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Intel Xeon E5 processors hit the streets

New chips promise more power and efficiency and easier management

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Intel has launched its long-awaited Xeon E5-2600 processor family, code-named Sandy Bridge-EP, which it says provides an 80 percent improvement in performance compared to the previous Xeon 5600 series. The new processor is aimed at meeting the growing demands of cloud computing, consumerisation and big data.

Intel estimates that there will be 15 billion connected devices and 3 billion connected users by 2015. Meanwhile, the amount of global data centre IP traffic is forecast to grow by 33 percent annually, surpassing 4.8 zetabytes per year – more than three times the amount in 2011.

Intel aims to deal with this massive growth by focusing on four key areas – performance, energy efficiency, I/O bandwidth and security.

The Xeon E5 supports up to eight cores per processor, but HyperThreading effectively doubles that to 16 per socket. The new processors will also support more memory – up to 768GB in 24 slots – providing more DRAM for software applications and virtual machines to work with.

Intel’s Advanced Vector Extension (AVX) technology helps boost performance up to two times on compute-intensive applications like financial analysis and high performance computing, and the Xeon E5 processors also come with a new version of the Turbo Boost 2.0 overclocking mechanism.

Intel claims the Xeon E5 can improve energy efficiency by more than 50 percent, reducing total cost of ownership and helping customers to meet their growing data demands. It also supports tools to monitor and control power usage such as Intel Node Manager and Intel Data Centre Manager.

"The E5 will allow people on a standard data centre footprint who have a limited power budget and footprint to do twice as much in the same footprint, because there’s a 50 percent greater efficiency," said Steve Pawlowski, Intel senior fellow and CTO of the Digital Enterprise Group, speaking to Techworld at a launch event in London.

"For a company like Amazon to be able to provide tens of thousands of cores and not have to pay any more for the energy than they did before, while doubling the performance, is huge. It depends on where you happen to be located, but energy costs roughly $1 million per megawatt, so anything that you can do to improve your performance and save is huge."

In terms of I/O, the E5 processors include Intel Data Direct, which allows Ethernet routers and adapters to route I/O traffic directly to the processor cache, reducing power consumption and latency. They are also the first processors to integrate the I/O controller using PCI Express 3.0 directly into the microprocessor, tripling the movement of data and reducing latency by up to 30 percent.

Finally, the Xeon E5 family uses Intel’s Advanced Encryption Standard New Instruction (AES-NI) to quickly encrypt and decrypt data running over a range of applications and transactions. The company claims that this, together with Intel’s Trusted Execution Technology, will help organisations protect their data centres against attack.

Intel's Sandy Bridge processors have been in the channel since the third quarter of 2011, and manufacturers including Cisco, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, IBM are all ready with servers and workstations based on the Xeon E5-2600 architecture. Some – including Dell and HP – have already previewed their new server products.

The processor is available in 17 different versions, ranging in price from $198 to $2,050 in quantities of 1,000. UK prices have not been announced.


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