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Intel Xeon 5600-Series: Can Your PC Use 24 Processors?

Conclusion

I truly wish I had some older Xeon 5400-class hardware here to add to the mix. There’s a clear jump from the Xeon 5500s to the 5600s—and that’s just an evolutionary step up. Older Harpertown chips would have illustrated the gains inherent to Intel’s Nehalem architecture (and Gelsinger's claims) more poignantly.

Nevertheless, thanks to a new suite of benchmarks and a 5520-based platform that makes comparing LGA 1366-based processors relatively easy, we can clearly see where it makes sense to spring for a 24-thread, dual-socket workstation. Do a little research. Know if the software you’re running is threaded or not. If it is, a pair of Xeon X5680s, specifically, is very likely going to yield better performance than any other 2P configuration from Intel.

There are caveats, as we saw in Adobe’s CS4 suite. Divvying up 4 GB of system memory between 24 logical cores in a 32-bit application is asking for trouble, or at least a massive performance hit. So, make sure you’re running in a 64-bit environment if you want to come anywhere close to taking advantage of this platform’s potential in threaded software.

And just as we harp on the importance of building balanced desktops, the same holds true here. A potent dual-socket workstation should be complemented with plenty of memory and fast storage. In this case, 12 GB of DDR3-1333 and a pair of 160 GB SSDs in RAID 0 did the trick. Naturally, there are also gains to be had from a capable graphics card. And in some applications, your GPU will make all of the difference, while the Xeons have no impact whatsoever.

What we can say definitively is that the Xeon X5680—despite running 133 MHz faster than Intel’s older Xeon W5580—operates more efficiently than its predecessor in threaded software. It’s significantly more complex, what, with its two extra cores and 4 MB of extra L3 cache. But it fits within the same thermal envelope thanks to 32 nm manufacturing, and even manages to use less average power in our LightWave rendering test that the Xeon 5500-series chip.

And although a pair of hexa-core Xeons are much more power-hungry than a single Core i7-980X, the performance they enable gets threaded workloads done faster—fast enough, in fact, to yield a lower average watt-hour rating than the single-socket Core i7.

As for AMD, here’s hoping its SR56x0 and SP5100 chipset components pave the way for renewed competition in the workstation space. It’d be interesting to gauge the speed of the Opteron 6100-series’ 12 physical cores against Intel’s 6C/12T Xeon 5600-series, after all.

  • one-shot
    Or 24 Logical cores, not really Processors.
    Reply
  • Zerk
    24 threads, 12 cores.

    A+ Excellent Review.
    Reply
  • enzo matrix
    one-shotOr 24 Logical CPUs, not really Processors.Misleading title. I was excited because I assumed intel had finally come out with 12-core server CPUs.
    Reply
  • Tamz_msc
    I was expecting an even better performance from these CPUs.The performance is still limited by the software you use.
    Reply
  • shin0bi272
    Enzo MatrixMisleading title. I was excited because I assumed intel had finally come out with 12-core server CPUs.they could have gone 4x 6 core cpus without HT too.
    Reply
  • cangelini
    Enzo MatrixMisleading title. I was excited because I assumed intel had finally come out with 12-core server CPUs.
    The Xeon 5600-series tops out with 6 cores and 12 threads, yielding 24 logical processors between two sockets. =)
    Reply
  • wh3resmycar
    So many cpu's in task manager...do all but 1 go unused running a single threaded app? shame intel had to go this route with more cores instead of making single core with hyper-threading work faster. you should really only need 2 logical cpu's and hyper threading accomplishes it with 1.

    i have a feeling you dont understand what the word "workstation" means.
    Reply
  • Hyper threading was kind of cool back in the P4 days, but now I don't see the point. Virtually nothing that >people actually use< has any benefit to see from it.. It just makes for cool screenshots imo..

    I guess what this review says is that, if you want performance for stuff you do at home you should pretty much just get a Nehalem i7 6c with some fast ram. The xeons seems to be behind on everything multimedia, much as expected.
    Reply
  • Otus
    cangeliniThe Xeon 5600-series tops out with 6 cores and 12 threads, yielding 24 logical processors between two sockets. =)You should have written "logical processors" or "logical cores" and no one would have argued.
    mheagerNot true. Hyper threading makes it so if one app gets stuck in an endless loop it doesn't suck up all the cpu and freeze the computer.The OS can do that even on a single core with no HT. Not to mention the case with many physical cores which non-HT CPUs have nowadays.
    Reply
  • kokin
    mheagerNot true. Hyper threading makes it so if one app gets stuck in an endless loop it doesn't suck up all the cpu and freeze the computer.But why should it get stuck in an endless loop with all that computing power?
    Reply