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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  • erwos - Friday, June 17, 2005 - link

    If they used RHEL4, this would be far more useful. SuSE's not quite a bit player, but let's face it: Red Hat is dominating the commercial space.

  • SunLord - Friday, June 17, 2005 - link

    Interesting benchmark though i would of prefered you used a postgresql instead of DB2 since it's also open source and is the most likely alternnative to mysql... a DB2/Oracle bench would be kinda cool...
  • Son of a N00b - Friday, June 17, 2005 - link

    nice work guys!
  • nserra - Friday, June 17, 2005 - link

    #6 "but very important: AMD, OPEN YOUR EYES AND SEE WHAT INTEL IS DOING WITH PRICING ON DUAL CORES! don't get cought with pants down."

    Explain me something:

    - how do you explain or how Intel will explain that their single core processor cost more than the dual core ones?
    - Why should you buy a single core over a dual core if it cost more?
    - How good is this Intel market decision (marketing).

    I think is pretty logical to me that a dual core cost more than a single core processor so 4800+ more expansive than a 4000+ so it's OK! Stop blaming AMD, and their marketing team!
  • Viditor - Friday, June 17, 2005 - link

    Calin - "Unfortunately, it seems that their dual core processors will be more expensive than Intel's"

    Actually, that's not true at all!
    The fact is that AMD haven't released a "Value Line" of dual core yet because they don't see a large enough market for it.
    By comparing the 2 companies offerings, it's apparent that the 820D should match up equvalently to a dual core Sempron when it's released, and the ($1000) 840EE matches up to the ($500) 4200+ rather nicely.
    The 4400+ and the 4800+ are in a class by themselves without competition at the moment, hence the prices are high.
  • AlexWade - Friday, June 17, 2005 - link

    I like these real world benchmarks articles.
  • snedzad - Friday, June 17, 2005 - link

    Again "Root me" wallpaper. Moron.
  • Starglider - Friday, June 17, 2005 - link

    I would guess that the problem is the netburst architecture's fast integer units. As I recall, the P4 integer units are split into two 16-bit stages and run at double the main clock using complicated differential signaling logic. I seriously doubt it would be feasible for Intel to add another two stages or to double the width of the units, as they're already power and chip area hungry and pretty much integral to the design. AMD on the other hand designed the Opteron to be 64-bit from the ground up and is running at a lower clock speed, making 64-bit wide single stage logic much easier.

    Thus the authors speculation that the P4 is taking twice as many cycles to process 64-bit simple integer operations (while the Opteron needs no additional cycles) seems highly likely to me. I'm one of those (apparently) rare programmers that needs to use 64-bit integers a lot, so it's not surprising that all our compute servers are Opteron powered.
  • Calin - Friday, June 17, 2005 - link

    I really hope AMD will get a share of the higher profit server processor market. Unfortunately, it seems that their dual core processors will be more expensive than Intel's
  • ZalmanKalman - Friday, June 17, 2005 - link

    Wow, great and detailed artical. The punchline is so sweet to my ears. Vary sad to INTeL Fans, but I guess they buy, and will buy, intel b/c of corporate safty.

    but very important: AMD, OPEN YOUR EYES AND SEE WHAT INTEL IS DOING WITH PRICING ON DUAL CORES! don't get cought with pants down.

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