Xeon D vs ThunderX: Supermicro vs Gigabyte

While SoC is literally stands for a system on a chip, in practice it's still just one component of a whole server. A new SoC cannot make it to the market alone; it needs the backing of server vendors to provide the rest of the hardware to go around it and to make it a complete system.

To that end, Gigabyte has adopted Cavium's ThunderX in quite a few different servers. Meanwhile on the Intel side, Supermicro is the company with the widest range of Xeon D products.

There are other server vendors like Pengiun computing and Wistrom that will make use of the ThunderX, and you'll find Xeon D system from over a dozen vendors. But is clear that Gigabyte and Supermicro are the vendors that make the ThunderX and Xeon D available to the widest range of companies respectively.

For today's review we got access to the Gigabyte R120-T30.

Although density is important, we can not say that we are a fan of 1U servers. The small fans in those systems tend to waste a lot of energy.

Eight DIMMs allow the ThunderX SoC to offer up to 512 GB, but realistically 256 GB is probably the maximum practical capacity (8 x 32 GB) in 2016. Still, that is twice as much as the Xeon D, which can be an advantage in caching or big data servers. Of course, Cavium is the intelligent network company, and that is where this server really distinguishes itself. One Quad Small Form-factor Pluggable Plus (QFSP+) link can deliver 40 GB/s, and combined with four 10 Gb/s Small Form-factor Pluggable Plus (SFP+) links, a complete ThunderX system is good for a total of 80 Gbit per second of network bandwidth.

Along with building in an extensive amount of dedicated network I/O, Cavium has also outfit the ThunderX with a large number of SATA host ports, 16 in total. This allows you to use the 3 PCIe 3.0 x8 links for purposes other than storage or network I/O.

That said, the 1U chassis used by the R120-T30 is somewhat at odds with the capabilities of ThunderX here: there are 16 SATA ports, but only 4 hotswap bays are available. Big Data platforms make use of HDFS, and with a typical replication of 3 (each block is copied 3 times) and performance that scales well with the number of disks (and not latency), many people are searching for a system with lots of disk bays.

Finally, we're happy to report that there is no lack of monitoring and remote management capabilities. A Serial port is available for low level debugging and an AST2400 with an out of band gigabit Ethernet port allows you to manage the server from a distance.

The ThunderX SoCs Supermicro and the Xeon D
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  • JohanAnandtech - Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - link

    Good suggestion. I have been using an ipmi client to manage several other servers, like the IBM servers. However, such a GUI client is still a bit more userfriendly, ipmi commands can get complicated if you don't use them regularly. The thing is that HP and Intel's BMC GUI are a lot easier to use and more reliable.
  • fanofanand - Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - link

    I think you may have an inaccurate figure of 141 at idle (in the graph) for the Thunder. "makes us suspect that the chip is consuming between 40 and 50W at idle, as measured at the wall"
  • JohanAnandtech - Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - link

    If you look at the Column "peak vs idle", you see 82W. At peak, we assume that a 120W TDP chip will probably need about 130W. 130W - 82W (both measured at the wall) = 50W for the SoC alone at idle measured at the wall, so anywhere between 40-50W in reality. My Calculation is a "guestimate", but it is clear that the Cavium chip needs much more in idle than the Intel chips.(10-15W) .
  • djayjp - Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - link

    Many spelling/grammar issues here. It impacts readability. Please read before posting.
  • djayjp - Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - link

    That is to say in the article.
  • mariush - Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - link

    These guys are already working on ThunderX2 (54 cores, 3 Ghz , 14nm , ARMv8) and they already have functional chips : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ei9uVskwPNE
  • Meteor2 - Thursday, June 16, 2016 - link

    It's always jam tomorrow, isn't it? Intel is working on new chips too, you know.
  • beginner99 - Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - link

    It loses very clearly in performance/watt to Xeon-D. In this segment the lower price doesn't matter in that case and the fact that it has a process disadvantage doesn't matter either. What counts is the end result. And I doubt it would cost $800 if made on 14/16nm. I mean why would anyone buying this take the risk? Safer bet to go with Intel also due to more flexible use (single and multi threaded). The latency issue is mentioned but downplayed.
  • blaktron - Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - link

    So downplayed. Anandtech desperately wants ARM servers, but its a solution looking for a problem. Big web front ends running on bare metal are such a small percentage of the server market that developing for it seems stupid. Xeon-D was already in development for SANs, they just repurposed it for docker and nginx.
  • Senti - Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - link

    Very nice article. I especially liked the emphasis on relations of test numbers and real world workloads and what was problematic during the testing.

    It would be great to see the same style desktop CPU review (Zen?) form you instead of mix of reprinted marketing hype with silly benchmark numbers dump that plagues this site for quite some time now.

    Some annoying typos here and there, like "It is clear that the ThunderX is a match for high frequency trading", but nothing really bad.

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