Analysis: "Nehalem" vs. "Shanghai"

The Xeon X5570 outperforms the best Opterons by 20% and 17% of the gain comes from Hyper-Threading. That's decent but not earth shattering. Let us first set expectations. What should we have expected from the Xeon X5570? We can get a first idea by looking at the "native" (non-virtualized) scores of the individual workloads. Our last Server CPU roundup showed us that the Xeon X5570 2.93GHz is (compared to a Xeon E5450 3GHz):

  • 94% faster in Oracle Calling Circle
  • 107% faster in a OLAP SQL Server benchmark
  • 36% faster on the MCS eFMS web portal test

If we would simply take a geometric mean of these benchmarks and forget we are running on top of a hypervisor, we would expect a 65% advantage for the Xeon X5570. Our virtualization benchmark shows a 31% advantage for the Xeon X5570 over the Xeon 5450. What happened?

It seems like all the advantages of the new platforms such as fast CPU interconnects, NUMA, integrated memory controllers, and L3 caches for fast syncing have evaporated. In a way, this is the case. You have probably noticed the second flaw (besides ignoring the hypervisor) in the reasoning above. That second flaw consists in the fact that the "native scores" in our server CPU roundup are obtained on eight (16 logical) physical cores. Assuming that four virtual CPUs will show the same picture is indeed inaccurate. The effect of fast CPU interconnects, NUMA, and massive bandwidth increases will be much less in a virtualized environment where you limit each application to four CPUs. In this situation, if the ESX scheduler is smart (and that is the case) it will not have to sync between L3 caches and CPU sockets. In our native benchmarks, the application has to scale to eight CPUs and has to keep the caches coherent over two sockets. This is the first reason for the less than expected performance gain: the Xeon 5570 cannot leverage some of its advantages such as much quicker "syncing".

The fact that we are running on a hypervisor should give the Xeon X5570 a boost. The Nehalem architecture switches about 40% quicker back and forth to the hypervisor than the Xeon 54xx. It cannot leverage its best weapon though: Extended Page Tables are not yet supported in ESX 3.5 Update 4. They are supported in vSphere's ESX 4.0, which immediately explains why OEMs prefer to run VMmark on ESX 4.0. Most of our sources tell us that EPT gives a boost of about 25%. To understand this fully, you should look at our Hardware virtualization: the nuts and bolts article. The table below tells what mode the VMM (Virtual Machine Monitor), a part of the hypervisor, runs. To refresh your memory:

  • SVM: Secure Virtual Machine, hardware virtualization for the AMD Opteron
  • VT-x: Same for the Intel Xeon
  • RVI: also called nested paging or hardware assisted paging (AMD)
  • EPT: Extended Page Tables or hardware assisted paging (Intel)
  • Binary Translation: well tweaked software virtualization that runs on every CPU, developed by VMware
Hypervisor VMM Mode
ESX 3.5 Update 4 64-bit OLTP & OLAP VMs 32-bit Web portal VM
Quad-core Opterons SVM + RVI SVM + RVI
Xeon 55xx VT-x Binary Translation
Xeon 53xx, 54xx VT-x Binary Translation
Dual-core Opterons Binary Translation Binary Translation
Dual-core Xeon 50xx VT-x Binary Translation

Thanks to being first with hardware-assisted paging, AMD gets a serious advantage in ESX 3.5: it can always leverage all of its virtualization technologies. Intel can only use VT-x with the 64-bit Guest OS. The early VT-x implementations were pretty slow, and VMware abandoned VT-x for 32-bit guest OS as binary translation was faster in a lot of cases. The prime reason why VMware didn't ditch VT-x altogether was the fact that Intel does not support segments -- a must for binary translation -- in x64 (EM64T) mode. This makes VT-x or hardware virtualization the only option for 64-bit guests. Still, the mediocre performance of VT-x on older Xeons punishes the Xeon X5570 in 32-bit OSes, which is faster with VT-x than with binary translation as we will see further.

So how much performance does the AMD Opteron extract from the improved VMM modes? We checked by either forcing or forbidding the use of "Hardware Page Table Virtualization", also called Hardware Virtualized MMU, EPT, NPT, RVI, or HAP.

Let's first look at the AMD Opteron 8389 2.9GHz. When you disable RVI, memory page management is handled the same as all the other "privileged instructions" with hardware virtualization: it causes exceptions that make the hypervisor intervene. Each time you get a world switch towards the hypervisor. Disabling RVI makes the impact of world switches more important. When you enable RVI, the VMM exposes all page tables (Virtual, Guest Physical, and "machine" physical) to the CPU. It is no longer necessary to generate (costly) exceptions and switches to the hypervisor code.

However, filling the TLB is very costly with RVI. When a certain logical page address or virtual address misses the TLB, the CPU performs a lookup in the guest OS page tables. Instead of the right physical address, you get a "Guest Physical address", which is in fact a virtual address. The CPU has to search the Nested Pages ("Guest Physical" to "Real Physical") for the real physical address, and it does this for each table lookup.

To cut a long story short, it is very important to keep the percentage of TLB hits as high as possible. One way to do this is to decrease the number of memory pages with "large pages". Large pages mean that your memory is divided into 2MB pages (x86-64, x86-32 PAE) instead of 4KB. This means that Shanghai's L1 TLB can cover 96MB data (48 entries times 2MB) instead of 192 KB! Therefore, if there are a lot of memory management operations, it might be a good idea to enable large pages. Both the application and the OS must support this to give good results.

Large Pages and RVI on AMD Opteron 8389 -- vApus Mark I

The effect of RVI is pretty significant: it improves our vApus Mark I score by almost 20%. The impact of large pages is rather small (3%), and this is probably a result of Shanghai's large TLB, consisting of a 96 entry (48 data, 48 instructions) L1 and a 512 entry L2 TLB. You could say there is less of a need for large pages in the case of the Shanghai Opteron.

Heavy Virtualization Benchmarking Inquisitive Minds Want to Know
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • GotDiesel - Thursday, May 21, 2009 - link

    "Yes, this article is long overdue, but the Sizing Server Lab proudly presents the AnandTech readers with our newest virtualization benchmark, vApus Mark I, which uses real-world applications in a Windows Server Consolidation scenario."

    spoken with a mouth full of microsoft cock

    where are the Linux reviews ?

    not all of us VM with windows you know..

  • JohanAnandtech - Thursday, May 21, 2009 - link

    A minimum form of politeness would be appreciated, but I am going to assume your were just dissapointed.

    The problem is that right now the calling circle benchmark runs half as fast on Linux as it does on Windows. What is causing Oracle to run slower on Linux than on Windows is a mystery even to some of the experienced DBA we have spoken. We either have to replace that benchmark with an alternative (probably Sysbench) or find out what exactly happened.

    When you construct a virtualized benchmark it is not enough just to throw in a few benchmarks and VMs, you really have to understand the benchmark thoroughly. There are enough halfbaken benchmarks already on the internet that look like a Swiss cheese because there are so many holes in the methodology.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, May 21, 2009 - link

    Page 4: vApus Mark I: the choices we made

    "vApus mark I uses only Windows Guest OS VMs, but we are also preparing a mixed Linux and Windows scenario."

    Building tests, verifying tests, running them on all the servers takes a lot of time. That's why the 2-tile and 3-tile results are not yet ready. I suppose Linux will have to wait for Mark II (or Mark I.1).
  • mino - Thursday, May 21, 2009 - link

    What you did so far is great. No more words needed.

    What I would like to see is vApus Mark I "small" where you make the tiles smaller, about 1/3 to 1/4 of your current tiles.
    Tile structure shall remain simmilar for simplicity, they will just be smaller.

    When you manage to have 2 different tile sizes, you shall be able to consider 1 big + 1 small tile as one "condensed" tile for general score.

    Having 2 reference points will allow for evaluating "VM size scaling" situations.
  • JohanAnandtech - Sunday, May 24, 2009 - link

    Can you elaborate a bit? What do you menan by "1/3 of my current tile?" . A tile = 4 VMs. are you talking about small mem footprint or number of VCPUs?

    Are you saying we should test with a Tile with small VMs and then test afterwards with the large ones? How do you see such "VM scaling" evaluation?
  • mino - Monday, May 25, 2009 - link

    Thanks for response.

    1/3 I mean smaller VM's. Mostly from the load POW. Probably 1/3 load would go for 1/2 memory footprint.

    The point being that currently the is only a single datapont with a specific load-size per tile/per VM.

    By "VM scaling" I would like to see what effect woul smaller loads have on overal performance.

    I suggest 1/3 or 1/4 the load to get a measurable difference while remaining within reasonable memory/VM scale.

    In the end, if you get simmilar overal performance from 1/4 tiles, it may not make sense to include this in future.
    Even then the information that your benchmark results can be safely extrapolated to smaller loads would be of a great value by itself.
  • mino - Monday, May 25, 2009 - link

    Eh, that last text of mime looks like a nice gibberish...
    Clarification nneded:

    To be able to run more tiles/box smaller memory footprint is a must.
    With smaller mem footprint, smaller DB's are a must.

    The end results may not be directly comparable but shall be able to give some reference point, corectly interpreted

    Please let me know if this makes sense to you.
    There are multiple dimensions to this. I may be easily on the imaginery branch :)
  • ibb27 - Thursday, May 21, 2009 - link

    Can we have a chance to see benchmarks for Sun Virtualbox which is Opensource?
  • winterspan - Tuesday, May 26, 2009 - link

    This test is misleading because you are not using the latest version of VMware that supports Intel's EPT. Since AMD's version of this is supported in the older version, the test is not at all a fair representation of their respective performance.
  • Zstream - Thursday, May 21, 2009 - link

    Can someone please perform a Win2008 RC2 Terminal Server benchmark? I have been looking everywhere and no one can provide that.

    If I can take this benchmark and tell my boss this is how the servers will perform in a TS environment please let me know.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now