Last Friday, AMD has given a good answer to the approaching  Intel Xeon Nehalem EP thunderstorm. AMD demonstrated to a handful of journalists (Charley and Scott) an up and running dual and quad socket Hexacore Istanbul system. Istanbul, which should be ready in the Autumn of this year, is basically a six core version of the current AMD Opteron "Shanghai". While we could not attend the Istanbul demo, we had a long phone conversation with the AMD people. A few interesting points came up during that phone conversation, and we love to share them with you.

AMD seems to recognize that the best Nehalem EP will be between 40 to 100% faster than their flagship CPU, but claims there will be much more benchmarks near the 40% than the 100% mark. AMD however believes that Intel will only be able to steal back the "performance is everything" HPC market, as it will counter Nehalem by launching an Energy Efficient version of the current Shanghai CPU. AMD firmly believes that the 95W Nehalems EP (2.66 to 2.93 GHz) will not be very attractive to many datacenters. AMD also points out that even the low power versions of Nehalem (up to 2.26 GHz) need 60W. We will see whether AMD can offer higher clockspeeds with lower energy consumption.It is interesting to hear that AMD firmly targets the low power market. According to AMD, many customers are already putting "power caps" (a BIOS feature) on their CPUs to avoid that the server exceed a certain power consumption level. This means that the CPU is staying in the lower p-states and is never able to run at full clockspeed. This is used by many customers that do not buy low power CPUs.
Secondly, AMD believe that  the total number of servers, based on Nehalem EP, will probably amount to being small percentages of the total server shipped in Q2. Buyers will oppose the high price of DDR-3 according to AMD. We are rather sceptic:
So the price difference is small to non-existing on a $3000-$4000 dual socket server. 
Still, Nehalem is a completely new platform and it will take some effort from the system administrator to verify if the currently running applications run well with Hyperthreading and Turbo Mode. Also AMD's RVI is already well supported in ESX 3.5, while we'll have to wait for VMware's vSphere ("ESX 4.0") before EPT will be supported. That means that the realworld performance of Nehalem running ESX will probably be lower than the published benchmarks in 2009. Yes, we are at VMworld 2009 remember!
The Shanghai platform is basically the same as the Barcelona one, so that earns AMD a few points in the "easier to integrate and upgrade to" departement. AMD is thus hoping that by the time Nehalem EP will really take off (Q3?), Istanbul will be ready to answer the threath.And there is something interesting about Istanbul... but we'll discuss that in a later post. 
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  • winterspan - Wednesday, February 25, 2009 - link

    I agree with you for the most part, it will probably be a mixed bag -- especially on virtualization apps.

    I'm wondering how long of lead time the AMD hexacore will have on Westmere. If it can't keep up with Nehalem-EP in perf/watt, it surely won't do well against a 32nm Westmere!

    Also, what do all of you guys think about the 4+ socket Nehalem-EX4?? Quad-channel memory, quad-Quickpath, native 8-core??? Is this going to kill MP Istanbul in its tracks?

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