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Ivy Bridge-EP: Faster And More Efficient On The Same Platform

Intel Xeon E5-2600 v2: More Cores, Cache, And Better Efficiency
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It’s uncommon for professionals to pull one-generation-old CPUs out of their workstations and upgrade, but that’s technically what Intel’s Xeon E5-2600 v2 line-up lets you do. The company successfully shifted from 32 to 22 nm manufacturing, simultaneously enabling more complex processors (with up to 12 physical cores and 30 MB of shared L3 cache) that fit within previously-established thermal envelopes and drop into existing LGA 2011-equipped motherboards, after a firmware update, of course.

Beyond the increases to core count, cache, and clock rates, the Xeon E5-2600 v2s also center on the Ivy Bridge architecture. So, there is a handful of tweaks that improve per-cycle performance compared to Sandy Bridge as well. Finally, certain SKUs feature more aggressive data rates, pushing memory support to DDR3-1866 in some cases.

None of the workloads we ran need that much bandwidth. However, our benchmarks have no trouble illustrating where the Xeon E5-2687W v2 is better than its predecessor. Higher Turbo Boost frequencies mean the second-gen model wins in single-threaded tests. Even the clock rates in fully-loaded situations are an improvement, so you get more performance there, too. And regardless of the benchmark, power consumption is lower on the system with Ivy Bridge-EP-based CPUs, despite the consistent 150 W TDP.

Sure, you could save a ton of money and use even less energy by going with Intel’s Core i7-4960X. And in some cases, that actually makes sense. An increasing number of applications are being optimized for heterogeneous computing, which might exploit a highly parallelized graphics processor for massive performance gains in specific tasks. In those titles, throwing more money at a faster GPU will yield bigger gains than a second CPU. Then again, we just saw several examples of two Xeon E5s cutting the processing time of compile jobs, OCR workloads, and renders in half (or better).

I haven’t been very nice to Intel’s desktop team for a couple of subsequent generations. The step from Sandy Bridge to Ivy Bridge was disappointing for enthusiasts. Similarly, Haswell didn’t give us much more to be excited about. Same four cores, same 8 MB of shared L3, same 16 lanes of PCIe, and minor speed-ups attributable to architectural tweaks. Ho hum.

But in the Xeon world, Intel takes the thermal headroom freed up by its advanced manufacturing and more thoroughly utilizes it, leaving customers to choose whether they need more cores, higher clocks, or simply comparable performance at reduced power consumption. That’s the kind of innovation enthusiasts want to see more of.

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