is why their Desktop parts are coming later I would bet...

  • nserra - Friday, June 17, 2005 - link

    #17 Good answers but, "Depends on the applications you run. On single threaded code, the faster single core will run your code faster."

    Doesn’t explain what I was meaning, so for you is OK to pay more for a single core processor, because runs faster some times (may run slower other times), how will you know what it will happen? (Supposing that you don’t know shit about your software requirements).

    . AMD don’t have this problem so why would amd for example release an 4200+ processor at the same price of the 3500+ ? If the performance is equal or superior?
    I think amd have made they right decisions, like intel have made his.
    They all play with what they have, and not with they haven’t.
  • fitten - Friday, June 17, 2005 - link

    "Explain me something:
    - how do you explain or how Intel will explain that their single core processor cost more than the dual core ones? "

    Because Intel sets the prices of their chips. They want to push dual-core to the masses so they price them accordingly.

    "- Why should you buy a single core over a dual core if it cost more? "

    Depends on the applications you run. On single threaded code, the faster single core will run your code faster.

    "- How good is this Intel market decision (marketing). "

    Probably pretty good. Considering you have to buy a new motherboard to use the dual-core Intel parts, they dropped the price so that the CPU + motherboard cost is about the same (or less than still) the cost of just the dual-core CPU from AMD. Sounds like a good strategy to me.
  • michaelpatrick33 - Friday, June 17, 2005 - link

    I also think it is safe to say that Amd's dualcore Opterons will be cheaper than any Intel dualcore server chip for the next six to eight months since there aren't any Intel dualcore server chips. IDC just released market research that showed AMD with 30% of the 4way server sales in Q1 '05. That is what AMD is after. The 64bit performance difference is surprising to say the least.

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