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Sandy Bridge for servers: Intel Xeon E5-2600 preview

In the first week of 2011, Intel introduced its new Sandy Bridge processor architecture, first in the shape of the Core i3/i5/i7 processors with the Socket 1155 processor socket for desktop PCs and their laptop counterparts. Last March, well over a year later, the architecture was applied to the dual-socket server world, with the launch of the Intel Xeon E5-2600 series.

For desktops, the arrival of the Sandy Bridge architecture and its wide variety of improvements meant a significant step ahead in terms of performance, but even more so in terms of energy consumption. The same jump now applies to servers.

Let's be honest, this is not the first time we've seen the Xeon E5-2600. The Sandy Bridge-E high-end desktop processors launched in mid-November last year are in fact the same server chips that Intel is now releasing for their primary intended use, but were then packaged as consumer products. In our review we mentioned that many aspects of the new high-end desktop processors, such as the quad-channel memory controller, would come into their own much better in a server environment.

Also, Intel has not completely opened up its bag of tricks for the desktop version yet. The most relevant examples here are the seventh and eighth cores. Everybody knows that they secretly exist on the chip, but only on the server versions are they actually active. Features such as two QPI connections for faster dual-socket systems or various RAS features for extra reliability have been enabled on the Xeon E5 version of the Sandy Bridge-E chip.

In this review we will analyse the hardware of the Xeon E5-2600 series. We extensively tested two models in the series, the high-end Xeon E5-2690 and the more energy-efficient Xeon E5-2660. We did this with three different server operating systems: Windows Server 2008 R2, CentOS 6.2 and Ubuntu Server 11. Benchmarks include a comprehensive MySQL database benchmark, and various HPC-related tests. You can read the rest of Sandy Bridge for servers: Intel Xeon E5-2600 preview on