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

The professional space is peppered with products derived from the desktop. Today we're looking at Intel's Xeon X5680 CPUs, which look a lot like Core i7-980X, only they're optimized for dual-socket platforms. We're also introducing new Adobe CS5 tests.

Back in 2005, Intel changed the trajectory of desktop computing by introducing its first dual-core Pentium processors. Having realized that it was fighting an uphill battle to try pushing frequencies beyond 10 GHz, the company shifted strategies and put parallelism in it crosshairs.

The thing was that servers and workstations were already employing multi-socket configurations to get work done faster. At the time, Irwindale-based Xeons were getting their behinds handed to them by AMD’s Opteron. Although these dropped into dual-processor boards, they were still single-core chips, aided slightly by the same Hyper-Threading technology we know today.

So, while the adoption of threaded software has seemed slow on the desktop (we enjoy cursing apps like iTunes and WinZip, still stuck in the single-threaded dark ages), business-class workstation machines have enjoyed more elegant utilization of multi-core CPUs for a long, long time. As we debate about the value of a six-core CPU versus quad-core models in a gaming box, the workstation guys are trying to get as much horsepower as possible.

Just imagine the cost savings of going from a single-core, dual-socket system to a dual-core, single-socket box. Or how about the performance gain shifting from a single-core, dual-socket platform to a dual-core, dual-socket configuration? That’s two times the processing resources in the same class of hardware. Buying motherboards and CPUs only gets more expensive as you start looking at four- and eight-way boxes.

And to think, today we have six-core Hyper-Threaded chips making 12 logical processors available to operating systems like Windows 7—all from a single socket.

Chris Angelini Discusses Xeon 5600-Series


Intel’s Return To Competition

As the hardware gets more powerful, software adapts to take advantage, necessitating even more capable hardware. Gotta love the viscous circle, right?

Last year, Intel launched its Xeon 5500-series CPUs for dual-socket servers and workstations. Then-vice-president Pat Gelsinger characterized the introduction as the most important in more than a decade. And while I’m not one to parrot marketing messages, this one was absolutely true for the company.

The architectural advantage AMD carved out for itself using HyperTransport was especially pronounced in multi-socket machines, while Intel relied on shared front side bus bandwidth for processor communication. With the Xeon 5500-series, Intel addressed its weaknesses through the QuickPath Interconnect, adding Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost to further improve performance in parallelized and single-threaded applications alike.

Of course, the wheels of progress continue to spin. This year’s shift to 32 nm manufacturing gave Intel the opportunity to add complexity to its SMB-oriented processor lineup without altering its thermal properties. Enter the Xeon 5600 family, sporting up to six physical cores and 12 MB of shared L3 cache per processor—all within the same 130 W envelope established by the Xeon 5500-series.

Always fun to see 24 logical CPUs in Windows' Device ManagerAlways fun to see 24 logical CPUs in Windows' Device Manager

Take note: you aren’t going to see any AMD CPUs in this piece. When we approached the company early on about participating in a workstation-based comparison to the latest Xeon CPUs, the company conceded that it really isn’t a player in the workstation market right now. Part of being competitive there means pairing competent processors with at least somewhat-modern core logic. And while Intel’s Xeon 5500- and 5600-series chips have the 5520 and 5500 chipset to lean on, AMD’s options for workstation-class chipsets are a little sparser. The company does have its SR56x0 lineup and SP5100 south bridge (and Tyan even sells dual-socket motherboards based on that platform). For one reason or another, though, we didn’t get much interest from AMD. It’s a shame, too. Back when the Athlon 64 launched, its exclusive 64-bit architecture was considered a big win for the digital audio workstation folks.

At any rate, we have plenty of hardware to compare here, including a pair of Xeon 5600s, two Xeon 5500s, and a Core i7-980X that’ll demonstrate where and when a second processor will actually buy extra performance in a workstation-oriented load.

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

    A+ Excellent Review.
  • 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.
  • Tamz_msc
    I was expecting an even better performance from these CPUs.The performance is still limited by the software you use.
  • 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.
  • 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. =)
  • wh3resmycar
    Quote:
    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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • mindbreaker
    Since when do the chip makers get to choose not to have their chips tested? Is this a news magazine or isn't it? Test those G34 socket AMD Opterons!

    And guys; chess is still one of the best applications to see the potential of a chip with all threads pegged. Crafty has a benchmark if the Fritz one is not using all the threads. Or you can do things more hands on; just see how much time it requires to get StockFish 1.8 to reach depth 30 in the start position. It is free and the #2 engine in the world.
  • jeffunit
    Nice picture of a memory module. Unfortunately, it isn't a picture of the kingston KVR1333D3E9SK3/3G which has ECC, and hence 9 memory chips per side.
  • cangelini
    jeffunitNice picture of a memory module. Unfortunately, it isn't a picture of the kingston KVR1333D3E9SK3/3G which has ECC, and hence 9 memory chips per side.


    Blargh. That's what I get for relying on Kingston's stock photography. Photo of one of my actual modules is in there now.
  • cangelini
    mindbreakerSince when do the chip makers get to choose not to have their chips tested? Is this a news magazine or isn't it? Test those G34 socket AMD Opterons! And guys; chess is still one of the best applications to see the potential of a chip with all threads pegged. Crafty has a benchmark if the Fritz one is not using all the threads. Or you can do things more hands on; just see how much time it requires to get StockFish 1.8 to reach depth 30 in the start position. It is free and the #2 engine in the world.


    Hoping to get AMD in on the next round, for sure!
  • Reynod
    Enjoyed reading this ... thanks Chris.
  • amdfangirl
    It's interesting to see it unable to beat the i7-980X at times.

    Just shows not everything is ready for operation more cores.
  • Marco925
    Quote:
    Can Your PC Use 24 Processors?


    I'm still on dual core... :( so no.
  • wotan31
    I'll bet Windows won't work with this many processors. The crap OS will probably BSOD. Even it boots, Windows is a virtual retard when it comes to thread management - it scales VERY poorly once you go above 4 cpu's. Linux or OSX on the other hand, would definitely benefit from such technology, since both of those have advanced thread management.
  • wotan31
    Tamz_mscI was expecting an even better performance from these CPUs.The performance is still limited by the software you use.

    Correct... if the software you use is Windows. Use a real OS that's based on UNIX and can actually scale properly when you give it serious hardware. Windows is a tinker toy in comparison.
  • scook9
    Pretty epic review :)
  • noob2222
    good review, but one thing that doesn't make sense ... AES ... wouldn't that be more used on a workstation? and they leave it off of the cpu.
  • jay_l_a
    "Gotta love the viscous circle, right?'

    I think you mean Vicious Circle, unless you're talking about walking around in treacle?
  • geok1ng
    AT already compared 12 tread Xeons agains 12 cores Opterons:

    "The bottom line is: is this twelve-core Opteron a good deal? For users waiting to use it in a workstation we have our doubts. You’ll benefit from the extra cores when rendering complex scenes, but in all other scenarios (quick simple rendering, modeling) the higher clocked and higher IPC Xeon X5600 series is simply the better choice.

    Applications based on transactional databases (OLTP and ERP) are also better off with new Xeon. The SAP and our own Oracle Calling Circle benchmark all point in the same direction. Intel has a tangible performance advantage in both benchmarks.

    Data mining applications clearly benefit from having “real” instead of “logical” cores. For datamining, we believe the 12-core Opteron is the clear winner. It offers 20% better performance at 20% lower prices, a good deal if you ask us. Intel’s relatively high prices for its six-core are challenged. The increased competition turns this into a buyers market again.

    And then there is the most important segment: the virtualization market. We estimate that the new Opteron 6174 is about 20% slower than the Xeon 5670 in virtualized servers with very high VM counts. The difference is a lot smaller in the opposite scenario: a virtualized server with a few very heavy VMs. Here the choice is less clear. At this point, we believe both server CPUs consume about the same power, so that does not help either to make up our minds. It will depend on how the OEMs price their servers. The Opteron 6100 series offers up to 24 DIMMs slots, the Xeon is “limited” to 18. In many cases this allows the server buyer to achieve higher amount of memory with lower costs. You can go for 96 GB of memory with affordable 4 GB DIMMs, while the Intel server is limited to 72 GB there. That is a small bonus for the AMD server."

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/2978/amd-s-12-core-magny-cours-opteron-6174-vs-intel-s-6-core-xeon/15

    The funny part is that on the PC market the choice is clearly the 6 cores Phenon for $325, on the server segment the 12 core Opteron is very competite, but on the workstation market things are not so clear, and cost, power envelop and performance must be taken into fine consideration before purchasing.

    This article is not biased towards Intel: it only points convenintly towards one the few market segment that Intel has a product worth mentioning ( the other being extrem low power no compromise taken PC with the i3...
  • jowunger
    Finally, I can buy my SuperComputer at an IT store!