Lab test: Sun's X4150 shows the beef
The Sun Fire X4150, with four Intel cores, fast drives, and oodles of I/O, brings surprising heft and sizzling performance to a 1U frameFollow @pvenezia
Running the lab gauntlet
Although I've run several OSes on the X4150, I ran my stable of real-world benchmarks on the X4150 using a fully updated build of CentOS 5.1. These tests include bzip2 compression tests, md5sum tests, MySQL benchmarks, and LAME MP3 encoding tests. While some of these tests are single-threaded, they offer a solid look at the performance of the server in situations that occur in the field, not in a lab. For comparisons, I used a year-old Dell PowerEdge 2950 with two dual-core Intel 5160 CPUs running at 3.0GHz with 4MB of L2 cache per core. Though the Dell 2950 had the edge in clock speed, the Sun Fire X4150 has four additional cores, as well as an additional 2MB of L2 cache per core. In this way, it's possible to draw performance comparisons between the X4150 and the hardware running in many datacenters today. The results were mixed, depending on workload, but the performance increases found in the X4150 were substantial in several tests, specifically the database benchmarks.
My audio-encoding tests were simple: I ran the LAME MP3 encoding tool against an 838MB WAV file – the same one I've used in numerous server tests. Run with flags to produce a 256kbps MP3 with a VBR (variable bit rate) quality setting of 2, the Sun Fire X4150 produced a 152MB MP3 in 5 minutes, 34 seconds. The Dell 2950 accomplished the same task only a few seconds faster, with a time of 5 minutes, 29 seconds. As this is a single-threaded test, the faster clock speed of the Dell's processors is likely the reason for the slightly quicker time. Interestingly, when eight concurrent encoding processes were launched on each server, each process completed in exactly the same time as a single process – on both servers. It appears that the additional four cores in the X4150 don't necessarily translate into speedier concurrent processing, at least not in this test.
The md5sum tests showed similar results, with the 3.0GHz 5160 CPUs in the Dell PowerEdge 2950 besting the 2.83GHz CPUs in the Sun Fire X4150 by the slimmest of margins. The bzip2 compression tests echoed these results, with the Dell edging out the X4150 by a few seconds per test. None of these results were particularly surprising given the CPUs in use between the two systems, but they do illustrate that in some workloads, quad-core CPUs aren't necessary.
Quite surprising, however, were the results of the MySQL tests. I ran the standard sql-bench utility against the local system to gauge database performance. This is a series of tests that stresses nearly every database function, and is handy in determining real-world MySQL performance on a given server.
The sql-bench tests were run on identical MySQL 5.0.22 database servers. The X4150 took just under 12 minutes less to conduct the full range of tests when compared to the Dell 2950 – just 678 seconds compared to 1,394 seconds for the Dell. This was quite impressive, and due in no small part to the fast local disk I/O. The U320 SCSI drives in the Dell suffered in reads and writes, while the SAS drives in the X4150 turned in an impressive performance, showing 250MBps reads to a RAID5 array in a separate set of tests. Undoubtedly, this accounted for the large disparity between the results, but even in less disk-intensive tests, the X4150 came out at least 50 percent faster. Thus, the X4150 immediately proved its worth in database applications.
To further test that conclusion, I ran my custom-made LAMP test suite. This is a PHP/MySQL application that hits a 500,000-record, nine-column database table, randomly alternating between dynamic pages with static pages to give a reasonably accurate picture of a real-world Web application's performance under load. With a test run consisting of 10,000 requests with eight concurrent requests, the X4150 handily beat the Dell 2950, pushing an average of 391 requests per second compared to 266 requests per second, translating into 20 milliseconds per request compared to 30 milliseconds for the Dell.
The most suitable roles for the Sun Fire X4150 will be in database, Web serving, and virtualization tasks. In these spaces, the X4150 provides significant bang for the buck in nearly all respects.