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Intel Unveils 10-Core Xeons, Mission-Critical Servers
Date: Apr 05, 2011
Author: Joel Hruska
Intel Unveils 10-Core Xeons, Mission-Critical Servers
Intel announced its new E-series of Xeon processors today, claiming that the new processors will deliver nearly unparalleled advances in CPU performance and power efficiency. It's been just over a year since Santa Clara released its Nehalem-based octal-core Beckton processors. Whereas Beckton was focused entirely on performance and architectural efficiency, these new Xeons are more balanced. The new chips boost the core count to ten (up to 20 threads with HT enabled) and will be offered at a wide range of TDPs.

Beckton Evolved: Now with two more cores and twice the RAM

"Intel has been changing the economics for mission-critical computing server deployments for more than a decade, and today we are raising the bar yet again," said Kirk Skaugen, vice president and general manager of Intel's Data Center Group. "The new Intel Xeon processor E7 family delivers record breaking performance with powerful new security, reliability and energy efficiency enhancements. The industry momentum we're seeing for this new server processor architecture is unparalleled in Intel's history. The days of IT organizations being forced to deploy expensive, closed RISC architectures for mission-critical applications are nearing an end."

Intel's presentation made it clear that it's gunning for what's left of the RISC market. Kirk Skaugen, vice president and general manager of Intel's Data Center Group, made a point of telling the conference that there's "No workload in the world today that Xeon can't handle." History certainly favors his words. Intel's quoted figures indicate that while the high end of the server market grew just five percent from 2002-2010, Intel's share of it nearly doubled.

The company went out of its way to note that Itanium's share of the market grew enormously over the past eight years, but it's Xeon, not Poulson, Intel is betting on. The new E7 series incorporates the benefits of Sandy Bridge, its support for new instructions, and its improved power management technology. Intel has also baked in support for low-voltage DIMMs, which allows vendors to opt for 1.35v products. The power savings, at 1W per DIMM, might not sound like much, but the E7 series supports up to 2TB of RAM in a 4S system. According to Intel, low-voltage DDR3 can cut a server's power consumption by up to 128W.

OEM support for the new E7 processors seems downright enthusiastic; 19 vendors have announced a total of 35 systems with shipping to begin immediately. This may be partly due to the way the E7 helps to simplify Intel's product mix. Up to now, Intel's heavy-hitting Beckton was a 45nm chip that lacked the 32nm enhancements of the Xeon 5600 parts.
The Competition, Conclusion
E7 vs. Everyone:

The E7 series occupies a well-fortified position. Oracle laid out an aggressive SPARC roadmap last August, but is still catching up with the rest of the industry as far as CPU roadmap execution is concerned. IBM's POWER architecture is considerably more competitive, but Intel opines that it can deliver identical performance at a fraction of the cost. Regardless of whether or not the figures above are accurate, the CPU giant has been using economies of scale and 'good enough' performance to eat into the server market for nearly 15 years. Intel was anything but shy in communicating its intent; the mainframe features of the Xeon E7 series were mentioned on more than one occasion.

Intel's only nod to its x86 competitor was to note that AMD's Opteron was decisively outsold by Itanium in terms of revenue. It's been just over a year since AMD slashed server pricing and attacked Intel by offering CPU cores at roughly 2:1. While the move improved AMD's price/performance ratio against its rival, it didn't reverse AMD's fortunes in the server market.

Intel, at least for now, is clearly king of the hill. Bulldozer will need to deliver in spades to hit the Xeon 5600 / E7 products, Oracle is busy with new workstations based on UltraSPARC, and IBM's core mainframe business—it's tasty, tasty, mainframe business—is Intel's primary target.

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