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

Intel Xeon E5-2600: Doing Damage With Two Eight-Core CPUs
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Intel's vaunted Sandy Bridge architecture has finally made its way to the company's dual- and quad-socket-capable Xeon processors. We got our hands on a pair of eight-core Xeon E5-2687W CPUs to compare against the older Xeon 5600- and 5500-series chips.

After almost 14 years of writing about technology, I think it’s safe to say that I’ll perpetually enjoy getting my hands on the latest gear, testing it this way and that, and conveying my own impressions to folks who share my passion.

Although gaming-oriented components garner the most attention on this site, by far, enthusiasts can’t help but also get excited about more IT-oriented hardware, too. You might have a Phenom II X6 in your gaming box, but there’s a fair chance you also joined millions of readers who were curious about the water-cooled quad-Opteron rig that Puget Systems built in What Does A $16 000+ PC Look Like, Anyway?

Today’s story takes us down a similar path. We already evaluated the entire family of Sandy Bridge-E based Core i7-3000-series CPUs in Intel Core i7-3960X Review: Sandy Bridge-E And X79 Express and Intel Core i7-3930K And Core i7-3820: Sandy Bridge-E, Cheaper. We know that Intel neutered all of those desktop-oriented processors to some degree—whether to hit certain power targets at client-friendly clock rates or more easily differentiate its server parts, we may never know for sure.

But now we have access to the full Monty, branded as Xeon E5 for single-, dual-, and quad-socket servers.

Meet Sandy Bridge-EP

Intel uses the same piece of silicon to enable its Xeon E5s and Core i7-3000-series CPUs. As we know, Core i7s top out with six cores and 15 MB of shared L3. But the die actually hosts eight cores and 20 MB of last-level cache.

The modularity of this design is enabled by the same ring bus concept first introduced in Intel’s Second-Gen Core CPUs: The Sandy Bridge Review more than a year ago (more accurately, Xeon 7500s were Intel's first CPUs with ring buses, but we never tested them). You have cores, PCI Express control, QPI links, and a quad-channel memory controller all with stops around the ring. Because each core is tied to a 2.5 MB slice of L3 cache, it’s relatively easy to manipulate the die’s specifications to create a large number of derivative products with performance that scales up and down in a predictable way.

Tom's Hardware Talks To Intel Architect Ken Creta

For a product like Core i7-3960X, Intel simply snipped two cores and their respective 2.5 MB cache slices. But the L3 can even be tweaked more specifically than that. A few Xeon E5 models present 2 MB/core, demonstrating granularity down to 512 KB chunks.

Today we’re able to test Sandy Bridge-EP (for Efficient Performance) in its most potent form: Xeon E5-2687W—a 150 W workstation-only processor boasting all eight of the die’s physical cores, its full 20 MB cache, twin 8 GT/s QPI links, 40 lanes of on-die third-gen PCIe, and a quad-channel memory controller capable of DDR3-1600. Manufactured at 32 nm, this highly-integrated SoC is composed of 2.27 billion transistors packed onto a portly 434 mm² die.

A maximum Turbo Boost frequency of 3.8 GHz makes the Xeon E5-2687W a little slower than Core i7-3960X, which hits 3.9 GHz, in lightly-threaded applications. However, a 3.1 GHz base frequency compares favorably to the -3960X’s 3.3 GHz clock in more taxing workloads thanks to the Xeon’s two-core advantage.

Although the Xeon includes more cache, it maintains the same one-core-to-2.5 MB ratio as the Core i7, and indeed most of the other Xeon E5 models.

The other notable difference between single-socket Core i7s/Xeon E5-1600s and Intel’s multi-socket platforms is the exposure of QPI. When Intel replaced the Gulftown-based processors with Sandy Bridge-E, it simultaneously shifted from three-piece platforms (CPU, northbridge, and southbridge) to a two-chip layout (CPU, platform controller hub), eliminating the I/O hub responsible for hosting PCI Express connectivity. The link between processor and northbridge, previously facilitated by QPI, was severed. With PCIe built right into Sandy Bridge-E, the southbridge component could be hitched right up to the CPU through a PCI Express-like Direct Media Interface. Thus, QPI is completely inactive on Sandy Bridge-E.

Multi-socket systems still need it for inter-processor communication, though. Sandy Bridge-EP CPUs feature two QPI links. In 2S configurations, they’re both used to shuttle data back and forth between sockets. With four processors in play, they create more of a circle, connecting each chip to the right and left. Intel tinkers with the QPI data rate as a differentiating feature, but whereas the Xeon 5600s topped out at 6.4 GT/s, yielding 25.6 GB/s per link, the highest-end Xeon E5s host 8 GT/s links, pushing bandwidth to 32 GB/s per link. Obviously, in a 2S workstation like ours, 64 GB/s of aggregate QPI bandwidth is super-duper overkill. But we’re happy to know that the days of front-side bus-based bottlenecks are over.

Aside from core count, last-level cache, and QPI, Sandy Bridge-EP is architecturally similar to Sandy Bridge-E. AVX support, AES-NI, second-gen Turbo Boost, Hyper-Threading—all of those familiar capabilities are included.

The only other difference of note is that Sandy Bridge-EP’s quad-channel memory controller supports mirroring, single device data correction, and lockstep. All three were available from Xeon 5500/5600 as well, but the whole triple-channel memory controller arrangement necessitated compromises. Now, you can mirror two channels and recover from a failure in each. Hooray for nice, round numbers.

Display all 80 comments.
Top Comments
  • 19 Hide
    willard , March 6, 2012 4:54 PM
    dalethepcmanNo gaming benchmarks? I know this is a high workstation / mid server build, but you know some of the boutiques will make a gaming rig out of any platform. Just out of curiosity, I would have liked to see 2x7970 or 2x580 and a few gaming benchmarks thrown in.

    I'd be really surprised to see these in gaming machines, even in the high end boutiques. That's a $2k processor they reviewed, and basically all it offers over the $1k SB-E chip (for gamers) is an extra pair of cores, which games can't make use of.
  • 18 Hide
    willard , March 6, 2012 5:24 PM
    esreverwhy aren't AMD cpus tested too? I wouldn't mind seeing how 2x interlagos stacks up.

    Anandtech benched those next to the new Xeons. Went about as well as Bulldozer vs. Sandy Bridge.

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/5553/the-xeon-e52600-dual-sandybridge-for-servers/6
  • 14 Hide
    esrever , March 6, 2012 5:19 PM
    why aren't AMD cpus tested too? I wouldn't mind seeing how 2x interlagos stacks up.
Other Comments
  • 8 Hide
    CaedenV , March 6, 2012 4:36 PM
    My brain cannot comprehend what CS5 would look like with this combined with a 1TB R4 drive, and the GTX680 version of the Quatro would look like... and I am sure my wallet cannot!

    Great article! I was not expecting my mind to be blown away today, and it was :) 
  • 19 Hide
    willard , March 6, 2012 4:54 PM
    dalethepcmanNo gaming benchmarks? I know this is a high workstation / mid server build, but you know some of the boutiques will make a gaming rig out of any platform. Just out of curiosity, I would have liked to see 2x7970 or 2x580 and a few gaming benchmarks thrown in.

    I'd be really surprised to see these in gaming machines, even in the high end boutiques. That's a $2k processor they reviewed, and basically all it offers over the $1k SB-E chip (for gamers) is an extra pair of cores, which games can't make use of.
  • 9 Hide
    nforce4max , March 6, 2012 5:07 PM
    I must say DROOL :o 

  • 14 Hide
    esrever , March 6, 2012 5:19 PM
    why aren't AMD cpus tested too? I wouldn't mind seeing how 2x interlagos stacks up.
  • 0 Hide
    reclusiveorc , March 6, 2012 5:19 PM
    I wonder how fast TempEncode would chew thru transcoding avi/wmv files to mp3/mp4
  • 18 Hide
    willard , March 6, 2012 5:24 PM
    esreverwhy aren't AMD cpus tested too? I wouldn't mind seeing how 2x interlagos stacks up.

    Anandtech benched those next to the new Xeons. Went about as well as Bulldozer vs. Sandy Bridge.

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/5553/the-xeon-e52600-dual-sandybridge-for-servers/6
  • 14 Hide
    cangelini , March 6, 2012 5:25 PM
    esreverwhy aren't AMD cpus tested too? I wouldn't mind seeing how 2x interlagos stacks up.

    Mentioned on the test page--I've invited them to send hardware and they haven't moved on it yet.
  • 10 Hide
    willard , March 6, 2012 5:32 PM
    cangeliniMentioned on the test page--I've invited them to send hardware and they haven't moved on it yet.

    I would guess that's because Interlagos is garbage compared to the new Xeons and they know it. I don't think they're terribly eager for the front page of Tom's Hardware to show the low end Xeon's beating the best Interlagos has to offer.
  • 9 Hide
    cangelini , March 6, 2012 5:47 PM
    willardI would guess that's because Interlagos is garbage compared to the new Xeons and they know it. I don't think they're terribly eager for the front page of Tom's Hardware to show the low end Xeon's beating the best Interlagos has to offer.

    Not really my place to speculate--only to point out that I similarly wanted to see AMD hardware included and explain why it isn't there :) 
  • 5 Hide
    willard , March 6, 2012 5:48 PM
    jtt283What, or who, was the target? Are there military applications for this weapon?Sorry, vote me down all you like, but the title was just silly.

    No, the title is a fairly common phrase in American English.

    "Now that I've got X, I can really do some damage" would probably be the way I hear it used most often.
  • 6 Hide
    willard , March 6, 2012 5:49 PM
    cangeliniNot really my place to speculate--only to point out that I similarly wanted to see AMD hardware included and explain why it isn't there

    Yeah, I understand that you're in a sensitive position. But being a lowly commenter, I'm free to speculate all I want!

    Muahahahaha!
  • 6 Hide
    cangelini , March 6, 2012 5:52 PM
    willardYeah, I understand that you're in a sensitive position. But being a lowly commenter, I'm free to speculate all I want!Muahahahaha!

    Precisely ;-)
  • 1 Hide
    wiyosaya , March 6, 2012 6:08 PM
    Interesting results.

    In my opinion, the SolidWorks test is also one of those not representative of typical SolidWorks tasks. PhotoView only renders realistic images of a SolidWorks model. Personally, I think the Specviewperf SolidWorks test would be significantly more representative of average SolidWorks use.

    Although I really hate to draw this comparison, PhotoView is more like using Power Point to organize a display of images created in Photoshop. In this comparison, most of the grunt work is done by Photoshop rather than Power Point, as is most of the grunt work done in SolidWorks then rendered in PhotoView. Performance differences revealed by the Specviewperf test are more informative, IMHO. See these.
  • 0 Hide
    juan83 , March 6, 2012 6:08 PM
    great review.. i wonder myself how long we 'll have to wait to see 8 cores and 16 threads on desktop segment as a default pc.. (or less than 400 dolars)

    we have to wait to long for that..
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 6, 2012 6:37 PM
    I would love one of those with a pair of FireGL cards and a mix of SCSI and SSD drives. I'm sure a dual core version of all of that will run me close to $8K though. Consider though how much Sun SPARC stations and SGI Workstations costed a decade or so ago? Workstations that were not nearly as capable went 20-25k. A dual core E5-2687 with FireGL cards and SSD drives is the fastest workstation you could put together on any platform and you can do it for far less than the 25k from years ago. Absolutely crazy to think about it in those terms.
  • 3 Hide
    EXT64 , March 6, 2012 6:52 PM
    I think you need to run some folding at home on that. I can't imagine what it would get in PPD, considering how well the old Intel 6 cores (Gulftown) do.
  • 1 Hide
    jaquith , March 6, 2012 7:11 PM
    Great article and thanks! 16-cores/32-threads is nice! :) 

    Reading this however, all I can do is think how PO'ed I am at Intel not enabling the 7th & 8th cores on the SB-E i7-3960X and i7-3930K.
  • 5 Hide
    cangelini , March 6, 2012 7:14 PM
    jaquithGreat article and thanks! 16-cores/32-threads is nice! Reading this however, all I can do is think how PO'ed I am at Intel not enabling the 7th & 8th cores on the SB-E i7-3960X and i7-3930K.

    I'm going to drop these into X79 and compare the numbers to see how power is affected. Maybe get a little overclocking out of them, just to check ;-)
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