The remarkable thing about the year 2005 is that this is when dual-core processors appeared. Both major CPU developers, AMD and Intel, introduced their dual-core architectures, which immediately found their way into the server solutions as well as into the desktop systems. New architectures aroused great response from the users, because further progress in the CPU field is most likely to go towards multiple-core architectures.
Of course, we have already paid due attention to dual-core architectures. There are a few reviews on our site already that go into all the details about the dual-core processors from AMD and Intel, such as Athlon 64 X2 and Pentium D. So, it looked like there is not so much to talk about before the new dual-core processor models get released. However, we still managed to find a very interesting topic for discussion related to multi-core CPU architectures. Namely, we decided to take a look at the way dual-core CPUs will behave in a dual-processor system. In other words, we decided to resort to reconnaissance in force and find out the practical efficiency of a quad-core system today.
During our dual-core processor tests we have already come across the situations when contemporary software applications turn out unable to take good advantage of multi-threading, so that the increased number of execution cores inside a single CPU doesn’t lead to any tangible performance improvement. We would expect contemporary software to be even less successful in loading four cores at a time. Even though Intel has been pushing the “virtual dual-core architecture” into the market for quite a while now through their Hyper-Threading technology, far not all the software developers create even two parallel computational threads. Four parallel computational threads in a single program should be an even rarer occasion.
Nevertheless, it is very easy to assemble a dual-processor system with dual-core CPUs nowadays. Intel is currently offering only desktop dual-core processors, and they intend to introduce dual-core architecture in Xeon processor family only by the very end of this year. AMD, however, is already supplying dual-core solutions for servers and workstations. AMD Opteron CPUs with two cores are already a part of 1XX, 2XX and 8XX processor families. It means that AMD already offers dual-processors solutions for single-, dual- and quad-processor server and workstation systems.
For our research on the features and performance of a quad-core platform we decided to assemble a dual-processor system based on two AMD Opteron 2XX CPUs. Of course, if we intend to compare this dual-CPU system against the high-end desktop solutions, it should be a workstation, not a server. Luckily, there are quite a few feature-rich dual-processor mainboards in the market today that could be used as a basis for a dual-Opteron workstation. These mainboards are built around professional chipsets for K8 processor family, NVIDIA nForce Professional in the first place. The leading mainboard vendors are currently offering high-end products on this set of core logic with the PCI Express bus support. This is exactly the mainboard you might want to use for your dual-processor quad-core workstation.
Of course, it doesn’t make any sense to test a dual-processor system with dual-core CPUs in applications that do not support multi-threading. That is why today we are going to pay special attention to the applications that do support multi-threading and are typical for workstations. Therefore, there will be no gaming tests, where even regular (single-CPU) dual-core systems cannot win any performance gain. Instead we will specifically dwell on video encoding and processing applications, computer-aided design systems (CAD) and 3D modeling and rendering software. This is exactly the reason why we equipped our system with a professional graphics card, specifically designed for work in applications like that.
This way out today’s article will be pursuing multiple goals. Firstly, we will find out the potential of contemporary workstations based on AMD Opteron CPUs. Secondly, we will be able to evaluate the prospects of the quad-core systems in terms of the performance gain they get from the two additional cores in the today’s most complex software packages. And thirdly, we will compare the performance of powerful workstation platforms against the top desktop systems from the high-end price range, which will allow us to conclude how efficient the financial investment into a workstation today is going to be.
Well, now that the objectives have been set, let’ get started.