The ever increasing flow of CPUs from Intel most certainly keeps us on our toes with the new mainboards that together make the platform. Servers are not often top of our list join us as we take a swift look into the new Sandy Bridge Series Xeons. The E3 series was recently introduced featuring professional-class for the first time.

As it usually goes, advancing to a new architecture with higher level of integration meant that the pricing on CPUs and Mainboards are once more more affordable for the SoHo office and small business. Thus, smaller businesses can go to an SI (System Integrator) or VAR (Value Added Reseller) without over spending on the IT budget for the year. More so for the new business making its way into the world they can obtain a whole unit without breaking the bank.

Intel Xeon E3-1280 Processor
For the purpose of this review, Intel has provided us with the Xeon E3-1280 processor. With 3.5GHz stock clock and Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 raising the clock to 3.9GHz, this is one of fastest widely-available X86 processors in the world (3.73GHz NetBurst Pentium D processor was not widely available, neither was limited-edition 4.4GHz Dual-Core Gulftown-based Xeon). The processor utilizes external data transport link clocking in five billion transfers per second (5GT/s), somewhere in between faster and slower Gulftown-based Xeons (4.8 and 5.4 GT/s respectively). However, that transfer speed is equal to desktop-based Sandy Bridge processors, something we commend.

Intel Xeon E3-1280 processor comes with HD Graphics P3000
Intel Xeon E3-1280 processor comes with HD Graphics P3000

This is also the very first Intel processor featuring professional-class graphics, i.e. integrated graphics subsystem was optimized for professional applications. Do not expect wonders, though.

Intel S1200BTS Motherboard
Intel Server Board S1200BTS and S1200BTL
According to the spec sheet, the company is pitching this product as an "entry Intel Server Board with Essential Server-Class Features". The S1200BT supports the Intel Xeon processor E3-1200 series and will support the next generation, 22nm Ivy Bridge processors – ensuring future upgradeability. The board is shipping in two variations; S1200BTS base SKU (the one tested today) and S1200BTL featuring either optional Intel I/O or the Management Module. Boards also differ in form factor, as S1200BTL is expected to be installed in 1U cases.

The board we tested today features a conventional e-ATX form factor, offering six SATA ports (only two white ones are SATA 6Gbps), internal and external USB Connectivity (internal for an add-on USB SSD).
Test System Setup
In order to maintain a strict protocol test platform we used the recent new release of Intel’s C204 chipset mainboard the S1200BTL ATX format factor to ensure a baseline level platform. A simple but effective server mainboard which can be found in most office and basic to mid-range rackmounts server modules whether in pedestal or rackmount variations.

The Mainboard was supplied fully with the latest revision of BIOS (dated May 11, 2011) and firmware fully in place. Currently supporting 2 X SATA 6GB/s ports. This meant that the supplied SATA 6GB/s SSD?s, the spindle disc boot drive and supporting SSD?s of 6GB/s took full advantage of the new ratified standards and that the results would be unequivocally factual. We have used a wide diversity of solid state drives (SSD) from the manufacturers such as Intel and Micron, as well as Western Digital VelociRaptor 600GB.

Our graphics card was no other than AMD’s budget workhorse, the FirePro V5800.

System overview:

  • Intel Xeon E3-1280, 3.5GHz
  • Akasa NERO2 Heatsink
  • Intel ServerBoard S1200BTL, C204 Chipset
  • AMD FirePro V5800 1GB
  • 16GB Crucial Registered ECC DDR3-1333
  • 600GB Western Digital VelociRaptor 6Gbps
  • 250GB Intel SSD 510 Series
  • 300GB Intel SSD 320 Series
  • 40GB Intel SSD 310 Series
  • 64GB Intel X25-E Extreme SATA SSD
  • 80GB Intel X25-M Mainstream SATA SSD
  • 256GB Crucial C300 SSD
  • 256GB Crucial m4 SSD
  • Akasa Raptor Chassis
  • SilverStone 1kW Power Supply

Systems Integrators, OEM?s and VAR?s should contact all companies directly for pricing and availability of all components. Members of the public should contact their retailers and e-tailers requesting the parts directly.

Software Used for the Tests

  • PCMark 7 Professional
  • SiSoftware Sandra 2011 SP3
  • ATTO (Current Build)
  • Crystal Mark 3 (Current 64-bit Build)
  • Cinebench 11.5
  • POVRAY for Windows 3.7 RC3
  • IOMeter Version 1.1.0 RC1
  • Internal File System Test (10GB Data Set containing 2704 Folders within these folders a further 32,241 Various Files)

Each set of tests has been applied on the clean system hard drives shown above to ensure that no residue drivers were left installed with all updates/patches applied. A test/render has been completed many times over different periods of the system uptime. HyperThreading was left at the default of being enabled, Turbo Boost enabled and the memory timings left at Auto which showed a displayed 1333MHz in ECC mode. Tests have been conducted at a standard 1600×1200 @60Hz in 32-bit color. Results that have been shown within this paper are from the application/benchmarks first run and not of an average set of runs.

Each of the SSD?s listed above all have the latest manufacture?s firmware installed to obtain maximum performance. One item of concern that Intel has finally addressed is an issue with their SSD Management Tool Suite that allows end-users to address many daily and monthly slow down issues that are seen within the SSD.

There are other 3rd party software suppliers – Diskeeper for example – and Raxco’s Perfect Disc that eliminate the issue, though these products are expensive. However within the enterprise remit these products do have to be taken extremely carefully as they can and so enhance the longevities of the life cycle of your drives whether spindle or that of the chosen SSD. When fully stacked up and the free option that Intel does supply is a very good first choice alternative, a practice many SSD manufacturers should seriously consider at point of sale.

Cinebench R11.5
Cinebench R11.5: Intel Xeon E3-1280 Processor

We start off with Cinebench R11.5, a good benchmark from Maxon. Based on their Cinema 4D R11.5 3D Digital Content Creation suite, Cinebench tests ray-trace rendering (CPU) and OpenGL rendering (GPU).

POV-Ray For Windows
POV-Ray for Windows gave out quite impressive results.

SiSoft Sandra 2011 SP3 CPU Tests
SiSoft Sandra CPU Arithmetic Test

As you can see, in conventional Whetstone iSSE3 test, the Intel Xeon E3-1280 peaks out at 85.64GFLOPS, with quite efficient 21.98MFLOPS achieved in a single cycle.

SiSoft Sandra 2011 SP3 CPU Multi-Media Benchmark

Situation changed in Multimedia test. While the standard Whetstone iSSE3 peaked at 85GFLOPS, MultiMedia Float x16 iAVX test scores 114.65 GFLOPS (Single Precision). Since Single-Precision peaked at 114.65, we expected to see Double Precision to be around half as much. E3-1280 pulls in a nice surprise with 65.2 GFLOPS, i.e. 57% – a nice 7% boost over expected.

SiSoft Sandra 2011 SP3 Cryptography Benchmark

Intel’s hardware support for cryptography in the form of AES256 yields nice results – 2.38GB/s in standard cryptographic bandwidth, yet AES256 test increases that to 5.27GB/s. Encryption tops as 1GB/s, though.
ATTO Disk Benchmark
ATTO Disk Benchmark on the VelociRaptor

RAW Read and Write Tests
RAW Read and Writes (MB/s)

Formatted File System
Formatted File System Read Speeds (MB/s)

PCMark 7 Application Load Time
PCMark7 Application Load Time Test

The real difference between SSD and a conventional hard drive can be witnessed here: While Raptor can easily beat entry-level SSDs in terms of write speed, application load time speaks for itself: fastest drives were 10x faster than the fastest spinning, 10,000 rpm conventional SATA hard drive.
Conclusion
The Intel Server Board S1200BTL certainly is a feature rich unit that will slot nicely into most ATX chassis. The actual upgrade paths that are readily available to this unit are tremendous and taking into account today’s IT budgets being hit very hard in some sectors this complete unit will satisfy the needs of the many without straining any of the budget. 

Although plain and simple black molding it will not look out of place in any office purring away in the background.    Those wishing to make use of the 1U Rackmounts will have no problems putting these into place within their existing builds. Whether Pedestal or 1U each has an array of additional fittings that can be ordered directly from your supplier. Each chassis has enough storage room to keep many happy for a very long time to come as demonstrated within. Some will be interested in the render speeds which are all within the acceptable limitations, so this can be used as a render node comfortably overnight.

There are speculated new variants of Intel?s SSD?s due within 3?4 months and these items will also have to be seriously taken in due consideration as they on paper show great promise replacing the older X25-E SLC with the new Lyndonville refresh. Though the one that will have many awaiting with great eager is that of the new Ramsdale PCI Express variant. Once more the careful malicious planning now and in the future of system deployment must be addressed.  On proceeding to print we are unable to disclose pricing structures, though the purposed IOP?s in both read/ write and product longevity will surprise many indeed.  One final point of note is the actual bit in security of the products offering 128-bit AES encryption to 256-bit encryption with the Ramsdale PCI Express unit. There are also rumours of further new PCI Express products from that of Micron, OCZ and LSI as of yet no true factual evidence has come across this desk therefore it would be unfair to comment further, though as always some truth within certain leaks must be looked upon carefully, others must be disregarded totally.

The synthetic and file tests showed us just what could be achieved easily. There is good memory bandwidth that will allow swift transactions to take place. A reduction in overall power consumption though notwithstanding – no reduction in performance which is the key message we have to absorb.

This has been a bold step forward by Intel in today?s bitterly fought market place. Though it gives the VAR’s and S.I.’s that opportunity of making some more good profit with the complete all in one solutions that have been carefully thought out. Today?s server market place is extremely tight with small margins in this area. There are thoughts and some forecasts that the recession is nearing an end so an inexpensive solution of this calibre has to be seriously considered by all parties concerned. When you look at the provided picture above of all the wears laid out it does make you think. They look neat, perform exceedingly well together and the results are very good overall.

BSN* 2011 Editors' Choice Award in Workstation/Server Segment: Intel Xeon E3-1280