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Intel Xeon E5520 vs i7-920 (Workstation build)

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February 22, 2010 12:44:45 AM

I am in the process of speccing out a workstation for my home use. I intend to use it for a wide range of activities, from the standard day to day web browsing, to gaming, to virtualization (via either VirtualBox or VMware ESXi on a separate hard drive), to ripping DVD and audio CDs.

I intend to run Windows 7 Enterprise x64 as the primary OS, and will have a secondary hard drive for playing around with VMware ESXi. The workstation will not be in a traditional "production" environment and won't have anything that I can't afford to lose on it so I'm not concerned with RAID when it comes to the motherboard.

At this point the issue that I don't know the answer to involves gaming and CPU selection. These days I do most of my gaming on the PS3, but I like to play WoW with my girlfriend and am looking forward to APB. I don't need a cutting edge gaming rig by any stretch of the imagination. My video card will be a simple GeForce 9800 with 512MB RAM.

Given those requirements, I'm torn between the Xeon E5520 and the i7-920. The i7 is targeted toward gamers and home users, while the Xeon is obviously targeted toward workstations and servers. Both of them the same amount of cores, the same amount of cache and run at similar clock speeds. When it comes down to the actual design of the chips, will either perform SIGNIFICANTLY better or worse on either gaming, or virtualization?

My gaming needs are pretty simple. In terms of virtualization, I will be virtualizing some Windows Server 2008 and Exchange, but just for study, not for actual production use. The i7-920 seems to support the same kind of virtualization extensions that the Xeon does. Or does it?

(Thanks for reading this far). The last consideration is the motherboard. I'm a big fan of Asus and have been using their boards for the better part of a decade. I'm leaning toward the Asus Z8NA-D6C with the Xeon. I'm leaning that way because the board/CPU combo is about $50 cheaper than the i7-920 and Asus P6TD. It is also a DUAL CPU board so in the future when CPU prices come down, I can purchase another one. On the other hand, it does not have on board sound so I'd need a sound card. That pretty much negates the cost savings, leaving just dual socket to put it ahead (IMO).

What do the rest of you think? E5520 or i7-920?
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February 22, 2010 1:16:38 AM

Well Xeons are specifically set towards personal servers and virtualization but the 920 is a high end DT part so it will have the VT ability built in as well.

I do prefer DT mobos over server due to their ability to overclock and normally more control than the server mobos.

A dual CPU setup would be nice for a full blown server but useless gaming wise.

In my opinion, I would say go for the i7 920. It will do the virtualization you need while also being upgradeable (Gulftown 6 cores as well as Beckton 8 cores possibly).
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March 22, 2010 11:01:11 PM

On the virtualsation side the P6TD uses a Marvell LAN chipset which I don't *think* is supported by vmware esx/esxi, not a big deal but means adding additional cards to support networking and not being able to use the dual onboard LAN.

the Z8NA-D6C uses dual Intel NIC's which should be supported.

best to check the HCL though..
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