Intel's Nehalem simply sizzles
In a range of tests, the new quad-core Xeon processor shows huuuuge performance gainsFollow @infoworld
Even more impressive, while the X7350 server was equipped with a hardware RAID0 set of four 15,000-rpm SAS drives and doing nothing other than running the test scenarios, the Nehalem system ran four SATA drives in a software RAID5 array -- and serving double-duty as my workstation. At the same time the Nehalem was executing my battery of tests, it was driving a 30-inch and a 24-inch monitor off an Nvidia Quadro FX 5500, playing an MPEG movie in full-screen on the 30-inch monitor, and running more than 500 processes across four virtual desktops, including dozens of terminal sessions, Firefox browser sessions, Java applications, and streaming audio -- and it still put up these numbers.
I also had an opportunity to run a dual-socket 2.93GHz Xeon X5570 Nehalem system in a different suite of tests. This test scenario comprised FPGA (field programmable gate array) synthesis via tools like Synplicity's Synplify Pro and others. These tools are used to build and test ASIC chip design, and full synthesis and mapping runs can take hours or days to complete. Previous to the introduction of the Nehalem system, one specific simulation took just over seven hours to complete when run on a dual-socket, 2.66GHz Xeon X5355. The Xeon X5570 running at 2.93GHz finished in 3.5 hours -- half the time. The potential for the raw power of the Nehalem chips to accelerate the speed of development in this arena cannot be overstated.
As far as power consumption goes, 2cpu.com's Micah Schmidt put it this way: "In identically configured Supermicro workstations, the Nehalem-based Xeon W5580 system draws an average of 70 watts less than the Harpertown-based Xeon X5492 system at idle. Coupled with the additional performance of the new processors, the performance-per-watt difference is huge."
Fasten your seatbelts
Going forward, the raw power of the Nehalem Xeon will accelerate everything it touches, from ASIC design to automobile design to weather simulations to global data models. Heavy data-intensive applications that used to take days might now take hours. Those that took hours might now take minutes. Nehalem will step up the pace with which we develop every modern technology, from cell phones to microwaves. Rendering computer-generated imagery for movies will require far less time. Fully animated movies will be cheaper to produce, and the computer-animated models will be far more realistic due to reduced overhead.
This is true of every advancement in core processing technology, but this one is bigger than most, and it comes at a time when sophisticated modeling and design calculations are becoming more of a reality than ever before. Essentially, processes and procedures that were simply too complex and time-intensive even a few months ago are now completely feasible.
Nehalem isn't just a newer, faster chip -- it's a game-changing development in microprocessor technology. It's also likely a direct result of the time just a few years ago when AMD was busy eating Intel's 64-bit lunch. One might wonder what impetus Intel would have to continue this development trend without significant competition. People run faster with a wolf nipping at their heels. Without that motivation, perhaps a leisurely stroll would be the order of the day.
We should all hope that AMD will continue to provide the push Intel needs, and will soon offer a chip with performance that can compare to the Nehalem. That said, the primary reason behind the Nehalem’s big boost is that Intel finally integrated the memory controller on the CPU, an advantage that once was the hallmark of the Opteron -- but that can only be done once. Intel’s next step -- shrinking the Nehalem process to 32 nanometers with Westmere -- won’t be able to leverage the obvious performance gains derived from that step.
Whatever the reasons and machinations behind the development of the Nehalem chip, and regardless of what the future will bring, the raw power Nehalem represents is simply stunning.