ServersHardware Today: Dual-Core Processors Saddle Up

Hardware Today: Dual-Core Processors Saddle Up

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It’s been only a a few months since dual-core processors entered the market place. Although it’s too early for analysts to compile and analyze the related data, the leading chip vendors appear happy with the initial results.

With AMD already a lap ahead in the dual-core race, can Intel catch up? Will dual core triumph in all sectors, or will single core sometimes remain the way to go?

“We are experiencing a strong ramp up of dual-core processors at an aggressive pace,” says Pat Patla, director of server and workstation marketing at AMD.

Intel, which thus far has shipped only dual-core Pentium D chips in desktops and workstations and on Monday announced dual-core chips for entry-level servers, is pleased with the initial response. “Our dual-core processors have been well received and continue to ramp to our expectations,” says Stephen Thorne, product marketing engineer for Intel’s Digital Enterprise Group.

AMD has established a clear early lead in the dual-core server race. In April, it released the AMD Opteron 800 series — the 275, 270, and 260 models are available in various configurations up to 8-way. The company followed up quickly with the Opteron 200 series of 2-way dual-core chips in May.

“Opteron advantage grows with the number of processors in the system,” says Nathan Brookwood of Insight64. “2-way is better than a single processor, and 4-way is better than 2-way.”

So who is buying? Patla says AMD’s new offerings are selling in all traditional platforms. It is finding usage in general IT infrastructure servers, as well as in databases, Citrix clients, and in high-performance technical applications.

“The obvious dual-core advantage of high performance and less wattage is becoming very well understood,” says Patla. “When people see the demo, they immediately purchase.”

Intel Inside and Behind

While AMD has earned all the kudos to date, it would be premature to assume Intel has been shut out of the dual-core race. On Monday, Intel announced its first server-based dual-core processor. Granted, it is still a Pentium D, but it is a start. This processor is aimed at entry-level servers and performs with the Intel E7230 chipset. It also includes PCI Express I/O, 64-bit addressability, DDR2 memory, and software RAID.

Dell is the first of the OEMs to climb aboard the Intel dual-core bus. The PowerEdge SC430, priced at a moderate $850 for the dual-core variant, is the first machine to use the technology.

“”We cannot find a place where dual core is not needed in the server and workstation marketplace. It is difficult to find benchmarks where you shouldn’t be looking at dual core.” — Pat Patla, director of server and workstation marketing, AMD

“This platform is a great value for smaller businesses wishing to buy powerful entry-level servers,” says Thorne. “It is the first announcement in what will be an extensive family of Intel-based dual-core server products shipping later this year and in 2006.”

Thorne reports that Intel’s dual-core chips are being purchased mainly by high-performance users with an immediate need for multithreading support. With the addition of its first server-based systems, he says a greater number of server and workstation applications will be seen due to dual-core processing bringing about a marked improvement in performance and efficiency. This includes users of multithreaded database, infrastructure, Web, and mail applications. Additional usage is also expected in specialized high-performance computing segments, such as digital content creation.

But dual-core is not a silver bullet for everyone. Thorne believes single-threaded applications are not the province for this new processor.

“Dual-core processing has very limited benefits for users of single-threaded software applications,” says Thorne. “Users will not realize any performance benefit unless they are multitasking and executing a number of applications simultaneously.”

AMD’s Patla disagrees, however. According to his numbers, even single threading can benefit from dual core. Benchmark tests, he says, show big gains in a multitasking environment and some gains on single tasks running on dual-core chips.

“We cannot find a place where dual core is not needed in the server and workstation marketplace,” says Patla. “It is difficult to find benchmarks where you shouldn’t be looking at dual core.”

When looked at from a pure numbers perspective, a compelling argument easily can be made for dual core. An entry-level, dual-core processor from AMD is the same price as the highest-end, single-core model, yet provides on average a 20-percent performance gain.

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