There's something different about watching a server process list spanning 48 logical CPUs. It invariably engenders a feeling of raw power, not because each CPU is fast but simply because there are so many of them. Those 48 logical processors show you just what the Dell PowerEdge R815 has to offer: It's a server that needs lots of work to do.
It's a little difficult to measure the Dell R815 and its four AMD Opteron 12-core CPUs against its competitors. The R815 doesn't have the clock speed of an Intel Westmere-EP CPU, but it does have twice the number of physical cores. It doesn't have the extended RAS features present in the Intel Nehalem-EX, but it does have a slightly faster clock and 30 percent more cores -- and a significantly lower price.
[ Which is the better blade server? See InfoWorld's "Blade server review: Dell, HP, and IBM battle for the virtual data center" and "InfoWorld review: Cisco UCS wows." ]
So rather than directly compare this CPU -- and this server -- to its Intel competition, it's best to look at it from a real-world point of view. And that view is of a box screaming for a virtualization workload while somehow avoiding a budget-destroying price tag. The R815 even includes nice extras such as sizable internal storage and array controller options, redundant SD card slots, and enhanced iDRAC management tools. Given that an R815 with four Magny-Cours CPUs costs thousands less than a comparable server with two Nehalem-EX CPUs, it delivers better bang for the buck for sufficiently multithreaded workloads. (See my comparative test results, "AMD Opteron Magny-Cours versus Intel Xeon Nehalem-EX.")
Virtualization value leader
The Dell PowerEdge R815 is a beefy representative of the Dell PowerEdge server line. It's a 2U chassis holding four AMD Opteron 6100-series CPUs and 512GB of RAM. It houses up to six 2.5-inch SAS, SATA, or SSD disks, and it has four built-in copper gigabit NICs out the back. Coupled with the expected redundant power supplies and the relatively unexpected redundant SD-card options, it brings to mind one of those massive dump trucks that have eight-foot-high wheels.
While the maximum number of cores you can fit into an R815 is 48, you can opt for less expensive CPUs in the AMD Opteron 6100-series line and run with two or four eight-core CPUs. At the low end, this means you can pick up an R815 with four eight-core, 2.0GHz Opteron 6128 CPUs, 16GB of RAM, and two SATA drives for around $4,725 at the time of this writing. Choosing the crème-de-la-crème 12-core, 2.3GHz Opteron 6176SE processors will run you another $1,000 per chip, which is still far cheaper than the Intel alternative.
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