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Xeon/Opteron: Are Server-Class Processors Worth It?

Discussion in 'Computer Hardware' started by choucove, Mar 29, 2010.

  1. choucove

    choucove Active Member

    Feb 25, 2008
    I would like your input from your experience or ideas regarding server or workstation-class processors compared to similar desktop processors. Is there really a difference in performance or reliability enough to warrant the often price premium for these platforms?

    Now obviously each has their own advantages and disadvantages. Desktop processors can be used for overclocking and are usually slightly cheaper clock-for-clock, but server-class processors can often support dual-socket platforms and greater amounts of RAM. So for the sake of comparison lets assume a few things:

    1) No overclocking: All components of our theoretical systems will be run at stock specs and speeds.

    2) Single socket: If only one processor is used in this system, will there be a difference in performance if the processors are generally identical in specifications (Xeon vs. Core i7, or Opteron vs. Phenom II X4)?

    3) Design use: The system will not be for gaming or multimedia needs but purely for graphics design and similar design work.

    With this in mind, is there really an advantage or disadvantage with a server-class platform over a similar desktop platform? It's my general experience that the server-class platform is going to bring with it a higher price premium even if the general specifications are very close. And if there is a performance advantage towards the server-class platform is it enough to even warrant this difference in price? Is there better reliability or lifespan in the server-class platform?
  2. BrianKE

    BrianKE Member

    Nov 26, 2007
    Columbus, OH
    IIRC, server class machines require error correcting RAM and this can slow the performance of the machine. For a design machine don't bother about a server-class machine, they cost more and you will probably get less performance. Plus the hassle of getting the processor, RAM and MB for a server machine (if you are building it) is more difficult than a regular machine.

    And when it all boils down, there really is little difference between a gaming machine and design station. They both require intense graphics and now-a-days it is gaming that is driving graphics cards, not designers, like it used to be many years ago. If you are really looking for a multi-proc machine there are 'enthusiast' class MB with this capability. However, IMO the advent of multi-core processors have made these mote.
  3. choucove

    choucove Active Member

    Feb 25, 2008
    You seem to be in the same line of thinking as myself on this. I have built three workstations that use the Opteron processors, two of them dual-socket systems and the other just a single socket. They both run incredibly well and stable, but I see no real performance gain from these platforms.

    I'm not a fan of the use of ECC memory for a system where speed is the key advantage needed. In the new Xeon systems DDR3 1333 memory can be used with similar speeds to the Core i7 memory, but with a higher price for being ECC and usually higher latency as well.
  4. SignBurst PCs

    SignBurst PCs Very Active Member

    This question is a often argued one in the computer hardware community. Most of this will be too much for most folks out there, but there are some very techy guys and gals on the forum that may find this conversation useful. I know Choucove is a "computer guy" and he asks some interesting questions.

    It really all boils down to, it depends.

    First, speed. Yes, you can get similar performance out of a "desktop" system compared to a "workstation or server class system" if you intend to never use multiple sockets or large amounts of RAM. But if you take advantage of the Xeon system's advantages, you can get a much faster system.

    Xeon systems have the ability to run multiple sockets (as you said).

    Yes, multiple core CPUs are great, but having two cores on a single die is not the same as having 2 separate CPUs. Two separate CPUs do not "share" resources such as caches and memory lanes. With multiple sockets, come more RAM "lanes" and the ability to use more RAM (up to 96GB in our systems).

    More RAM may or may not be a huge advantage for everyone. With 64 Bit systems becoming commonplace and 64 Bit software making it's way into the marketplace, RAM will become an issue. Photoshop users get a HUGE performance gain from more RAM if they are using the 64 Bit version of Photoshop. More RAM, directly relates to better performance. The idea of ECC being slower (latency) than non-ECC RAM becomes impractical because more RAM outperforms faster RAM in most cases.

    If I owed a shop and had the choice of purchasing two identically performing systems:

    1. A desktop class system loaded to the max to achieve the desired performance and costs a bit less


    2. A enterprise/workstation/server class system that performs similarly to the desktop, costs a bit more initially, but has potential to upgrade and get faster in a year if need be, and will probably last a bit longer

    I, personally, would choose #2. Who knows what the future holds. I may not need the added performance right now, but it sure would be nice to know that I could upgrade to get it if I wanted to. Maybe my workload grows in the near future or the files sizes I deal with increase and I need to go faster to keep up with changes in my business.

    Reliability and longevity are also a factor. "Enterprise" hardware often comes with a longer warranty from the manufacturer. There is a reason. The failure rate on these systems is lower. Having a computer failure can be costly (under warranty or not) and easily can bring the actual cost of ownership up to the point that a buyer would have been better off using enterprise level hardware in the first place. If a mission critical computer fails, even under warranty, the user it without that computer for a while and that can be costly.

    There are many other facets to this argument and we carry both kinds of computers to cover folks on both sides of the fence, so I am not saying one is right and one is wrong.

    Like I said before, it depends.
  5. choucove

    choucove Active Member

    Feb 25, 2008
    Thank you for that great reply Casey, you brought up many valid points that I as well have been curious about and the reason for this thread.

    The whole reason I built the Opteron systems I had in the past was for the ability of future upgrades beyond standard desktop hardware. Today, the line between the high-performance desktop platform and the server/workstation platform is getting smaller, but it is still evident. We decided two years ago to build two computers with the Opteron processors because of lifespan: With a normal desktop we could have a dual-core processor with up to 4GB or perhaps 8GB maximum RAM on the computer. We figured that was enough performance to fit the needs of our software and files for about three years, and that is the average life expectancy of a standard desktop in the business environment. However, if we went with the Opterons we could have two dual-core processors (and two quad-core in the second, later, system) and up to 32GB of RAM, which means the computer could offer performance to last nearly twice as long as the desktop system before.
  6. SignBurst PCs

    SignBurst PCs Very Active Member

    Sounds like solid reasoning to me.

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