Core Microarchitecture Performance: Woodcrest Preview

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The last several months have been quite interesting for me. I spent most of April in Tanzania, installing computers in several rural schools. While I was in Tanzania, I received an invitation from my friend Scott McLaughlin, to attend another Intel reviewer’s workshop, this time for Woodcrest based systems, in Hillsboro. Rural internet connectivity in Africa is a little dicey, but I did manage to RSVP.

The last reviewer’s workshop in October, 2005 focused around the Bensley platform, which coupled the Dempsey MPU with the Blackford chipset. Based on the results we saw, it appeared that Bensley would put Intel back into the game performance wise, but do little to alleviate power and thermal issues.

However, fate conspired against Dempsey. It turned out there were not sufficient FB-DIMM supplies to launch the platform in March, as was originally planned. As a result, Dempsey’s launch was delayed until today (May 23rd), although products have been shipping to partners for two months. Fortunately for Intel, Woodcrest taped out earlier than expected, with fewer bugs, and so the release date for the Woodcrest based variant of Bensley was moved up to June. This means that Dempsey will enjoy a rather short period of time in the limelight, but it seems unlikely that any consumers will mind.

Woodcrest is far more impressive than its predecessor, from both a performance and power efficiency perspective. Dempsey was really intended as a short term product to keep dual socket servers competitive for a quarter or two. Woodcrest is the flagship for Intel’s server line, and the lynchpin of their strategy for the next year or so. As a result, everyone at Intel, and all the reviewers were very enthusiastic about the new products, which made the workshop quite a treat.

The reviewer’s workshop was May 10th, through the 12th, although I arrived a little early and stayed a day later. The night before the workshop I went to dinner with several friends and acquaintances in the area, which was quite enjoyable. The workshop itself was very similar to the previous one, but much more refined, and the same cast of characters, plus a few more, attended.

This workshop offered an opportunity to bring together an incredible amount of information. Rather than present all of this at once and overloading (or worse, boring) readers, the information will be split into several articles. In this first article, we will focus on describing the Bensley platform with Woodcrest, Intel’s estimated performance and our measured performance for Woodcrest systems. Later articles will focus on the actual reviewer’s workshop itself, our measured Linux performance and a detailed power analysis for our benchmarks.

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