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Benchmark Results: Rendering

Intel Xeon E5-2600: Doing Damage With Two Eight-Core CPUs

Although I generally don’t use the Cinebench OpenGL-based graphics test, it’s nice that the benchmark’s CPU component is able to utilize up to 64 threads.

The roughly 2000-object scene with somewhere around 300 000 polygons renders very quickly on a pair of Xeon E5-2687W processors, which execute 32 threads concurrently. The Xeon X5680s are quite a ways behind. A single Core i7-3960X almost manages to catch the two Xeon W5580s—a testament to its higher clock rates and more efficient Sandy Bridge architecture.

CPU Utilization during SolidWorksCPU Utilization during SolidWorks

Our SolidWorks PhotoView 360 workload caught me off guard. This render fully taxed each configuration we threw at it, regardless of core count or memory. And while the Xeon E5s finish first, their improvement over two Xeon X5680s is almost negligible.

The Xeon W5580s trail a ways back, and are actually beaten by a single Core i7-3960X. Based on past reviews, we know SolidWorks responds well to overclocking, but that’s simply not in the cards for these CPUs.

CPU Utilization during 3ds MaxCPU Utilization during 3ds Max

Autodesk’s 3ds Max also taxes available compute resources. However, it demonstrates significant gains shifting from Xeon 5500 to 5600 and finally to E5, as we might expect. The Core i7-3960X almost manages to catch the two Xeon 5500s—again, a testament to the per-clock advantages of Sandy Bridge compared to the Nehalem architecture.

Although iray really delivers the best performance when it’s able to exploit GPU resources, our benchmark is limited to CPU-based rendering. Here, scaling is nothing short of amazing. A single Core i7-3960 at 3.3 GHz gets the job done in just over 10 minutes. Meanwhile, two eight-core Xeon E5-2687Ws at 3.1 GHz finish in about four and a half minutes. The 5600s and 5500s are in-between.

CPU Utilization during BlenderCPU Utilization during Blender

Introduced in Blender 2.61, the cycles render engine is ray tracing-based with support for interactive rendering, a new shading node system, new texture workflow, and of course GPU acceleration. Our cycles-based test sticks to processor-based rendering for now, and will evolve moving forward to include OpenCL testing.

Unfortunately, although they’re consistent, the results from the cycles engine aren’t very easy to break down. CPU utilization is always much higher using the new renderer compared to the old tile-based one, and yet the Xeon 5600s manage to outmaneuver the Xeon E5s. Core i7-3960X bests two Xeon 5500s, but again, it’s not clear why.

Our older Blender rendering test, configured to use the default 4x4 tile setting, tended to leave cores underutilized as it finished (you can see this by watching Windows’ task manager—busy time drops off very gradually). Reader Greg Wereszko let us know that we could potentially get significant gains by breaking the scene up more granularly using more tiles, keeping processor cores active as the test winds down. A 10x10 setting does, in fact, yield measurable improvements, though utilization never hits 100%, even at the start of the test when all cores should be active.

Vue is used to create, animate, and render 3D environments. Our custom scene fully taxes even the 32-thread dual Xeon E5 configuration.

As a result, performance improves significantly as you move from the 12-thread Core i7, to the 16-thread Xeon 5500s, to the 24-thread 5600s, and finally the new Xeons.

Because this workload takes a while, and yields a consistent 100% utilization, we’re using Vue 8 for our power analysis, too.

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