AMD hits back at Intel's Nehalem

IT MAY HAVE taken AMD a few days, but Little Big Chip is finally recovering from its winding at the hands of Intel's new Nehalem server chip, Xeon 5500, and has thrown a few counter-punches of its own.
AMD's server chief Pat Patla led the counter-offensive with an outspoken interview to tech blog TechPulse360.

Asked whether Nehalem's slowest server chips could still beat any Opteron chip hands down, Patla said it seemed incredulous. After all, he pointed out, the slowest Nehalem chip is dual-core, whilst Opteron is quad core and Intel take great care to only buzz about benchmark results from their top-end parts.

Of course, Intel doesn't actually claim that its dual-core Nehalem chip beats Shanghai's fastest, so this is a bit spinful of AMD. What Chipzilla does claim, and is true, is that its slowest quad-core Xeon 5500 outperforms the fastest Shanghai.

Patla goes on to say that both QuickPath Interconnect (QPI) and hyperthreading are overrated, claiming QPI is nothing but a rip-off of open standard HyperTransport made proprietary with speeds which drop dramatically the lower you go on the server chip scale.

Applications which rely on high I/O and high memory throughput but don't need masses of compute power, for instance, would need to cough up for the fastest Nehalem processor to get the sort of high speeds touted by Intel, according to Patla, adding that AMD offers the same HyperTransport speed on all Opteron chips.

Meanwhile, while hyperthreading may appear enviable from afar, "real men use cores" say AMD, whilst pounding its hairy chest.

True, hyperthreading is a bit like a multitasking woman, but so what? SO WHAT?? Echoes AMD in its big, booming, manly voice. 'So, that pretty-looking multitasking woman is only giving you a 10 to 15 per cent performance bump for real applications workload,' says AMD (although we did paraphrase this slightly).

Not only is Nehalem a bit girly, it's also not a cheap date, as Patla points out. Whilst a Dell server with a Shanghai processor at 2.7GHz costs somewhere in the region of $3,000, a Nehalem 2.93GHz-packing server costs about $6,100, a not insignificant difference.

Of course, there are good reasons why Nehalem chips are so ludicrously expensive. For one thing, says Patla, the DDR3 memory they sport are still far too expensive and power-sucking. AMD reckons it will wait until 2010 when the latency has been lowered, and the price drops before going the DDR3 route.

Second of all, Nehalem counts three channels of memory whilst Opteron has only two, apparently making them 50 per cent more expensive in DIMMs and 50 per cent more power guzzling from a memory perspective.

AMD also poo-poos Intel's boasts that it can consolidate nine single-core servers on just one Nehalem server, noting, "They're not the only platform that runs virtualisation."

Patla notes that AMD's support for virtualisation platforms like VMware, Microsoft HyperV and Xen allow one dual-socket server to support on average 5 to 10 virtual machines.

As for Intel's claims of an eight-month ROI, AMD calls it "disingenuous" because it's not only about the hardware, it's also about software, lifecycle management, licensing, power and security.

"If your hardware is about 10 per cent of the cost of the total solution, how are they coming up with an ROI of eight months?", queries Patla, adding, "I'm sure they are doing the math thinking 'if you're buying the server today and you unplug 10 single core servers, the amount of power that you'd save would pay off this server'."

Intel, of course, claims Nehalem is actually a cash machine, with spinner Nick Knuppfer telling the INQ that its "extraordinary performance can be turned into actual dollars for the IT manager."

Knupffer reckons consolidating old single-socket servers achieves a 9:1 ratio while keeping the same level of performance, enthusing, "This can turn into a payback of just eight months! After that, Nehalem becomes a cash machine". WHOA!!!!

AMD, curbing Knupffer's enthusiasm a bit, does admit Nehalem has greatly reduced its idle power, but goes on to say that's just not very useful in a data centre, where parameters are typically turned up to 11.

But Knupffer, never happy unless he gets the last word, told us that, when it came to Nehalem, it really wasn't about anything other than the core.

"The uncore is a bit like a car gearbox, but the core itself is the engine. And Nehalem features an astonishingly powerful core, and the results speak for themselves," he said before we hung up on him and went to make some dinner.

BY Sylvie Barak
Source:the INQUIRER

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