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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  • Kevin G - Saturday, February 22, 2014 - link

    Not 100% sure since I'm not an IEEE member to view it, but this paper maybe the source for the POWER7+ figures:
  • Phil_Oracle - Monday, February 24, 2014 - link

    TDP is great for comparing chip to chip, but what really matters is system performance/watt. And although Intel's latest Xeon E7 v2 may have better TDP specs than either Power7+ or SPARC T5, when you look at the total system performance/watt, SPARC T5 actually leads today due to its higher throughput, core count, 4 x more threads, built-in encryption engines and higher optimization with the Oracle SW stack.
  • Flunk - Friday, February 21, 2014 - link

    8 core consumer chips now please. If you have to take the GPU off go for it.
  • DanNeely - Friday, February 21, 2014 - link

    Assuming you mean 8 identical cores, until mainstream consumer apps appear that can use more CPU resources than the 4HT cores in Intel's high end consumer chips but which can't benefit from GPU acceleration become common it's not going to happen.

    I suppose Intel could do a big.little type implementation with either core and atom or atom and the super low power 486ish architecture they announced a few months ago in the future. But in addition to thinking it was worthwhile for the power savings, they'd also need to license/work around arm's patents. I suppose a mobile version might happen someday; but don't really see a plausible benefit for laptop/desktop systems that don't need continuous connected standby like phones do.
  • Kevin G - Friday, February 21, 2014 - link

    Intel hasn't announced any distinct plans to go this route, they're at least exploring the idea at some level. The SkyLake and Knights Landing are to support the same ISA extensions and in principle a program could migrate between the two types of cores.
  • StevoLincolnite - Saturday, February 22, 2014 - link

    Er. You don't need apps to use more than 4 threads to make use of an 8 core processor.
    Whatever happened to running several demanding applications at once? Surely I am not the only one who does this...
    My Sandy-Bridge-E processor being a few years old is starting to show it's age in such instances, I would cry tears of blood for an 8-Core Haswell based processor to replace my current 6-core chip.
  • psyq321 - Monday, March 10, 2014 - link

    Well, you can buy bigger Ivy Bridge EP Xeon CPU and fit it in your LGA2011 system.

    This way you can go up to 12 cores and not have to wait for 8-core Haswell E.
  • SirKnobsworth - Friday, February 21, 2014 - link

    8 core Haswell-E chips are due out later this year. You can already buy 6 core Ivy Bridge-E chips with no integrated graphics.
  • TiGr1982 - Friday, February 21, 2014 - link

    Did you know:
    Haswell-E is supposed to be released in Q3 this year, to have up to 8 Haswell cores with HT, fit in the new revision of Socket LGA2011 (incompatible with the current desktop LGA2011), and work with DDR4 and X99 chipset. No GPU there, since it's a byproduct of server Haswell-EP.
  • Harry Lloyd - Friday, February 21, 2014 - link

    That will not help much, unless they release a 6-core chip for around 300 $, replacing the lowest LGA2011 4-core chips. It is about time.

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