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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Overpriced and outdated, but packing an amazing core-count Intel's Xeon Westmere-EX server chips are a curious beast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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It's 2003 all over again
By Da W on 4/6/2011 11:29:46 AM , Rating: -1
Intel is slowly loosing it.
Being in the lead for too long makes you lazy. Their "tick-tock" strategy prooved too costly, they change architecture/process node too fast before recouping their investment (see stock price of past few years for proof). Now they try to prolong the life of Nahalem at insane price by keeping Gulftown at the high-end and now this. Even building a descent Sandy bridge rig is somehow expensive. They don't even try to capture the the low end of the market as they need money. It's begining to feel like the end of the pentium 3 era / start of the pentium 4 era.




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.


“And I don't know why [Apple is] acting like it’s superior. I don't even get it. What are they trying to say?” -- Bill Gates on the Mac ads














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