Well, I apparently have not learned my lesson yet, after I did a month long series called “A DMV a Day” back in 2010 and and then another series called A SQL Server Hardware Nugget a Day back in 2011, where I wrote a blog post every day during the month of April, since I am going to do it yet again this year, once more focusing on hardware as it relates to SQL Server. Writing a technical blog post every single day for a month is a little more challenging than you think when you first start…

I will start this series by talking about the Intel Xeon E5-2600 product family processor line, which is also known as the Sandy Bridge-EP. This product family includes the Intel Xeon E5-1600 series, Intel Xeon E5-2600 series and the Intel Xeon E5-4600 series, for different socket-count servers, but I am only going to cover the more popular Intel Xeon E5-2600 series today.

The Intel Xeon E5-2600 series (“Sandy Bridge-EP”) is a four, six or eight-core processor used in two socket servers starting in March 2012. It is based on the Sandy Bridge microarchitecture, and it has both hyper-threading technology and turbo boost capability (although some specific models do not have hyper-threading enabled). It was a Tock release for Intel, which means that is has a new microarchitecture compared to the previous Nehalem microarchitecture. It is built on 32nm process technology, and has clock speeds ranging from 1.8GHz to 3.3GHz with an L3 cache size of 10MB to 20MB, depending on the number of physical cores in the processor. QPI bandwidth ranges from 6.4GT/s to 8.0GT/s.

It uses Socket LGA 2011, and uses the Intel C604 chipset. It has an improved memory controller and a larger L3 cache compared to the previous Intel Xeon 5600 series. It also has PCI 3.0 support, which gives you double the sequential I/O bandwidth of the older PCI 2.0 standard. This is currently Intel’s highest performance processor for single-threaded workloads, which means that it is especially suited for OLTP performance. It is definitely the best Intel two-socket processor for SQL Server OLTP workloads in the early-2012 to late-2013 timeframe, until the upcoming “Ivy Bridge-EP” becomes available.

If you have ever heard me give one of my SQL Server Hardware presentations over the past year, you know that this is my favorite processor for most SQL Server 2012 OLTP workloads. The top of the line, eight-core Intel Xeon E5-2690 has enough CPU and memory capacity to replace most older four-socket servers, and it will give extremely good single-threaded performance. It allows you to have up to 384GB of RAM in a two-socket server, using affordable 16GB DDR3 RDIMMs.

If you are running SQL Server 2008 R2 or older (with socket-based licensing), the Xeon E5-2690 is absolutely your best processor choice for a two-socket, OLTP database server. If you are running SQL Server 2012, and you are concerned about minimizing your SQL Server 2012 core-based licensing costs, you should look at the four-core, Intel Xeon E5-2643. This processor will actually give you slightly better single-threaded performance (due to its higher 3.3GHz base clock speed) than the E5-2690, with a 50% reduction in your SQL Server 2012 core-based license cost. Of course you will give up about 45-50% of your CPU capacity, which may or may not be acceptable.

Figure 1 shows the Intel Xeon processor “family tree”. There is always some delay between the introduction of a new microarchitecture on the desktop and mobile space until it shows up in single-socket, and then two-socket, and finally four-socket and larger servers. The Sandy Bridge-EP was not released until March 2012, while the Ivy Bridge-EP will probably show up in Q3 of 2013.

image thumb A SQL Server Hardware Tidbit a Day – Day 1

Figure 1: Intel Xeon Processor Families