Intel goes to Gulftown, launches 6-core Xeons

Intel logoIntel has launched its next-generation Xeon 5600 line, the 32nm "Westmere-EP." The new lineup brings more cores, more threads, Turbo Boost, and more instructions, all in the same socket format and thermal/power envelope as the older Xeon 5500 line.

At the top end of the 5600 family is the six-core, 3.33GHz X5680, and at the bottom end is the quad-core, 2.40GHz E5620. All of the parts in the 5600 range are hyperthreaded, have 12MB of cache, and support Intel Turbo Boost, the AES new instructions (AES-NI), and Trusted Execution Technology (TXT). Let's take each of these features in turn.

We've covered Turbo Boost extensively in the past, so there's no need to go into the details here. In a nutshell, the technology lets Intel dynamically "overclock" individual cores in response to a changing workload. So if the processor is under heavy load, Turbo Boost can dial up the amount of power to one or more cores so that they can more quickly carry out a particular task. And when that task is complete, the cores are dialed back down to a slower, lower-power state.

Turbo boost got its start on the client side of Intel's lineup, where it's intended to deliver just-in-time performance boosts for finite tasks like media encoding and gaming sessions. With its migration to the server side, it's obvious that some extra thought had to go into monitoring and throttling, because it's easier to imagine a server workload leaving the cores pegged for an extended period than it is a user workload. Intel doesn't mention what these changes would be, but I'm guessing that Turbo Boost is pretty tightly integrated with the rest of the server monitoring and control infrastructure (e.g., instrumented power supplies, and control software for datacenter-wide dynamic power optimization) that Intel has been building for years now.

The next feature of the 5600 family will also be familiar to anyone who has followed Intel's client products: Trusted Execution Technology (TXT), formerly called LaGrande. TXT started out on the client as a stated attempt to make computers more immune to malware, and, though it has been a part of vPro for some time now, it's still searching for a killer app. Part of the challenge is that client software and services have to be designed to take advantage of it, and with the enormous number of vendors making x86 applications, this is a tall order.

TXT's prospects on the server look considerably brighter, mainly because the primary use case—locking down VMMs at boot and keeping them tamper-proof—needs and has the support of just a few vendors (one, really: VMware). VMware support for TXT instantly makes TXT valuable for VMware's large installed base, so if the attack that it protects against eventually turns out to be a real cause for concern, Intel's solution will be pervasive in the field after a few upgrade cycles.

The final Westmere-EP feature that Intel is touting is a set of new x86 instructions designed to accelerate AES encryption. Intel claims a 9X speedup for some kernels of AES code, which translates into more simultaneous SSL connections for 5600-based servers.

All of the 5600 parts are in the range of 130W to 80W TDP, which means that you can stay in the same TDP as the previous 45nm 5500 family while getting a 60 percent performance boost (or so Intel claims), or you can choose the same performance at 30 percent less power. Intel is counting on the power/performance boost from the 32nm shrink to combine with a release of pent-up demand for long-delayed server upgrades to spur sales of the new Xeons.

Embedded, Gulftown, and new Macs

In addition to the 5600 series, Intel is also offering a number of "embedded" Xeon parts—i.e., parts with extended lifecycle support that are intended to go into high-performance appliance-type applications.

The Core i7-980X Extreme Edition, codenamed Gulftown, is also launching today. Gulftown was previewed at this past GDC, and it will definitely make some gamers very happy. It should also delight Mac Pro users, who've been waiting a year for Apple's towers to be updated. Gulftown will go into the single-socket Mac Pro, and two six-core 5600 parts will go into the two-socket towers, brining the core count up to 12 in Apple's highest-end machine.

Source: ars technica

Tags: CPUs, Intel, servers

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