A Look At The V8 Platform
We can't very well talk about a total platform without giving you some details regarding the actual hardware. To that end, we have some pictures of the individual components that were used to build up our Intel V8 Media Creation Platform. In addition to the processors and motherboard, we want to give some attention to the memory and coolers used in this system.
The PIB heatsinks included with the Xeon X5365 processors are made completely of copper and get mounted using a quartet of screws distributed around their edges. The fans used on the coolers throttle based on CPU activity, from a barely-audible low-speed to an ear-piercing high-speed that's akin to a powerful hair dryer. With these stock coolers, there is no way anyone could use the system daily and not be distracted by the noise level. There are aftermarket coolers available, however, that are significantly quieter and tolerable.
The FB-DIMMs used in the system come by way of Samsung. Four, 1GB sticks of M395T2953CZ4 - CE60 PC2-5300 memory populate the motherboard. The memory is rated for operation at 667MHz with 5-5-5 timings and it's equipped with basic, flat heat spreaders. Despite the relatively low frequency of these FB-DIMMs in comparison to most desktop memory, we found it to run quite hot in our open-air test bench. This is due in part to the AMB chip on board the modules, which essentially is a serial interface device for the memory. AMB chips typically consume 3 - 5 watts of power themselves. Multiply that times four and we're looking at up to 20 watts total required per 4GB installation (using 1GB sticks) above and beyond the memory chips themselves.
The V8's need for FB-DIMMs is both a pro and a con depending on your point of few. FB-DIMM eschews the parallel bus architecture of traditional DRAMs in favor of a serial interface between the memory controller and an AMB (Advance Memory Buffer) on each DIMM. Using a serial interface that connects to only the AMB allows for an increase in the bus width of the memory without overcomplicating the connections between it and the memory controller. With FB-DIMMs the memory controller does not write to the memory directly, but rather the AMB. And the AMB offers a number of benefits, like compensating for signal deterioration and error correction without any CPU overhead. In addition, since each DIMM has a dedicated serial interface to work with, bus loading is not an issue and installations of up to 8 FBDIMM sockets can be accomodated, which is something that is simply not possible with standard registered DIMMs. The AMB does, however, introduce additional latency to the memory pipeline. That latency can be somewhat negated with higher frequencies, but as of today FB-DIMMs aren't available at any speeds higher than 667MHz.
We've already given you some details regarding the processors and motherboard on the previous page, but there's still more to talk about. As we've mentioned, the Xeon X5365 processors have four execution cores, clocked at 3.0GHz. They used Intel's LGA771 packaging and are equipped with 8MB of L2 cache. Using two of these processors in a single platform results in eight available cores and a total of 16MB of L2. To use two processors in one system though, you'll need a motherboard that supports that configuration, like the S5000XVN. This particular model of the board is the S500XVNSAS, which as its name implies, features a Serial Attached SCSI drive controller. The board has only 1 PCI Express x16 slot, so multi-GPU configurations are out. It's also got a pair of x8 slots (with x4 electrical connections) and a pair of PCI-X slots, which do work with most standard PCI expansion cards as well.
The board is passively cooled by a trio of basic, aluminum heatsinks affixed to the chipset and VRM. Given this platform's workstation roots, the S5000XVN's large 13" x 12" PCB and layout are reminiscent of motherboards used in rack-mount servers, and will not fit is many mid-tower (or smaller) enclosures. And it requires both an 8-pin and 4-pin power connector (in addition to the 24-pin connector), so some power supplies are out. The board has HD audio, but can only output 2 channels. And all of its expansion headers and connectors are huddled together in two groups at opposite corners of the board. Perhaps one of the more interesting features of this motherboard is that it has dual-front side busses, so each CPU has its own 1333MHz FSB.