It is generally accepted as common knowledge that the high-end RISC server vendors—IBM and Oracle—have been bleeding market share in favor of high-end Intel Xeon based servers. Indeed, the RISC market accounts for about 150k units while the x86 market has almost 10 million servers. About 5% of those 10 million units are high-end x86 servers, so the Xeon E7 server volume is probably only 2-4 times the size of the whole RISC market. Still, that tiny amount of RISC servers represents about 50% of the server market revenues.

But the RISC vendors have finally woken up. IBM has several Power7+ based servers that are more or less price competitive with the Xeon E7. Sun/Oracle's server CPUs have been lagging severely in performance. The UltraSPARC T1 and T2 for example were pretty innovative but only performed well in a very small niche of the market, while offering almost ridicously low performance in any application (HPC, BI, ERP ) that needed decent per-thread performance.

Quite surprisingly, Oracle has been extremely aggressive the past few years. The "S3" core of the octal-core SPARC T4 launched at the end of 2011 was finally a competitive server core. Compared to the quad-issue Westmere core inside the contemporary Xeon E7 , it was still a simple core, but gone were the single-issue in-order designs of the T1 and T2 at laughably low clock speeds. No, instead, the SUN server chip received a boost to an out-of-order dual-issue chip at pretty decent 3GHz clocks. Each core could support eight threads but also execute two threads simultaneously. Last year, the Sparc-T5, an improved T4, had twice as many cores at 20% higher clocks.

As usual, the published benchmarks are very vague and are only available for the top models, the TDP is unknown, and the best performing systems come with astronomic price tags ($950,000 for two servers, some networking, and storage... really?). In a nutshell, every effort is made to ensure you cannot compare these with the servers of "Big Blue" or the x86 competition. Even Oracle's "technical deep dive" seems to be written mostly to please the marketing people out there. A question like "Does the SPARC T5 also support both single-threaded and multi-threaded applications?" must sound particularly hilarious to our technically astute readers.

Oracle's nebulous marketing to justify some of the outrageous prices has not changed, but make no mistake: something is brewing among the RISC vendors. SUN/Oracle is no longer the performance weakling in the server market, some IBM Power systems are priced quite reasonably, and the Intel Xeon E7—still based on the outdated Westmere Core—is starting to show its age. Not surprisingly, it's time for a "tick-tock" update of the Xeon E7. The new Xeon E7 48xx v2 is baked in a better process (22nm vs 32nm) and comes with 2012's "Ivy Bridge" core, enhanced for server/IT markets to become "Ivy Bridge EX".

Meet the New Xeon E7 v2
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  • JohanAnandtech - Saturday, February 22, 2014 - link

    I meant, I have never seen an independent review of high-end IBM or SUN systems. We did one back in the T1 days, but the product performed only well in a very small niche.
  • Phil_Oracle - Monday, February 24, 2014 - link

    Contact your Oracle rep and I am sure we'd be glad to loan you a SPARC T5 server, which we have in our loaner pool for analysts and press. Would be nice if you had a more objective view on comparisons.
  • Phil_Oracle - Monday, February 24, 2014 - link

    If you look at Oracles Performance/Benchmark blog, we have comparisons between Xeon, Power and SPARC based on all publicly available benchmarks. As Oracle sells both x86 as well as SPARC, we sometimes have benchmarks available on both platforms to compare.
  • Will Robinson - Saturday, February 22, 2014 - link

    Intel and their CPU technology continues to impress.
    Those kind of performance increase numbers must leave their competitors gasping on the mat.
    Props for the smart new chip. +1
  • Nogoodnms - Saturday, February 22, 2014 - link

    But can it run Crysis?
  • errorr - Saturday, February 22, 2014 - link

    My wife would now the answer to this considering she works for ibm but considering software costs far exceed hardware costs on a life cycle basis does anyone know what the licensing costs are between the different platforms.

    She once had me sit down to explain to her how CPU upgrades would effect db2 licenses. The system is more arcane and I'm not sure what the cost of each core is.

    For an ERP each chip type has a rated pvu metric from IBM which determines the cost of the license. Are RISC cores priced differently than x86 cores enough to partially make up the hardware costs?
  • JohanAnandtech - Sunday, February 23, 2014 - link

    I know Oracle does that (risc core <> x86 core when it comes to licensing), but I must admit, Licensing is extremely boring for a technical motivated person :-).
  • Phil_Oracle - Monday, February 24, 2014 - link

    In total cost of ownership calculations, where both HW and SW as well as maintenance costs are calculated, the majority of the costs (upwards of 90%) are associated with software licensing and maintenance/administration- so although HW costs matter, it’s the performance of the HW that drives the TCO. For Oracle, both Xeon and SPARC have a per core license factor of .5x, meaning 1 x license for every two cores, while Itanium and Power have a 1x multiplier, so therefore Itanium/Power must have a 2x performance/core advantage to have equivalent SW licensing costs. IBM has a PVU scale for SW licensing, which essentially is similar to Oracle but more granular in details. Microsofts latest SQL licensing follows similarly. So clearly, performance/CPU and especially per core matters in driving down licensing costs.
  • Michael REMY - Sunday, February 23, 2014 - link

    that would have be very good to test this cpu on 3D rendering benchmark.
    i can imagine the gain of time in a workstation...even the cost will be nearest a renderfarm...
    but comparing this xeon to other one in that situation should have bring a view point.
  • JohanAnandtech - Sunday, February 23, 2014 - link

    What rendering engine are you thinking about? Most engines scale badly beyond 16-32 threads

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