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Intel's Caneland Spices up 4-way Server Market

Intel's Caneland Spices up 4-way Server Market



More on the Caneland Platform

More on the Caneland Platform

As mentioned on the previous page, the Core microarchitecture based Xeon 7300 class processors and even the Xeon 7200 models are just one part of equation. The other part of the equation is the "Clarksboro" Intel 7300 chipset that powers the motherboard platform and supporting four Xeon 7300 class processors. It is in fact the most important enabler of the Caneland platform since the processors are mostly similar to the Xeon 5300 and 5100 processor series that we've taken a look in the past. In the previous Xeon MP platform, the Intel 8501 chipset was the driver behind quad Netburst processors that shared dual independent FSB lines and had a 64GB memory cap using DDR registered memory. The new Intel 7300 chipset however is modeled after the dual-socket Intel 5000 series chipsets in the Bensley platform. In fact, you could say it's a four processor support version of the Blackford chipset that we've penned over here.

Here are the highlights of the "Clarksboro" Intel 7300 chipset:-

  • Dedicated 1066MHz FSB connections to each of the four processors that improves system bandwidth by more than two folds of its predecessor Xeon MP platform and eliminates any bus sharing bottlenecks of the previous design. That's a 8.5GB/s dedicated link per processor for a total of 34GB/s bandwidth (four processors combined).
  • DDR2 FBDIMM memory technology that increases memory bandwidth while supporting up to 256GB of system memory using 32 DIMM slots (a four-fold increase without memory mirroring). Total memory bandwidth of up to 32GB/s is possible using DDR2-667 FBDIMM over the chipset's quad memory channels.
  • I/O Acceleration Technology (I/O AT) that improves network traffic latency and providing direct I/O access to processor caches that benefits high network access environments to reduce CPU overhead and increase overall throughput.
  • A huge 64MB snoop filter that stores the cache state information of all the processors to eliminate the need to check (or 'snoop') each processor if they contain the required data before heading out to fetch from the main memory. Thus, the snoop filter drastically reduces traffic among the FSB interconnects and reduces latency too. This similar concept was adopted on the Intel 5000X Bensley platform earlier and it is now mirrored over to the Xeon MP Caneland platform. Intel's internal testing revealed that up to 13% performance improvement can be seen in ideal full load conditions with and without the presences of the snoop filter.

Unlike the Bensley platform where there were a four SKUs, the Caneland platform will likely have only one chipset SKU with all of the features discussed here since the volume of such systems shipped are far lower than the dual-processor platform. For an MCH that's as complicated and powerful as an entire processor itself with so many features and very high constant data throughput, you would think that it's a power guzzler. However, Intel shared with us that the typical power consumption of the Intel 7300 chipset ranges around 20 to 30 watts, which is quite comforting to say the least.

Reliability, Availability and Serviceability (RAS) features is another area that Intel prides itself in its Xeon DP and Xeon MP platforms. On the memory front, enhanced memory ECC, memory sparing and memory mirroring ensure data integrity and data availability at all times. While memory mirroring and standard memory ECC is supported by AMD as well, mirroring is limited to certain memory configurations only. While Memory sparing isn't supported it can be quite a critical function as it uses inactive on-demand only memory to automatically take over the failed memory device till replacement is made. On the CPU-front, symmetric access to all processors is another plus point that Intel is bringing forth in its hub based dedicated point-to-point CPU links versus AMD's glueless multiprocessor support that can pose a severe server handicap should one of the processors ever go down.

So much for the hardware capabilities, but there's more on the virtualization front. Intel's Core-based Xeon products now support a feature called Intel VT FlexMigration which enables hardware assisted live VM migration capabilities. What this means is that that the IT manager now has the capability of 'hot transferring' virtual machines without shutting down the system (which in a way is another RAS feature). As long as the servers are using some form of Intel's Core based processors like the Xeon 5100 or even the Xeon 3000 series, Intel VT FlexMigration feature is available. Currently this works only with VMware, but with them being the market leader, that shouldn't be too much an issue.

Closing Comments

Among the workstation and server class hardware, currently 2-way SMP systems move the most volume which is roughly estimated to account for 70% of all server system shipments. Granted that processor level innovation is going up exponentially in recent times (just look at how fast quad-core x86 processors have sprung to the market), modern 2P servers are currently a force to be reckoned with. With the current crop of quad-core processors, a 2P server can have up to 8 processing cores. It's little wonder why 2P server systems are still the most sought after for most processing needs. Uni-processor servers still account for up to 20% of the global market needs though, leaving 4-way SMP and higher just a small chunk of the server hardware pie. However when it comes to large scale enterprise computing and massive server consolidation, one will need more compute power in as small a space as possible and that's where some of these 4-way SMP systems come into play. In time to come, this growing segment will garner an even bigger portion of the pie as processor and system technologies advance further.

Intel's Xeon MP 7300 server platform looks all poised to tackle this growing base of HPC needs and 16 processing cores with four quad-core Xeon 7300 Core based processors is just the start of things. Even though AMD released a very capable Barcelona processor to rival Intel's Xeon MP 7300 server platform, one should bear in mind that the Caneland platform launched just days back is set to receive yet another performance boost when the 45nm Penryn based processor cores hit retail by the end of the year. With drop-in compatibility, Intel looks to have another home-run like the Bensley platform. While these are concerns for the competition which they would have to contend with soon enough, we'll let time to unravel the outcome. Meanwhile stay tuned to www.hardwarezone.com as we have some rather interesting hardware coming our way.