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egroden

A Heart to Heart Talk on Turbo Boost

Posted by egroden in The Data Stack on Mar 30, 2009 3:01:28 PM

I enjoy running, and I typically train with a heart rate monitor to help me stay in a certain zone during my workouts.  When I was out on a run the other day and started to settle into my zone, instead of my mind drifting off to a peaceful place (like it should), for some reason it started drawing parallels about the human heart and Turbo Boost Technology.  I decided to play along as I was my own captive audience.

Let’s start with the heart, which as a pump has evolved over a long time to be pretty darn reliable and adapt quickly based on the needs of its owner.  It’s nominally rated at about 70-100 beats per minute (BPM), which is all it needs to do to support most activities during a normal day.  If you take care of it and operate it within spec, it should provide many years of reliable service in that range. 

However, we know the heart is capable is much higher rates, and most every day I operate it well above the rated 70-100 BPM during my runs.  As long as I take in enough air, don’t overheat, or don’t cramp up, my heart can maintain these higher rates without much problem.  In fact, if I feel REALLY good on a particular day, I can probably go above my max heart rate, but it’s not recommended and a lot of bad things can happen (a typically accepted max BPM calculation is 220 BPM – your age).

How does this relate to Turbo Boost Technology?

Xeon® 5500 processors are spec’d at a rated frequency (for example, 2.93 GHz), and the processor and platform are designed to operate for an indefinite period of time at that frequency.  With Turbo Boost, the processor is now able to run higher than rated frequency whenever you need a boost in performance, provided it meets the following conditions:  (1) the operating system requests the extra performance (I want to go out running), and (2) the processor has power, current, or temperature headroom (I’m getting enough air, and not overheating or cramping up).  As long as those conditions are met, the processor will run at those higher frequencies to maximize performance whenever it’s needed, either for short periods, long periods, or somewhere in-between.  When your performance demands drop, the processor frequency drops down to normal.

How high can you Turbo?

Similar to your maximum heart rate, we need to set Turbo Boost frequency limits in the Xeon® 5500 processors.  For example, the highest Turbo frequency the 2.93 GHz processor can support is 3.33 GHz, which is a 400 MHz jump.  While there still could be platform headroom even at the highest Turbo Boost frequency (I’m still feeling good at my max heart rate), we need to set these limits to ensure the processors will function reliably for a good long time.

So let your servers get some exercise with Turbo Boost – they’ll thank you for it.

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