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NEC Offers “Dunnington” Liposuction, Tops 64-Core VMmark

November 19, 2009

NEC’s venerable Express5800/A1160 is back at the top VMmark chart, this time establishing the brand-new 64-core category with a score of 48.23@32 tiles – surpassing its 48-core 3rd place posting by over 30%. NEC’s new 16-socket, 64-core, 256GB “Dunnington” X7460 Xeon-based score represents a big jump in performance over its predecessor with a per tile ratio of 1.507 – up 6% from the 48-core ratio of 1.419.

To put this into perspective, the highest VMmark achieved, to date, is the score of 53.73@35 tiles (tile ratio 1.535) from the 48-core HP DL785 G6 in August, 2009. If you are familiar with the “Dunnington” X7460, you know that it’s a 6-core, 130W giant with 16MB L2 cache and a 1000’s price just south of $3,000 per socket. So that raises the question: how does 6-cores X 16-sockets = 64? Well, it’s not pro-rationing from the Obama administration’s “IT fairness” czar. NEC chose to disable the 4th and 6th core of each socket to reduce the working cores from 96 to 64.

At $500/core, NEC’s gambit may represent an expensive form of “core liposuction” but it was a necessary one to meet VMware’s “logical processor per host” limitation of 64. That’s right, currently VMware’s vSphere places a limit on logical processors based on the following formula:

CPU_Sockets X Cores_Per_Socket X Threads_Per_Core =< 64

According to VMware, the other 32 cores would have been “ignored” by vSphere had they been enabled. Since “ignored” is a nebulous term (aka “undefined”), NEC did the “scientific” thing by disabling 32 cores and calling the system a 64-core server. The win here: a net 6% improvement in performance per tile over the 6-core configuration – ostensibly from the reduced core loading on the 16MB of L3 cache per socket and reduction in memory bus contention.

Moving forward to 2010, what does this mean for vSphere hardware configurations in the wake of 8-core, 16-thread Intel Nehalem-EX and 12-core, 12-thread AMD Magny-Cours processors? With a 4-socket Magny-Cours system limitation, we won’t be seeing any VMmarks from the boys in green beyond 48-cores. Likewise, the boys in blue will be trapped by a VMware limitation (albeit, a somewhat arbitrary and artificial one) into a 4-socket, 64-thread (HT) configuration or an 8-socket, 64-core (HT-disabled) configuration for their Nehalem-EX platform – even if using the six-core variant of EX. Looks like VMware will need to lift the 64-LCPU embargo by Q2/2010 just to keep up.

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