Monday, November 23, 2015

IBM is set to challenge Intel's Xeon by IBM Power8

Five years. That is how much time has passed since we have seen an affordable server processor that could keep up with or even beat Intel's best Xeons. These days no less than 95% of the server CPUs shipped are Intel Xeons. A few years ago, it looked like ARM servers were going to shake up the market this year, but to cut a long story short, it looks like the IBM POWER8 chip is probably the only viable alternative for the time being.

That was also noticeable in our Xeon E7 review, which was much more popular than we ever hoped. One of the reasons was the inclusion of a few IBM POWER8 benchmarks. We admit that the article was however incomplete: the POWER8 development machine we tested was a virtual machine with only 1 core, 8 threads and 2 GB of RAM, which is not enough to do any thorough server testing.

After seeing the reader interest in POWER8 in that previous article, we decided to investigate the matter further. To that end we met with Franz Bourlet, an enthusiastic technical sales engineer at IBM and he made sure we got access to an IBM S822L server. Thanks to Franz and the good people of Arrow Enterprise Computing Solutions, Arrow was able to lend us an IBM S822L server for our testing.
A Real Alternative?

Some of you may argue that the POWER based servers have been around for years now. But the slide below illustrates what we typically associated IBM's POWER range with:

Proudly, the IBM sales team states that you can save 1.5 million dollars after you have paid them 2 million dollars for your high-end 780 system. There is definitely a market for such hugely expensive and robust server systems as high end RISC machines are good for about 50,000 clients. But frankly for most of us, those systems are nothing more than an expensive curiosity.

Availability can be handled by software and most of us are looking/forced to reduce our capital expenses rather than increase them. We want fast, "reliable enough" servers at low costs that are easy to service. And that is exactly the reason why the single and dual sockets Xeon servers have been so popular the past decade. Can an IBM POWER server be a real alternative to the typical Xeon E5 server? The short but vague answer: a lot has changed in the past years and months. So yes, maybe.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Intel Readying l5-core XEON E7 v2

Reports from ISSCC are coming out that Intel is preparing to launch a 15-core Xeon CPU.  The 15-core model was postulated before Ivy Bridge-E launch, along with 12-core and 10-core models – the latter two are currently on the market but Intel was rather silent on the 15-core SKU, presumably because it harder to manufacturer one with the right voltage characteristics.  Releasing a 15-core SKU is a little odd, and one would assume is most likely a 16-core model with one of the cores disabled – based on Intel’s history I doubt this core will be able to be re-enabled should the silicon still work. I just received the official documents and the 15 core SKU is natively 15-core.
Information from the original source on the top end CPU is as follows:
  •  4.31 billion transistors
  •  Will be in the Xeon E7 line-up, suited for 4P/8P systems (8 * 15 * 2 = 240 threads potential)
  •  2.8 GHz Turbo Frequency (though the design will scale to 3.8 GHz)
  •  150W TDP
  •  40 PCIe lanes
Judging by the available information, it would seem that Intel are preparing a stack of ‘Ivytown’ processors along this design, and thus a range of Xeon E7 processors, from 1.4 GHz to 3.8 GHz, drawing between 40W and 150W, similar to the Xeon E5 v2 range.
Predictions have Ivytown to be announced next week, with these details being part of the ISSCC conference talks.  In comparison to some of the other Xeon CPUs available, as well as the last generation:

Intel Xeon Comparison 

According to CPU-World, there are 8 members of the Xeon E7-8xxx v2 range planned, from 6 to 15 cores and 105W to 155W, along with some E7-4xxx v2 also featuring 15 core models, with 2.8 GHz being the top 15-core model speed at 155W.
All this is tentative until Intel makes a formal announcement, but there is clearly room at the high end.  The tradeoff is always between core density and frequency, with the higher frequency models having lower core counts in order to offset power usage.  If we get more information from ISSCC we will let you know.
Original Source: PCWorld
Update: Now I have time to study the document supplied by Intel for ISSCC, we can confirm the 15-core model with 37.5 MB L3 cache, using 22nm Hi-K metal-gate tri-gate 22nm CMOS with 9 metal layers.  All the Ivytown processors will be harvested from a single die:

Ivytown Die Shot

The design itself is capable of 40W to 150W, with 1.4 GHz to 3.8 GHz speeds capable.  The L3 cache has 15x 2.5MB slices, and data arrays use 0.108µmcells with in-line double-error-correction and triple-error-detection (DECTED) with variable latency.  The CPU uses three clock domains as well as five voltage domains:

Level shifters are placed between the voltage domains, and the design uses lower-leakage transistors in non-timing-critical paths, acheving 63% use in the cors and 90% in non-core area.  Overall, leakage is ~22% of the total power.
The CPUs are indeed LGA2011 (the shift from Westmere-EX, skipping over Sandy Bridge, should make it seem more plausible), and come in a 52.5x51.0mm package with four DDR3 channels.  That would make the package 2677 mm2, similar to known Ivy Bridge-E Xeon CPUs.
CPU-World's list of Xeon E7 v2 processors come from, inter alia, this non-Intel document, listing the 105W+ models.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Intel’s erratic Core M performance leaves an opening for AMD

When Intel announced its 14nm Core M processor it declared that this would be the chip that eliminated consumer perceptions of an x86 “tax” once and for all.* Broadwell, it was said, would bring big-core x86 performance down to the same fanless, thin-and-light form factors that Android tablets used, while simultaneously offering performance no Android tablet could match. It was puzzling, then, to observe that some of the first Core M-equipped laptops, including Lenovo’s Yoga 3 Pro, didn’t review well and were dinged for being pokey to downright sluggish in some cases.

A new report from Anandtech delves into why this is, and comes away with some sobering conclusions. Ever since Intel built Turbo Mode into its processors, enthusiasts have known that “Turbo” speeds were best-case estimates, not guarantees. If you think about it, the entire concept of Turbo Mode was a brilliant marketing move. Instead of absolutely guaranteeing that a chip will reach a certain speed at a given temperature or power consumption level, simply establish that frequency range as a “maybe” and push the issue off on OEMs or enthusiasts to deal with. It helped a great deal that Intel set its initial clocks quite conservatively. Everyone got used to Turbo Mode effectively functioning as the top-end frequency, with the understanding that frequency stair-stepped down somewhat as the number of threads increased.

Despite these qualifying factors, users have generally been able to expect that a CPU in a Dell laptop will perform identically to that same CPU in an HP laptop. These assumptions aren’t trivial — they’re actually critical to reviewing hardware and to buying it.

The Core M offered OEMs more flexibility in building laptops than ever before, including the ability to detect the skin temperature of the SoC and adjust performance accordingly. But those tradeoffs have created distinctly different performance profiles for devices that should be nearly identical to one another. In many tests, the Intel Core M 5Y10 — a chip with an 800MHz base frequency and a 2GHz top clock — is faster than a Core M 5Y71 with a base frequency of 1.2GHz and a max turbo frequency of 2.9GHz. In several cases, the gaps in both CPU and GPU workloads are quite significant — and favor the slower processor.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Intel Compute Stick available for pre-order, available in Linux and Windows

The Intel Compute Stick is ready for the masses starting later this April.
Intel introduced the Compute Stick several months back at CES with little to zero buzz to go along with it.  That’s not to say that there’s nothing to look forward to as far as viability goes.  The reasonably priced PC on a stick comes with decent specs depending on the model and configuration.

Newegg has the device up for pre-order for $150, which comes with Windows 8.1, 2GB of RAM, 32GB SDD storage, and a quad-core Atom chip.  The Linux version comes with the same specs if you get it from Newegg, but elsewhere you’ll have to settle for 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage.

A few Chinese manufacturers have already launched their own Intel-based PC sticks, and they’re a bit cheaper if you know where to look (read: eBay).
So while there are PC sticks featuring ARM-based chips flooding the marketplace, there is an advantage to using an x86-based chip over ARM.  People that remain reliant on software designed for x86 can rely on the Compute Stick for just that, and a $100-150 Intel stick isn’t at all a bad deal.  Take into account that fact that it comes with Windows 8.1 and a free upgrade to Windows 10, and you’ve gotten yourself a nice little bargain.

Of course people won’t be using the Compute Stick for resource intensive tasks, but for every day productivity it’s better than lugging around and setting up a tower (or even something like the NUC).

Source: Newegg/Amazon

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Intel SSD 750 Series 1.2TB PCIe NVMe Review

The push for greater performance from storage devices is seeing enthusiast drives transition towards PCIe-linked connections for increased bandwidth. While faster hardware is great, on paper, it is of limited use if the surrounding ecosystem is unable to put the performance increases to effective use.
That’s where the SSD-optimised Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) specification comes into the picture. Today we will be looking at one of the first storage devices to make NVMe accessible for enthusiast consumers – Intel’s SSD 750 Series PCIe drive.

In the SSD 750 Series drive, Intel is aiming to give enthusiast consumers an SSD that is built for raw performance. There’s no compromising when it comes to form factor, size, or power consumption – drive performance is the ultimate objective, with special emphasis on random operations. The big benefit that NVMe brings to the 750 Series SSD is lower latency, thanks to a combination of CPU-attached PCIe lanes and the specification’s different CPU overhead.
Shipping in capacities of 400GB ($389) and 1.2TB ($1029), Intel is using a standard PCIe 3.0 x4 connector to feed the half-height, half-length (HHHL) add-in card version, while the 2.5″ (15mm-thick) alternative receives its four PCIe 3.0 lanes via the SFF-8639 connector. We actually saw an implication of more widespread consumer support for the SFF-8639 connector when we reviewed Asus’ NVMe-supporting TUF Sabertooth X99 motherboard.
With head-turning performance numbers being thrown around, such as 2,400/1,200 MBps sequential read/write and 440,000/290,000 4K random read/write IOPS, let’s take a closer look at Intel’s SSD 750 Series drive and head on into testing.
  • Capacities: 400GB, 1.2TB.
  • Interface: PCIe 3.0 x4 (NVMe).
  • Form Factors: 2.5-inch with SFF-8639 connector, HHHL PCIe x4 Add-In Card (AIC).
  • Memory Components: Intel 20nm MLC NAND.
  • Sequential Read/Write Speeds (up to): 2,200/900 MBps (400GB), 2,400/1,200 MBps (1.2TB).
  • 4K Random Read/Write (up to): 430,000/230,000 IOPS (400GB), 440,000/290,000 IOPS (1.2TB).
  • Latency Read/Write (typical): 20/20 μs (400GB), 120/30 μs (1.2TB).
  • MTBF: 1.2 million hours.
  • Endurance Rating: 70GB Writes Per Day, Up To 219TBW (Terabytes Written).
  • Warranty: 5 Years
  • Power Consumption (Idle): 4W (400GB), 4W (1.2TB).
  • Power Consumption (Active) Read/Write: 9/12 W (400GB), 10/25 W (1.2TB).
  • Weight (up to): 195g (AIC), 125g (2.5″).
  • Operating Temperature: 0-55°C (AIC), 0-70°C (2.5″).

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Intel releases four new Braswell CPUs

The new Braswell architecture CPUs bring greater CPU and Graphics performance over the previous generation entry-level CPUs from Intel while offering lower consumption and lower TDP. The four new CPUs unveiled by Intel include the Celeron N3000, N3050, N3150, and the Pentium N3700. All four are 14nm chips and feature Airmont processing cores.

The Celeron N3000 is a dual-core processor with a base frequency of 1.04GHz and Turbo Boost speed of 2.08GHz. It comes with 1MB L2 cache, Gen 8-LP graphics, DDR3-1600 memory support and a 4W TDP. Next up is the Celeron N3050. It too is a dual-core chip but features a higher clock speed of 1.6GHz and Turbo Boost up to 2.16GHz. The rest of the specs are similar, except for a slightly higher 6W TDP rating.

The Celeron N3150 and the Pentium N3700 are quad-core chips with 2MB L2 cache and 6W TDP rating. Both feature the same base frequency of 1.6GHz but offer different Turbo Boost speeds. The Celeron N3150 has a Turbo Boost frequency of 2.08GHz while the Pentium N3700 offers a higher 2.4GHz Turbo Boost clock.
Source: CPUWorld

Brace yourselves, Tegra X1 Chromebooks could be imminent

A logical continuation of a so far fruitful Google – Nvidia alliance.

Attack and counterattack. It’s probably the best way to describe what’s going down in the PC landscape between market veteran Microsoft and a certain up-and-coming player in this niche that enjoys a comfortable dominance over the web search décor.
While Chromebooks are likely light-years away from actually contending with mainstream Windows laptop sales, their recent education strides haven’t left Redmond feeling too secure of its supremacy. Ergo, both combatants reportedly have $149 portable computers for emerging countries in the pipeline.
Looking to take the fight to the next level, Chrome OS machines are starting to slowly but steadily improve their upper mid-range and high-end relevance. In the past month alone, a second-gen Google Chromebook Pixel and 15-inch Acer with full-on Intel Broadwell horsepower have gone official. And now rumor is the Tegra X1 chip will soon find its way inside above-average web-centric notebooks.

It goes without saying Nvidia’s Tegra K1 sequel doesn’t exactly play in the same league as fourth-gen Intel Cores. But neither do Celerons compared to the X1. Built on Maxwell microarchitecture, the platform we saw acing AnTuTu tests not long ago rocks four muscular Cortex-A57 cores and a quartet of more frugal A53s. Not to mention the outstanding 256-core (!) GPU accompanying the speedy CPU.
Remember, the much laggier K1 was almost unanimously praised for the work it did under the hoods of 13-inch Acer and 14-inch HP Chromebooks, currently available at sensible $220 and $270 starting prices. So, in addition to Celeron-eclipsing potency, X1s could help deliver decent quality-cost ratios.
Before you begin jubilating at Microsoft’s expense, Chrome OS enthusiasts tuning in should keep in mind all the above is speculation at the moment. Essentially, it appears development work is underway to ensure support on the platform, which may mean Tegra X1 Chromebooks will materialize at some point… or not.
Sources: Liliputing, CNX-Software

MediaTek’s Helio SoCs aim for the high-end smartphone market

MediaTek today announced its new Helio family of high-end SoCs that aim to deliver leading performance with frugal power consumption. While MediaTek enjoys a relatively decent market share in the low and mid-range smartphone SoC segment, the company has so far struggled to match up to Qualcomm and Samsung’s best in the high-end segment. The company is hoping to change this with the new Helio SoCs. The new range comprises of the Helio X and the Helio P chipsets. The Helio X10 will be a 64-bit chipset with a total of eight processing cores clocked at 2.2GHz. This chipset will be capable of handling display refresh rates up to 120Hz and can encode 480p slow-motion videos. MediaTek did not reveal any details on the Helio P series chipset though. The Helio P is said to be the company’s premium performance chip and is aimed at flagship Android smartphones. The company did mention though that it expects first products powered by Helio chips to be available by the second quarter of the year. Helio P powered devices will arrive later in the year. Source: DigiTimes