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Intel Xeon E3-1275 Review: Sandy Bridge Goes Professional

Intel’s Xeon E3-1200-Series Family

Eleven new processors populate the Xeon E3-1200 series. Five are server-specific, four are workstation-specific, and two are low-voltage models that won’t be sold at retail (they’re tray-only). Architecturally, all 11 chips are very similar. They center on the same Sandy Bridge design introduced on the desktop earlier this year.

That means they’re manufactured on a 32 nm process, employ up to four execution cores, and include as much as 8 MB of last-level cache. Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost are enabled or disabled on a per-model basis, serving as differentiators. The same dual-channel memory controller is there, accommodating up to 32 GB of DDR3-1333. And there’s also an integrated PCI Express controller, plus the logic corresponding to Intel’s HD Graphics 3000 engine.

There are some notable differences between the desktop Core family and these new Xeons, though. To begin, the memory controller supports ECC-capable modules. That’s not even worth a footnote on a desktop platform, but it’s an important addition to servers and workstations tasked with money-making jobs. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” you say. “I use desktop hardware at work all of the time and it’s just fine.” And so do I. But I also have more than a handful of painful memories when a story I was writing disappeared after a random blue-screen. Those are the situations ECC memory is intended to help prevent.

The Xeons also have more PCI Express connectivity. That’s right—here we all thought Sandy Bridge was limited to 16 lanes and three controllers. In fact, the Xeon implementation offers 20 lanes and four controllers. Sixteen makes sense on the desktop, where enthusiasts are most likely to monopolize them with a single GPU or split them with a pair of graphics cards. In the server space, however, you have 10 Gb Ethernet controllers, SAS cards, and Fibre Channel HBAs using x8 and x4 slots. An additional four lanes of PCIe come in useful.

Finally, there’s the issue of integrated graphics. Intel uses the same die across its Xeon E3 lineup. However, its retail server parts see that engine disabled entirely. One of its low-voltage offerings includes HD Graphics 2000. And the workstation SKUs come armed with HD Graphics P3000, which we’ll cover shortly.

Base ClockMax. Turbo ClockL3 CacheCores / ThreadsDDR3 Data RateHyper-ThreadingTurbo BoostTDP (W)
Xeon E3-12803.5 GHz3.9 GHz8 MB4/81333 / 1066YesYes95
Xeon E3-12753.4 GHz3.8 GHz8 MB4/81333 / 1066YesYes95
Xeon E3-12703.4 GHz3.8 GHz8 MB4/81333 / 1066YesYes80
Xeon E3-1260L2.4 GHz3.3 GHz8 MB4/81333 / 1066YesYes45
Xeon E3-12453.3 GHz3.7 GHz8 MB4/81333 / 1066YesYes95
Xeon E3-12403.3 GHz3.7 GHz8 MB4/81333 / 1066YesYes80
Xeon E3-12353.2 GHz3.6 GHz8 MB4/81333 / 1066YesYes95
Xeon E3-12303.2 GHz3.6 GHz8 MB4/81333 / 1066YesYes80
Xeon E3-12253.1 GHz3.4 GHz6 MB4/41333 / 1066NoYes95
Xeon E3-12203.1 GHz3.4 GHz8 MB4/41333 / 1066NoYes80
Xeon E3-1220L2.2 GHz3.4 GHz3 MB2/41333 / 1066YesYes20

As you can see, there’s more choice in the Xeon E3 family than Intel’s second-gen Core i7, i5, and i3 lineups combined. And aside from one low-voltage tray model, they all include at least four physical cores. They’re also predominantly armed with Hyper-Threading and equipped with a full 8 MB of L3.

All but one of the retail server-oriented models sports an 80 W TDP, indicative of the tighter constraints on 1U rack-mounted machines. The workstation-class processors employ the same 95 W rating as Intel’s desktop processors. And the low-voltage parts are available at 45 and 20 W TDPs.

Up and down the lineup you see some of the same capabilities already discussed on the desktop: Turbo Boost, Demand-Based Switching (similar to SpeedStep), and AES-NI support. FlexMigration is a cool capability that the Xeons uniquely get, though, that allows them to operate in a virtualized environment alongside other, older virtualized servers. Generally, the risk there would be migrating a VM from one system to another (based on a dissimilar architecture), without the same virtualization acceleration features. FlexMigration basically recognizes each generation of hardware in your infrastructure and uses the lowest common denominator, preventing a compatibility clash. Of course, it’s not ideal to disable new features, but when it’s the difference between throwing away usable servers to avoid crashes, well…

  • one-shot
    Stop teasing and give us a six core Sandy Bridge CPU!
  • dragonsqrrl
    one-shotStop teasing and give us a six core Sandy Bridge CPU!Sandy Bridge-E, LGA 2011 X79, Q4 2011.
  • agnickolov
    Finally a compilation benchmark! Now please make it standard in your test suite for CPUs and storage so there's a real benefit from it all for actual comparisons.
  • memadmax
    They still make xeons?
  • DavC
    Thanks for this review Chris, very well covered. I'll probably be refering back to this when it comes to spec our next workstations.
  • I think this is a useless review. Why are we comparing Apples to Oranges? Lets compare current generation Xeons to Previous generation Xeons.
  • dgingeri
    one thing I can attest to: companies who cheap out on their workstations and servers never perform well as companies, and eventually fail.

    I've worked with many small businesses, and every one that used a desktop chip for a server or a discount chip (Celeron, Duron, etc) for their desktop computers all performed very poorly. Some seemed to hang on by the sheer will of the owner, and in a couple cases, when the owner got sick for more than a week, the businesses folded like lawn chairs.

    I've also seen an Engineering shop of ~30 engineers invest nicely into a real server and real workstations, and had me set up their entire network with SBS. their business ramped up so fast and well that they had to hire several more engineers and outgrew SBS (limited to 50 users at the time) within the next 2 years, and I had to go back and rebuild their domain with full enterprise level software, and add another server specifically for email. the owner said the investment in that SBS system was the best thing he'd invested in the business since he hired his first engineer.

    Business owners who do not invest in their IT infrastructure fail at business. It's pretty plain and simple. While investing in good IT gear and software doesn't mean you'll ramp up your business to unheard of heights, it does give you a major leg up on the competition.
  • geekapproved
    No quick sync on a Zeon??
  • given the option of a cheaper Xenon that does not have the P3000 im pretty sure 90% of companies would choose that option, discreet graphics would almost exclusively be employed for the majority of workstation class desktops
  • Very informative and useful article Mr. Angelini, thank you.