Friday, September 3, 2010

Intel's Xeon 5600-Series Server Processor

Intel 5600-SeriesA mere 5 years ago Intel completely took the way desktop computing was headed and turned it on its head when they introduced their first dual-core Pentium processors. However, Intel soon realized they were "going against the grain" by trying to push frequencies beyond 10GHz. So Intel shifted focus from surpassing to equalizing.

The only problem with this is that servers and workstations were already using multi-socket configurations to get things moving faster. At this point, Intel's Xeons were getting royally beaten by the Operton from AMD. The Xeons were single-core processors in dual-processor boards that were only slightly aided by the same Hyper-Threading technology we know of today.

It is true that the incorporation of threaded software has been slow for the desktop market whereas business-class workstations have been enjoying multi-core CPUs for quite some time. The cost savings of switching from a single-core, dual-socket system to a dual-core, single-socket box is intense.

As hardware gets more and more powerful, software changes to take advantage, necessitating even more capable hardware. Intel launched their Xeon 5500-series CPUs for dual-socket servers and workstations. The 5500-series was characterized as the most important introduction in more than a decade, and it definitely was for Intel.

AMD had an architectural advantage by using HyperTransport, which was especially pronounced in multi-socket machines. On the other side you had Intel, who still relied on shared front side bus bandwidth for processor communication. With the introduction of the 5500-series, Intel addressed their weakness via QuickPatch Interconnect which added Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost to help improve performance in parallelized and single-threaded applications.

But Intel wasn't finished yet. This year's switch to 32 nm manufacturing allowed Intel the opportunity to add complexity to their SMB-orientated processors without altering the thermal properties. This is where the Xeon 5600-series comes into play, which supports up to six physical cores and 12MB of shared L3 cache per processor all within the 130W envelope that was created by the 5500-series.

Intel has announced that the latest 5600-series is not a contender in the workstation market right now. In order to be competitive in that market, Intel would have to pair competent processors with no less than fairly-modern core logic. Regardless, there is still plenty of hardware to compare, including a Core i7-980X. The Xeon 5600-series Server Processor is on sale now for a hefty $1,700 and is definitely one of the best servers on the market today.

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