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Intel® has just launched their latest server processor, the Intel® Xeon® processor 5500 series. It really is a breakthrough processor for Intel and a clearly phenomenal solution for HPC. I was watching a keynote presentation this week and our Vice President was downright giddy about it. What makes this processor such a phenomenal solution for HPC? The answer is really easy; it expands capabilities and shortens users’ time to results. The real question is how does this processor perform so much better than other solutions out there? This answer is a bit more complicated but really fun to answer. Here we go…

Intel® QuickPath Interconnect (QPI) – This is the technology that has replaced the front side bus used in previous generation Xeon® processors. Our previous generation architecture had a bandwidth of 21 GB/s vs. the QPI bandwidth of 46.1 GB/s. This is a speedup of 2.2X, very impressive. For applications that require lots of I/O this is huge. It’s like going from a country back road to an expressway!

Integrated memory controller – Intel has moved the memory controller from the MCH (memory controller Hub) into the processor.  In addition to integrating the memory controller, Intel is now using native DDR3 with speeds up to 1333MHz and three memory channelsper processor; this is a total of 6 memory channels and 64 GB/s of total memory bandwidth for a 2S HPC node.  This is a 3x jump in memory bandwidth from theprevious generation memory controller which only supported speeds up to 1066MHz and 4 memory channels. By integrating the memory controller you are now in closer contact with the processor for lower latency reads and writes.  Intel added two additional memory channel (one per socket) to increase memory capacity and increase the speed to faster reads and writes. 

Energy efficient design – The new Intel® Xeon® processor 5500 series has the dynamic capability of turning off cores when not required. There are more power states and has the ability to transition between power states faster than ever before. Net, net this means less power consumption. By consuming less power and providing world class performance Intel has created a solution that cries out HPC!

By taking advantage of the power saving, Intel has introduced another feature called Intel® Turbo Boost Technology. Intel® Turbo Boost Technology automatically increases processor frequency to boost application performance if thermal headroom is available. Depending on the environment Turbo Boost can increase the processor frequency by as much as 400 MHz!

Another technology supported in the Intel® Xeon processor 5500 series is Hyper-Threading. Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology enables users to run multiple threads on each processing core to increase total application performance while requiring only a fraction of the power that would be necessary to support additional cores. For highly threaded HPC applications this is showing performance gains over 25%.

The Intel® Xeon® processor 5500 series is considered a general purpose processor. However, a closer look at the features and capabilities show that this is one heck of an HPC solution. You can’t help but think Intel knew HPC was an important market segment for servers and they had this in mind as they created the architecture and developed the features.

Well, is Intel pounding their chest…again! They should be. The introduction of the Intel® Xeon® processor 5500 series is breakthrough architecture for HPC users. The industry hasn’t seen generation to generation performance gains like this since the Pentium® Pro was introduced back in the mid 90’s. Congratulations Intel and go ahead and pound that chest, you deserve it!

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