Intel trumpets power, versatility of new flagship Xeon server chips

The new Xeon E5-2600 v2 chips are 45 percent more power-efficient, 50 percent faster and able to handle diverse workloads, Intel says

Intel hopes to pump more computing horsepower into servers with new Xeon chips based on the Ivy Bridge microarchitecture, which will also have the ability to dynamically adapt to cloud, database or supercomputing workloads.

On Tuesday, Intel announced the Xeon E5-2600 v2 line of flagship server chips, which will succeed last year's Xeon E5-2600 chips, which were based on the Sandy Bridge microarchitecture. The new chips have up to 12 processor cores, support up to 30MB of cache and draw between 60 and 130 watts of power.

Servers need to be flexible to handle multiple workloads such as cloud, analytics and databases, and the new chips have on-chip, network and storage features that can dynamically adapt to different workloads, said Diane Bryant, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Datacenter and Connected Systems Group, during a press briefing at the Intel Developer Forum.

Intel's server chip business is healthy and one of the few bright spots in the company's operations as the PC and mobile units struggle. New chips usually prompt server upgrades in data centers, and the new chips deliver more processing muscle while drawing less or the same amount of power as predecessors. The new Xeon chips, code-named Ivy Bridge-E, were released on the heels of the new low-power Atom server chips code-named Avoton for microservers, announced last week.

The new chips are 45 percent more power-efficient and deliver 50 percent more performance compared to the previous chips, Intel said. The performance increase is partly due to more cores in the new chips, while the previous generation topped out at eight cores.

Overall, Intel announced 18 new Ivy Bridge-EP chips targeted at two-socket servers, but many server makers also use the chips in four-socket servers. The clock speeds range from 1.7GHz on the 10-core, 70-watt E5-2650L v2, to 3.5GHz on the low-end, quad-core E5-2637 v2 and six-core E5-2643 v2 chips. The 12-core chips include the 2.7GHz Xeon E5-2697 v2, which draws 130 watts of power, and the 2.4Ghz Xeon E5-2695 v2, which draws 115 watts of power. The chips will be priced from US$202 to $2,614 in quantities of 1,000.

IBM, SGI and Lenovo announced multisocket servers based on Ivy Bridge-EP. The systems are targeted at virtualization, cloud, databases and supercomputing, and the companies said the new chips bring more compute density and power savings by running applications faster in the same amount of server space.

SGI is claiming a 37 percent increase in performance for its ICE X supercomputer with Ivy Bridge-EP compared to older Sandy Bridge Xeon chips. Servers will also have 50 percent more cores per socket, SGI said. SGI is installing servers with the new chips at many locations including NASA, which will house 46 racks of ICE X servers that can deliver a peak performance of 2.88 petaflops.

Intel also said the servers are flexible at handling multiple workloads based on the type of traffic flowing into data centers. The Ivy Bridge-EP chips have network accelerators that reduce the need for separate co-processors designed to handle such tasks. That could help in faster delivery of data over the network, and ultimately into the cloud. Intel's goal with Ivy Bridge-EP is to replace networking gear such as appliances and switches by bringing more network functionality and provisioning into servers, Bryant said.

Two servers highlight the new networking and storage-friendly functions of the new Xeons. Lenovo announced new ThinkServer two-socket rack servers that will run on the E5-2600 v2 chips. The servers, which don't have names yet, are being shown at IDF and will have technology called Smart Grid, which will use Intel's Node Manager Technology for system administrators to control power management on up to 1,000 networked connections.

IBM announced a new server system called NextScale System, which will be based on the Xeon E5-2600 v2 chips. The 6U NextScale chassis will be able to accommodate up to 12 server boards and up to 2,016 server processor cores, which is up to twice that of six IBM 1U servers. The servers share power and cooling components in the one chassis, helping reduce the power consumption.

Each board on the NextScale System will have its own storage and networking components and connect directly to the top-of-the-rack networking. Other components such as graphics processors can be attached to a PCI-Express 3.0 slot, and a mezzanine card will be able to bring different types of networking such as InfiniBand into the servers. The NextScale chassis is flexible and also will be able to host microservers, said Gaurav Chaudhry, worldwide marketing manager for System x high-performance computing at IBM.

IBM will also use the new Xeons in System x servers, BladeCenter offerings and integrated servers such as FlexSystem. Other server makers such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard and others are also expected to announce servers with the new chips.

Small tweaks on Ivy Bridge-EP also help run applications faster and increase bandwidth. The exit time for virtual machines is quicker, which helps speed up virtualization. There is more bandwidth with up to 80 integrated PCI-Express 3.0 lanes per two-socket server, which is double the number of lanes compared to previous chips supporting PCI-Express 2.0. Also, there are more security features, and vector processing is faster with instruction set improvements.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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