A SQL Server Hardware Tidbit a Day – Day 26

For Day 26 of this series, I want to talk a little about laptop processor selection (since I get a lot of questions about it).  Many DBAs, Developers, and consultants use laptop computers as their primary workstations for working with SQL Server. Even more than an actual database server, you are pretty much stuck with the processor that you initially buy in a laptop (unless you are pretty brave and willing to do some major surgery on the laptop).

Having the “right” processor for your needs is very important in a laptop. Making the wrong choice could mean that you have a lot less processing power or a lot less battery life than you expect. Unfortunately, you cannot usually rely on the sales clerk at Best Buy to give you good advice about which processor to pick for your new laptop.

If you need a new laptop right now (April 2013) you want a 22nm Intel Ivy Bridge processor in your laptop. In most cases, I would recommend a Core i7 model, such as a Core i7-3840QM that has four-cores plus hyper-threading (assuming that you want a larger, desktop-replacement type of laptop). If you are looking at an Ultrabook form factor, you will be stuck with a low-voltage processor such as a Core i7-3537U processor, which has two-cores plus hyper-threading. The U suffix on the processor model number is the giveaway that you are looking at a low-voltage processor, which will give you better battery life but much lower performance.

If you can wait until early June 2013, you should start seeing new laptops with the 22nm Intel Haswell processor. Haswell will have about 5-10% better processor performance at the same clock-speed, but much better integrated graphics performance and much better battery life than Ivy Bridge.

For some comparison results, the Geekbench blog has a post with a number of results for some different models of the MacBook Pro. You can use this to get a rough idea of how much better an Ivy Bridge based machine (Mac or PC) will perform compared to various older processors.

Another important benefit you get with a new Intel Ivy Bridge machine is native 6Gbps SATA III support, which means that you can take advantage of the fastest 6Gbps SSDs. You will also get USB 3.0 ports, which are a huge improvement over USB 2.0 ports (which are usually limited to about 25-30MB/sec throughput).

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