The introduction earlier this year of Intel's Xeon 5500 Series processors has given the server market a major boost, and in more ways than one. Improved performance is the most obvious advance, with the 45nm Nehalem micro-architecture behind the 5500 series supporting dual or quad cores, with hyperthreading on some versions. Automatic over-clocking of individual cores is also supported, via what Intel calls Turbo Boost Technology.
The Xeon 5500 also sees the first major implementation of QuickPath. Intel's answer to AMD's HyperTransport, QuickPath eliminates the frontside bus (FSB) bottleneck that handicapped earlier designs, giving each core its own integrated memory controller plus a high-speed interconnect to other cores, memory and I/O. Add in support for masses of DDR3 RAM plus PCI Express Generation 2 technology — which doubles the I/O bandwidth — and the result is a leap forward in terms of processing power.
Exactly how much of a leap depends, of course, on the system configuration and applications involved. A recent Intel presentation claimed up to a nine-fold speed improvement compared to the typical end-of-life single-core Xeon servers that customers are currently looking to replace. Alternatively, with its additional power-saving features, the Xeon 5500 lets you do the same amount of work with fewer servers and reduce energy costs by up to 90 per cent, enabling the costs of upgrading to be recouped in just a few months.
With figures like these being bandied about, the major vendors have, understandably, rushed to bring products to market, and a variety of tower, rack and blade systems are now available. Just as with earlier Xeon servers, racks are likely to be the most popular format, with the six vendors featured here each selling both 1U and 2U products. With extra room for on-board storage and expansion, 2U servers are set to be the sweet spot and it's these we've concentrated on for our group test.
What we tested
* 2 x Intel Xeon 5520 processors, 8GB RAM, 4 x 146GB SAS disks, single PSU