The current market situation

Depending on the source and the definition of "server", the x86 servers are good for about 33% - 50% of the revenue ($49 billion) of the server market. Depending on the report, the AMD Opteron has captured a bit more than 5% of the total x86 server market.

It is interesting to note that Linux is the server operating system of a little more than 9% of the servers, but the number of Linux servers is growing with about 40%. More than 60% of the Opteron servers are running Linux (according to IDC), while the lion share of the Xeons are running 32 bit Windows. It is clear that the Opteron rise in the market share is not only slowed down by the rapid ramp of EM64T Xeons, but also by the lack of a 64 bit Windows 2003.

In the second half of 2004, already one million EM64T Xeons were shipped, about three times as many as the total number of Opterons shipped until then. The percentage of 64 bit systems deployed is thus increasing rapidly, making the switch to 64 bit software more interesting for developers too.

Xeon and Opteron

Since our previous test, four interesting new CPUs have entered the scene. First of all, there is the Pentium-D. Although the Pentium D is a desktop CPU, it is a very interesting low cost solution for low end servers, so we decided to include it in this review. Of course, a Pentium-D server does not have the same RAS features as an Opteron or Xeon based machine. The Pentium-D requires a heavy power supply: cheap 400 Watt power supplies in our lab were not able to power up the Pentium-D, even with a relatively slow Geforce FX 5600 PCIe video card.

Secondly, there is the Intel Xeon Irwindale, which is essentially the Xeon version of the desktop Pentium 6xx series ("Prescott core") that includes a massive 2 MB L2-cache. Also interesting is the "Demand Based Switching" feature of the new Xeons: this allows them to throttle back to 2.8 GHz when the load on the server is low. This results in about 15 to 20% in power savings on the CPU's power dissipation. The Xeon Irwindale is a demanding CPU: it requires 110 Watt under full load.

Cool'n quiet is functional on the new 2.6 GHz Opteron 252, and offers much more impressive power gains. Power dissipation is reduced from 92.6 W (only attainable under extreme conditions) to less than 20 Watt.

The new Dual core Opteron makes our test complete. While Windows (XP and 2003) recognized and utilized the cores easily, SUSE SLES 9 Linux was a little more stubborn. With the original SLES 9 kernel 2.6.5-97, the dual Opteron would just crash. We applied Service Pack 1 and the new Opteron would boot and recognize the two cores, but the second CPU was disabled because of APIC IRQ problems.

Therefore, we were only able to run the Dual core Opteron on Gentoo with a 2.6.12 kernel.

A quick table to refresh your memory and to enable you to compare price/performance:

Intel   Xeon CPUs Core L2 cache L3-cache x86 -64 bit? Power saving? In test? Price
3.60 GHz w/ 2M cache 800 MHz FSB (90nm) Irwindale = "Nocona, twice as big L2" 2 MB No Yes DBS Yes $851
3.2 GHz w/ 2M cache 800 MHz FSB (90nm) Irwindale = "Nocona, twice as big L2" 2 MB No Yes DBS Yes $455
3.60 GHz w/ 1M cache 800 MHz FSB (90nm) Nocona = " Prescott server" 1 MB No Yes DBS Yes $690
3.40 GHz w/ 1M cache 800 MHz FSB (90nm) Nocona = " Prescott server" 1 MB No Yes DBS No $455
3.20D GHz w/ 1M cache 800 MHz FSB (90nm) Nocona = " Prescott server" 1 MB No Yes DBS No $316
3 GHz w/ 1M cache 800 MHz FSB (90nm) Nocona = " Prescott server" 1 MB No Yes DBS No $256
3.20C GHz w/ 2M cache 533 MHz FSB (.13) Galatin = "P4 EE Server" 0,5 MB 2 MB No No Yes $1,043
3.20 GHz w/ 1M cache 533 MHz FSB (.13) Galatin = "P4 EE Server" 0,5 MB 1 MB No No No $690
3.06A GHz w/ 1M cache 533 MHz FSB (.13) Galatin = "P4 EE Server" 0,5 MB 1 MB No No Yes $455
3.06 GHz w/ 512k cache 533 MHz FSB (.13) Prestonia = "Northwood Server" 0,5 MB No No No Yes $316
Pentium 4-D "Dual Prescott - Smithfield"  2 x 1 MB  No  No  No  Yes  $312
AMD Opteron CPU's Core L2 cache L3-cache x86 -64 bit?   In test? Price
Model 275 (2x 2.2 GHz) Dual core 2x 1 MB No Yes Cool'n Quiet Yes* $1299
Model 265 (2x 1.8 GHz) Dual core 2x 1 MB No Yes Cool'n Quiet No $851
Model 252 (2.6 GHz) Troy 1 MB No Yes Cool'n Quiet Yes $851
Model 250 (2.4 GHz) Sledgehammer 1 MB No Yes No Yes $690
Model 248 (2.2 GHz) Sledgehammer 1 MB No Yes No Yes $455
Model 246 (2.0 GHz) Sledgehammer 1 MB No Yes No No $316
Model 244 (1.8 GHz) Sledgehammer 1 MB No Yes No Yes $209

The introduction of Irwindale resulted in Intel reducing the prices of the Xeon "Nocona", making this CPU more attractive. The Dual core Opteron is still a bit pricey, but definitely an alternative for two Opterons or two Xeons.

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  • linuxnizer - Tuesday, July 19, 2005 - link

    Late contribution...

    The article mentions that Linux didn't work well with AMD Dual Core. The reason could be this:

    it says:

    NVIDIA CK804 does not support dual core under Linux yet, only under Microsoft Windows.
  • Illissius - Saturday, June 18, 2005 - link

    Nice article. I'd also be interested in PostgreSQL, being the "other" major open source database... specifically, whether it's any better at scaling with multiple CPUs. (Not that I have any practical use for this information, I'm just curious.)
  • Viditor - Saturday, June 18, 2005 - link

    Seriously, mickyb and elmo may be correct about the Intel compilers (I frankly don't have a clue what's used in most shops)...

    The real problem is that it's a virtual impossibilty to create a "level playing field", but I have to say to the critiques of the article that Johan has done a stellar job of coming as close as possible!
  • Viditor - Saturday, June 18, 2005 - link

    "They aren't testing compilers"

    Oh sure...just throw REALITY into the mix why don't you...!
  • Icehawk - Saturday, June 18, 2005 - link

    They aren't testing compilers.
  • Viditor - Saturday, June 18, 2005 - link

    mickyb - Thanks for the input! Fair enough...maybe Johan could use both the Pathscale compiler (which is optimized highly for Opteron) and the Intel optimized compiler on his next series of tests?
  • mickyb - Saturday, June 18, 2005 - link

    I dissagree with the comment that a large number of people don't use the Intel compiler. I (other developers and IT shops) only use Intel compiler's for Linux. It is the fastest one out there for x86 and Itanium.

    If you are running a large database that requires a large server (compared with a desktop loaded with RAM to run a personal blog site) like this article is testing, you will be setting up the environment with a trained IT professional that will use the compiler that is fast and stable.

    When we build our product for all the UNIX platforms, we always use the vendor compiler instead of gnu. gnu works great and is free, but it is not optimized nearly as much.

    This is like saying the same audience won't recompile Linux on the platform they are going to install it on. This is the first thing you should do....and with an Intel compiler. There should be no real reason why one vendor Linux is faster than the others except for compile options and loaded modules. You cannot run Linux out of the box, it doesn't come in a box where I get it. :)
  • DonPMitchell - Saturday, June 18, 2005 - link

    We need to see TPC-C benchmark results for MySQL and other new database systems. Why won't they step up and allow themselves to be compared to the major commercial systems?
  • Viditor - Saturday, June 18, 2005 - link

    ElMoIsEviL - "as much as I am un-biased"

    C'mon mate...anybody who has read your posts knows you're heavily biased towards Intel, just as people who have read mine know that I am biased towards AMD. The important thing is to try and set aside the bias to look at things from both sides...I do try, but admittedly don't ALWAYS succeed. :-)

    I imagine you probably posted before you read the explanation of what a query cache is...understandable.

    As to not using an Intel specific compiler, I suppose that if it HAD been used I would be complaining as well. We have to rely on Johan and Anand (who frankly know a Hell of a lot more about this than either of us) to choose based on what the market actually uses...if you can site impartial industry sources that show otherwise, I'm sure we would all (especially the AT staff) would love to see them.
    I do know that over the years, Johan and Anand have shown themselves to be quite unbiased in their articles (you should go read some of them on Aces as well)!

    There are certainly things that I could pick apart as well..e.g. when he states
    "In the second half of 2004, already one million EM64T Xeons were shipped"
    Yes they were shipped, but that doesn't mean they were sold. The majority of those shipments were probably to OEMs for inventory buildup. Remember that Intel had a huge inventory write-off at the same time, and this was most likely a shift in inventory.

    Regardless, none of this has to do with the validity of the article which is excellent and makes sense. If you think about it, it should have been expected...the only for AMD to have increased their marketshare in servers is by performance. They certainly don't have the budget or marketing clout that Intel has!
  • S390 guy - Saturday, June 18, 2005 - link

    About ISAM and DB/2... ISAM (Indexed Sequential Access Method) is NOT a database! It has no referential integrity nor rollback/commit features (although those can be activated on mainframe). ISAM was popular on mainframe when there wasn't any database (or rather when database was a too massive application to run!) and even there they were superseeded by VSAM. They're not much different from DOS random access files (an index file pointing to the relative record number on the main file).
    And it's no suprise that DB/2 scales well: mainframes rarely feature a single CPU, at least as far as I know.... IBM have had some 20 years to practice on multi-cpu machines!

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