Xeon E5: Respectable Performance Boost, Bigger Efficiency Gain
The Sandy Bridge architecture was a really big deal on the desktop. More than a year after its introduction, Core i5-2500K is still the processor I recommend to friends who ask for buying advice. And although it took Intel a long time to incorporate Sandy Bridge into its server and workstation portfolio, the resulting effort is complex, and yet scalable in a way that only the Xeon E7s can rival.
There are 37 different Xeon E5s. We only got our hands on one. But the Xeon E5-2687W is the fastest model, and we were able to benchmark it against three other flagships in their respective families: Xeon W5580, Xeon X5680, and Core i7-3960X. Obviously, the performance you get from any dual-processor platform is wholly dependent on the tasks you throw at it. Our test suite is predominantly workstation-oriented. But even with lightly-threaded benchmarks folded in, the Xeon E5s were about 21% faster, on average, than the Xeon 5600s. After factoring out the tests you typically wouldn’t see on a workstation, the advantage grew just a hair to almost 23%.
But while comparing the Xeon E5s to the Xeon 5600s was interesting, I was more impressed by the efficiency calculation than any other piece of data. The Xeon E5-2687W is etched using the same 32 nm node. It’s way larger. And its TDP is 20 W higher per processor. Indeed, you can clearly see that, under full load, two Xeon E5-2687Ws draw more power from the wall than the Xeon X5680s. But the speed-up attributable to Intel’s Sandy Bridge architecture and two additional cores per socket outweighs the power spike, yielding better efficiency.
Consider also that the E5’s strengths are more accessible across a wider range of segments. There are now eight-core processors available for entry-level dual-socket servers in the Xeon E5-2400 family. A single-socket Xeon E5-1600 workstation line-up offers similar functionality as the Core i7-3000 series, adding RAS functionality important to some folks. The Xeon E5-2600s cover a broad range of 2S servers and workstations. And a line of Xeon E5-4600 processors introduces the idea of more commoditized quad-socket configurations that maximize performance/watt in HPC environments.
Obviously, if you’re a professional working in a data center, the prospect of improving efficiency is a head-turner. Similar, engineers and artists looking at next-gen workstations have to appreciate a platform that averages 20% better performance. But even if you’re a hardware enthusiast with no reason to use any of this gear, it’s still pretty cool to pop open Windows’ Task Manager and watch 32 threads go to town rendering a scene that could end up in the next game you enjoy.