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The E7 Series of Xeon server CPUs, formerly known as "Westmere-EX" represent an impressive technical achievement for Intel, packing 10 cores in a single die.  (Source: Intel)

The processors are priced incredibly high, though, with the cheapest 2.4 GHz chip costing $4,200.  (Source: Intel)

By contrast, a 2.4 GHz Sandy Bridge server chip is currently available for $294 that offers superior power efficiency and a more advanced architecture.  (Source: Intel)
Overpriced and outdated, but packing an amazing core-count Intel's Xeon Westmere-EX server chips are a curious beast

Today Intel announced a new family of server processors, the E7.  These processors pack up to 10 Westmere architecture cores into a single chip (a so-called "deca-core" chip). They also pack a sticker price that may leave you in shock.

I.  The History of Westmere-EX

Intel follows a "tick-tock" model of processor releases.  One year it releases a new architecture, the next year it releases a die shrink of that architecture.  This two year cycle has held steady more or less for the last five years.

Conroe was the "tock" and it was followed by a "tick", the die shrink Penryn.  In turn, Penryn was supplanted by a new architecture ("tock"), Nehalem.  Nehalem launched in November 2008.

Nehalem was an important architecture for several reasons.  First, it brought major performance and power efficiency improvements to the table.  Second, the 45 nm die size allowed Intel to offer an octa-core (eight core) chip for the first time.  

And finally, it features an in-package integrated GPU chip.  Intel wanted to place the iGPU on-die, but due to difficulties, it packaged the CPU cores and iGPU as two discrete pieces of silicon inside the same package.  But that line of thinking would eventually give rise to Sandy Bridge, Intel's current generation laptop/desktop offering that actually does offer the iGPU and CPU cores on the same die.

By January 2010 Intel had already unleashed a die shrink of Nehalem.  Code-names for the various die-shrunk processor lines included Arrandale, dual-core laptop processors, Clarkdale, dual-core desktop processors, Gulftown, hexa-core processors for "extreme" desktop performance, and Westmere-EP, a server chip for dual-processor (DP) server boards.

While there's typically a limit to how many cores a user can really take advantage of on a desktop, IT users often demand as many cores as they can get to handle their more complex loads.  Thus Intel excited many when, in September 2010 at the Intel Developers Forum conference in San Francisco, it promised a H1 2011 release of deca-core (10 core) chips for the server market.  

Dubbed Westmere-EX, these chips were finally launched this week [press release].

II.  A Confused Lineup

Due to a slow roll out of the Westmere-EX line, Sandy Bridge server chips (dual and quad core) have already launched, with the lineup continuing to fill in with minor launches over H1 2011.

Sandy Bridge is Intel's latest new architecture ("tock").  Intel dubbed the Sandy Bridge server chips the "E3 Series".  

It has dubbed the older-architecture Westmere chips the "E7 Series", which makes sense from a core-count perspective, but is somewhat confusing from an architecture perspective (the older architecture has a higher number).

Likewise in performance, the processors offer a bit of a confusing dichotomy, as well.  Sandy Bridge chips pack fewer cores, but those cores are more efficient and more powerful.  Westmere-EX (the E7 Series) packs up to 10 cores, each which can be used in a server with up to 256 sockets and up to 2 TB of RAM.

Intel is marketing E7 Series chips -- the Intel® Xeon processor E7-8800/4800/2800 product families -- as drop in replacements for multi-chip server setups.  It writes:

IT managers seeking to achieve greater economic efficiencies can replace 18 dual-core servers2 with a single Xeon processor E7-based server. To help address rising energy costs, the new Xeon chips include Intel® Intelligent Power technology that dynamically reduces idle power consumption of the chip based on the workload while also delivering advanced processor power-management capabilities.

III. Okay Chip, Crazy Price

The E7 Series is already outdated in terms of core design.  But in its sheer number of cores it should offer some strong performance.  

And its 130-watt TDP at 2.4 GHz (13 watts per core) is nothing to laugh at.  To put this in perspective, the quad-core Sandy Bridge E3-1260L server chip is also clocked at 2.4 GHz and draws 45 watts (11.25 watts per core).

While only a die-shrink, Westmere does offer some refinements over the two-year old Nehalem.  It adds support for the Intel Advanced Encryption Standard New Instruction (AES-NI), which gives native support for common cryptography functions.  Similarly, it implements a new security technology dubbed Intel Trusted Execution Technology (Intel TXT), which attempts to offer greater security upon system boot.

Price [PDF], though, is a huge concern for the E7 Series.  A single Xeon E7-2870 chip, when purchased in a quantity of 1,000 costs $4,227 USD ($422.7 USD/core).  A Xeon E3-1260L costs $290 USD ($72.50/core).  

Given that server boards cost around $175 dollars, about the only perk that they offer use is a consolidation of space -- 2 E7 Series servers will obviously take up less space than 5 E3 Series servers.

IV. Conclusions

The E7 Series is a curious beast.  It’s seemingly overpriced, yet it packs up to 10 cores into a single package.  This may be a welcome feature to businesses looking to consolidate systems, but only time will tell if businesses will warm up to Intel’s latest Xeon processors.

If Intel can make a 10-core server processor based on Sandy Bridge, maybe it would be a bit more compelling, even at that price point.  For now Intel may have to weigh sales and consider a price cut.



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Enterprise Market Reality
By cserwin on 4/6/2011 11:35:15 AM , Rating: 5
A bunch of enterprise software (e.g. Oracle) is licensed by the CPU. Pay $150K to license 32 cores on 8 CPU's, or half that for 40 cores on 4.

This product isn't for everybody, that's for sure, but for some enterprises, these products make sense. Just sayin.




RE: Enterprise Market Reality
By DanNeely on 4/6/2011 11:44:16 AM , Rating: 5
It's not just per socket licensing costs that are a factor. System complexity goes up significantly with socket count, once you get much beyond a 4 socket system the CPU price becomes a relatively minor part of the total cost even when the chips cost several grand each because the number of customers buying the systems goes down so the per buyer R&D share goes up.

Also even ignoring purchase price when your apps need to do a lot of communication between threads huge chips better than larger numbers commodity chips with the same core count because exchanging data between cores within a die is faster than between cores in separate sockets (never mind separate servers).


RE: Enterprise Market Reality
By mfenn on 4/6/2011 12:42:01 PM , Rating: 5
I agree. Jason should really stop making editorial^H^H^H news posts about products that he knows nothing about.

Jason, in the types of systems that the EX line is aimed at, $4K per CPU is nothing compared to even the cost of the memory (512GB-1TB) much less the cost of the software licenses ($100-$1M+).


RE: Enterprise Market Reality
By fic2 on 4/6/2011 12:54:13 PM , Rating: 2
I agree. I work on several systems that have several different servers running different software that all communicate. Instead of having the software running on X server if I could virtualize it to X/2 or X/3 that is 1/2-1/3 the servers we would have to buy. That in itself would pay for the cpu. Not to mention the rack/ip/power requirements for each.


RE: Enterprise Market Reality
By vol7ron on 4/6/2011 10:01:10 PM , Rating: 2
I don't think Jason is confused on the usefulness and the cost savings of having more cores per socket - you have to admit that price per core has increased greatly.

That said, I also thought that some vendors like Oracle or SAS, do take into account the number of logical cores, not just the number of sockets - they're pretty good at designing a software product very well, making minor changes over the years, and charging an a buttload (pardon my juvenilization).


RE: Enterprise Market Reality
By Kougar on 4/7/2011 4:15:08 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
you have to admit that price per core has increased greatly.


Has it now? I recall many AMD Opterons costing similarly per core. A top-end dual-core, eight-way Opteron could run over $2,600 per chip, or $1,300 per core.

Try $422 per core when reading http://images.dailytech.com/nimage/2288_large_24_a...


RE: Enterprise Market Reality
By zpdixon on 4/7/2011 7:09:51 AM , Rating: 3
A modern 12-core Opteron 6168 is not expensive at all, only $750 or $63/core.

Your link is years old.


RE: Enterprise Market Reality
By vol7ron on 4/8/2011 8:23:32 PM , Rating: 2
exactly.

And even if it were that price, this does not take into consideration the cost of production. The newer fabs use less materials to build more transistors. The cost per core has decreased with the newer fabs, yet the price has increased.

Not saying it's not worth it, just identifying the higher profit margin, that most likely exists because Intel is approaching a speed bump.


RE: Enterprise Market Reality
By DanNeely on 4/6/2011 11:44:22 AM , Rating: 2
It's not just per socket licensing costs that are a factor. System complexity goes up significantly with socket count, once you get much beyond a 4 socket system the CPU price becomes a relatively minor part of the total cost even when the chips cost several grand each because the number of customers buying the systems goes down so the per buyer R&D share goes up.

Also even ignoring purchase price when your apps need to do a lot of communication between threads huge chips better than larger numbers commodity chips with the same core count because exchanging data between cores within a die is faster than between cores in separate sockets (never mind separate servers).


RE: Enterprise Market Reality
By Netscorer on 4/6/2011 2:11:33 PM , Rating: 5
Oracle (as well as SAP and other enterprise software vendors) have long since changed their licensing policies. If you read Oracle licensing agreement, cores do count. Usually one Oracle 'CPU license' can only count against two cores. So, Quad-core CPU requires 2 licenses. So your math is wrong. In fact, in our organization we try to buy low-density CPUs for Database servers, because performance of 2 Dual-core CPUs usually is better then single quad-core, while the license count is the same.


RE: Enterprise Market Reality
By ipay on 4/11/2011 11:56:47 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, a lot of software (e.g, Oracle, BMC, SoftBase) is licensed by MIPS used over time. Cores are irrelevant in this pricing strategy by the software maker.


RE: Enterprise Market Reality
By CharonPDX on 4/11/2011 7:58:14 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly.

What's a hardware cost difference of $20,000 when the software license difference is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars?

My company's software costs between tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, depending on usage. Yet we still have people who try to run it on a glorified desktop computer. It escapes me why these clients are willing to spend so much on the software, then whine and complain that it doesn't run well on horrendously underpowered hardware.


What's with the Intel hate around here lately?
By MrTeal on 4/6/2011 12:07:48 PM , Rating: 2
For a company that's really dominating the market, you sure seem to dump on Intel a lot lately, Jason. These processors have always been expensive, a Nelahem X7560 will set you back $4000 at Newegg right now.

Intel misses the boat sometimes, but their CPUs are heads and shoulders above AMD's desktop CPUs right now. The tone of the articles on DailyTech concerning Intel lately has been pretty negative considering how much of a performance gap there is between themselves and AMD. Looking at the articles posted about Intel's CPU business in the last couple months, they've all been about how upcoming ARM chips will destroy Intel, how NVIDIA will destroy Intel, how Llano will destroy Intel, and now how the new chips are too expensive.




By Da W on 4/6/2011 2:00:26 PM , Rating: 2
Same as Google will destroy Microsoft, Nvidia ARM chips will destroy x86, Apple Apple Apple!!!, end of PC era, Microsoft is doomed bla bla bla


By ekv on 4/6/2011 2:30:45 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
You need to quit with the Roman numerals in your articles.
You know when you're trying to remember something it helps to repeat it often, even make up ways to repeat it.


By MrTeal on 4/6/2011 4:46:24 PM , Rating: 3
All prices Newegg.
DVD-Burner $19
Cheapo case$25
Coolermaster 460W PS $25
1TB 7200RPM HDD $55
4GB DDR3 $40
18.5" Monitor $78
Keyboard and mouse $12
Windows 7 HP $100
That's $355 for the basic stuff, leaving $245 for CPU/MB/Video.

Intel Setup
H61 Motherboard $60
i5-2300 CPU $185
Total Intel Cost $600

AMD
Foxconn AM3 MB $45
Phenom X6 1050T $200
Total AMD Cost $600

The really low price-points are the ones that AMD is most competitive at, and even here the 2300 with outperform the 1050T in most tasks, other than maybe encryption or some encoding. Open up the price range a little wider, and Intel's lineup really begins to shine. The processor above is really only $30 cheaper and 100MHz slower than AMD's top of the line. Start pitting the 2500K or 2600K up against it and Sandy Bridge moves way ahead of AMD.

The only usage where the current sandy bridge lineup falls apart is budget gaming since you wouldn't be able to fit a $100 video card into the $600 limit using SNB.


By FITCamaro on 4/7/2011 8:17:28 AM , Rating: 3
Well to be honest that's where a lot of the future will be. Serious PC gaming and what not is a niche market, not a mass market in the grand scheme of things. Especially with consoles vastly overtaking PC gaming.

Most people are fine with a laptop these days. They don't need large tower PCs to do what they need.


By EricMartello on 4/7/2011 7:03:58 PM , Rating: 1
You know a lot of people - being the typical consumer - doesn't actually know what they need. They do not have a technical understanding of computers and they really don't know why it would be better to get a higher-powered CPU/GPU vs a cheap lower-powered netbook.

The fact of the matter is that nowadays, even something as mundane as "browsing the web and checking email" can be rather demanding on the computer, especially with Flash and HTML5 making more use of GPU-accelerated 3D graphics. The weak, outdated tech that powers netbooks cannot reliably play high-def video, and the integrated GPUs are a joke that would struggle to play Quake 1 at 640x480...on top of all that, they run extremely slowly by modern standards.

The PC game market was never really bigger than console gaming, but I see that most platforms are converging. It's not like the days of Super Nintendo vs Sega Genesis, where each console had a distinctive and exclusive library of games that would warrant buying one of the other, or both.

The "power user" and "extreme gamer" niches are small compared to the mainstream, but there's really no excuse for NOT developing new CPU technology if you are a company whose primary business is designing CPUs.


core counts
By Argon18 on 4/6/2011 12:37:03 PM , Rating: 2
I don't like core counts such as 10 or 6. For reasons beyond my comprehension, many parallel computing tasks run best when the core count is 2^x. So 2, 4, 8, 16, 32. Maybe it's just the algorithms they use are tuned that way, and need to be changed to accommodate other non-2^x core counts? I don't know. But for now, I will stay with 2^x.




RE: core counts
By DanNeely on 4/6/2011 3:05:00 PM , Rating: 3
On the hardware side it's just a question of die size. Intel's CPUs use a ringbus, so adding more cores is just a case of sticking them in. The even number is only an artifact of how the die is laid out, there's no reason they couldn't make native 5/7/etc core parts. Unless Intel changes to a more complex bus topology this isn't going to change.


RE: core counts
By zpdixon on 4/7/2011 7:15:27 AM , Rating: 3
I challenge you to name one such application that run better when the number of cores is a power of 2.


Factual error
By Ushio01 on 4/6/2011 2:02:32 PM , Rating: 2
Nehalem launched in November 2008 not 2009.




History is repeating itself
By YashBudini on 4/6/2011 7:27:30 PM , Rating: 2
It's the GM and Toyota syndrome all over again. Being #1 has gone to their heads.




Very expensive.
By YashBudini on 4/6/2011 9:15:22 PM , Rating: 2
I suppose this means a few more years of really slow response here at DT.

Maybe DT should accept PayPal donations?




By EricMartello on 4/6/2011 7:09:59 PM , Rating: 1
I get the whole consolidation idea but multi-core CPUs sharing one socket are going to be limited in how much they can process due to the physical realities of FSB and SB speeds. Even though separate systems take up more space and use more power they will perform better in general.




It's 2003 all over again
By Da W on 4/6/11, Rating: -1
RE: It's 2003 all over again
By Flunk on 4/6/2011 11:54:32 AM , Rating: 2
No one else offers a 10-core chip at all. Intel can charge whatever they like. Considering the product, $4,000 is a completely reasonable price. Nothing else has this sort of core density.


RE: It's 2003 all over again
By fic2 on 4/6/2011 12:48:53 PM , Rating: 2
Uh, maybe not 10 core, but AMD has 8 and 12 core server chips. I think they are around $1500-1600 per chip. Up to 2.5GHz.

Can't add a link, because then it becomes "spam", but google "amd Magny-Cours".


RE: It's 2003 all over again
By KOOLTIME on 4/6/2011 1:14:12 PM , Rating: 3
Nobody else needs to offer a 10 core??

AMD already sells a 12 core, so this is a mute point CPU.

AMD 12 core on amazon price today listed for $982.00
intel 10 core at the $4200.00 price each ??

Just terrible cpu value here at this price point

Now if they lower price of course then maybe they have something good here but the competitions is under a grand for 12 cores already, they are way to late in the game for this cpu at crazy price.


RE: It's 2003 all over again
By fcx56 on 4/7/2011 3:37:42 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, when are they going to offer integrated audio on CPUs??

It's moot point. You'd think with the rise of text messages and forums people would get more proficient with written language instead of less. But then again I just noticed your user name was KOOLTIME so why am I surprised...


RE: It's 2003 all over again
By CloudX on 4/6/2011 12:05:18 PM , Rating: 2
Where's AMD with truly competitive high end desktop CPU's when you need them?


RE: It's 2003 all over again
By FaceMaster on 4/6/2011 12:33:42 PM , Rating: 2
I've been asking myself the same question for YEARS.


RE: It's 2003 all over again
By Argon18 on 4/6/2011 12:49:22 PM , Rating: 2
You must not be paying attention then. The new C32 socket is sold as a "server processor" but it's a fast SIX core chip for about $200. Plenty of dual-socket C32 boards out there for cheap too. That's 12 cores for very very cheap price.

If you want to spend a little more, the G34 socket offers 8 ans 12 core chips.

Yes intel has the lead in raw performance by a few percentage points, but when compare price vs. performance, AMD has some very compelling multi-core options right now.


RE: It's 2003 all over again
By BSMonitor on 4/6/2011 1:25:44 PM , Rating: 2
Ummmm, do the diligence sir.. Those twelve cores probably barely compete against a hex-core i7 980X..

So to reiterate, because something works and its cheap does not make it a better in terms of price/performance..

A bicycle is cheap and gets the job done, but it is not a corvette. Or even a VW bug..

The ONLY reason they are that cheap, is because no one wants them.


RE: It's 2003 all over again
By dark matter on 4/7/2011 3:00:06 AM , Rating: 2
No-one wants a bicycle because it costs less than a Corvette?

What kind of idiotic world do you live in?


RE: It's 2003 all over again
By Silver2k7 on 4/7/2011 6:12:39 AM , Rating: 2
Bicycles might be cheap.. I belive mine costed about $1100.. then I know for a fact that you can get a bicycle for 10x that price if you wanted to. ;)

Im sure an AMD 24-core workstation is cheap compared to an Intel 20-core.. thought now you might try instead of comparing it to something priced simmilarly instead of just calling it cheap trash.


RE: It's 2003 all over again
By FaceMaster on 4/13/2011 7:16:29 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
when compare price vs. performance, AMD has some very compelling multi-core options right now.


Wow... you totally failed to realise that we were talking about HIGH END desktop solutions.


RE: It's 2003 all over again
By Da W on 4/6/2011 1:54:53 PM , Rating: 1
It ain't about AMD, it's about Intel getting cozzy in their quasi-monopoly space.


"Mac OS X is like living in a farmhouse in the country with no locks, and Windows is living in a house with bars on the windows in the bad part of town." -- Charlie Miller














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