UPDATE - Continue to the second page of the article.
For a long time, dual processor systems intrigued many high-end desktop users: adding the second CPU propelled your personal PC into the "parallel processing" exotic workstation and HPC [High Performance Computing] realm, without jumping into the overly complex and expensive quad-socket and larger systems. And, two-socket systems can for the most part still fit within the usual high-end PC size and power envelope.
Remember the Dual Celeron 300's running on many overclockers' rigs at 500 MHz and above, stable for years? That trend was then continued with the Intel D5400XS Skulltrail "extreme desktop" version of their dual Xeon workstation motherboards. The attraction only got stronger as the multi-core push resulted in operating systems, applications and even games supporting multi-thread parallelism better than before.
However, at least on Intel systems, the shared FSB did pose a bit of MP scaling bottleneck in any memory-intensive app. Dual FSB1600 on the systems like Skulltrail and other Seaburg chipset platforms did help somewhat, when combined with four channel memory configuration and cache snoop filters in the chipset North Bridge. At that time, even those STREAM-like memory benchmarks that often eluded Intel became substantially closer in results to AMD's DP Opteron platform. But it wasn't enough to win back the memory performance crown.
Intel's new workstation platform paired with ASUS Radeon HD4870X2. Mind the number of SAS cables going to Enterprise SSD drives
Now, the upcoming Nehalem-EP "Gainestown" platform is expected to take the dual processor performance crown in pretty much every category conceivable from March 30th onwards, finally balancing the performance act. Whether we're talking about raw integer and FP performance from its sixteen threads - four cores per chip, running at up to 3.2 GHz and the multithreading scaling with two threads per core, the bidirectional QPI bandwidth of 25.6 GB/s between the two processors, and triple-channel DDR3-1333 integrated memory controllers on each CPU - the new dual processor sister platform of the Core i7 does show promise.
Cutting to the chase, enough has already been said about the Nehalem architecture. Here is an early look at one of the first Nehalem DP workstation reference platforms, Intel's reference system based on the Super Micro X8DAi motherboard. In this intro part, the first of this multi-part series extending till next week, we will have a glance at the complete system setup, and some comments on how to possibly improve it. The following part will then highlight some of the interesting BIOS features that differentiate this power monster from your typical high end PC.
Opening up the side panel, you'll see the two LGA1366 CPU sockets - yes, the same as Core i7, except that the second QPI link between the two CPUs is enabled here. Intel is finally standardizing the Socket commonality between higher-end processors. Similarities include the heat sink mounting - so yes, finally the UP and DP platforms can share the same cooling solutions, including the more exotic liquid, TEC, fridge and freeze stuff from the high end desktops as long as, of course, they fit in pairs.
Taking a closer look at the cooler shows that Intel finally moved in the right direction as far as CPU cooling go... these are not screamers.
Under the two aluminum heatsinks with front-mounted fans, each socket holds the fastest Nehalem-EP at launch: the W5580 Xeon, running at the same 3.2 GHz, 6.4 Gbps QPI speed as the Core i7 965. Note that the initial D0 stepping of this chip is the same as the expected Core i7 Extreme 975, a superb overclocker with high "performance enhancement" margins. So, if the multipliers were unlocked, the W5580 could give out some "naughty" numbers too.
Two CPUs means double the memory channels in total - most workstation boards here will be happy with total of twelve DIMM slots, two per channel, and that includes the X8DAi. With Samsung's recently announced 16 GB DDR3 R-DIMMs, you can pack a humongous 192 GB RAM in this box. Given the pricing of the parts, this could mean that you can start thinking about having a super computer on your desktop, instead of usual off-loading demanding tasks - large servers or supercomputers. The test configuration was equipped with twelve 4 GB ECC R-DIMMs, also from Samsung, for a total of "only" 48 GB memory - still the largest memory PC to ever enter my lab.
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