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Intel Xeon 3.06 GHz Socket 604 Processor Review

Intel Xeon 3.06 GHz Socket 604 Processor Review - PCSTATS
Abstract: The Xeon CPUs we're examining have been built with 0.13 micron process technology, and are based on the Gallatin core which operates with a 533 MHz Front Side Bus (FSB).
 88% Rating:   
Filed under: CPU / Processors Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: Intel Sep 29 2004   Mike Dowler  
Home > Reviews > CPU / Processors > Intel Xeon 3.06 GHz

History and Technology of the Xeon

Intel introduced the Xeon first in 1998 as a variant of its Pentium II processor architecture intended for the business server market. Since that point, development of the Xeon line of processors has shadowed Intel’s mainstream Pentium line of processors. As enhancements are made to the Pentium, they are generally made to the Xeon as well. For instance, models of Xeon processor (3.06Ghz) are capable of Hyperthreading just like the technology that was originally introduced for the Pentium 4s. Let’s take a look at what makes the Xeon different from its Pentium sibling and examine some of the features of the latest chip, such as Hyperthreading and the newly introduced Level 3 cache memory.

Cache Memory

Cache memory is essential for modern processors, and development of ways to bring this memory closer to the processor have gone hand-in-hand with advances in the speed of the processors themselves, since raw computing speed is not much use without an effective system to feed data to the CPU. A modern 32-bit CPU has 8 registers, areas where it can store data internally while it is being operated on. Each of these registers can hold a single 32-bit value. The registers represent the maximum amount of data the CPU can reference without needing to access memory.

To expand upon this, every x86-based processor since the 486 has had some amount of cache memory built into the processor itself. This memory, referred to as the level 1 or L1 cache, provides the processor with an area to store frequently used data close to home. Since the L1 cache is built into the processor, the time it takes to swap data out of the cache and into the registers to be operated on is minimal compared with having to send and retrieve data from the main system memory, which involves transferring it over system buses that run at a fraction of the speed of the CPU itself.

As most software contains many instructions that need to be repeated over and over again, the introduction of L1 cache went hand-in-hand with the increasing speed of processors to make the graphic interfaces we now take for granted possible. If you’ve ever tried to run Windows 95 on a 386 machine, you will appreciate the difference that cache memory made when it was introduced.

As level 1 cache memory was (and continues to be) very expensive due to the speeds and complexities involved, the amount of memory used is small compared to system memory, meaning that the processor is still forced to access main memory more often than is efficient. To combat this, a level 2 cache was introduced, around the same time the original Pentium processor was taking hold. Initially this second, considerably larger area of memory was not built into the CPU itself, since that would have been prohibitively costly at the time; rather it was built into the motherboard and accessed via the system bus like the main memory.

It was faster than conventional RAM, and closer to the processor, and therefore more efficient, but still ran at a fraction of the speed of the L1 cache, though it could hold many times more data (generally from 128KB to 512KB).

It was obvious that the more high-speed, easy access memory was available to a given processor, the more efficient that processor would be, regardless of speed, since it would not have to twiddle its metaphorical thumbs waiting for data to come down the pipe from main memory. This finally is where the Xeon came in, or not exactly, but Intel’s Pentium Pro processor (which can be regarded as the granddaddy of all server oriented x86 CPUs) was introduced in 1995. It was the first processor to integrate the L2 cache memory into the processor itself, and while the L2 memory was still slower than the L1 cache, it was capable of holding much more data close at hand, improving efficiency. Now we get to the Xeon processor.

The Xeon Introduced

The first Xeon was a variant of the Pentium II. Released in 1998, it distinguished itself by having its 512KB to 2MB of full-speed L2 cache (as opposed to the half-speed cache used by the PII) built right onto the processor cartridge.

This relatively huge amount of rapid access memory made the processor very pricey, but also made it a boon to small businesses hosting websites and databases that saw a lot of data traffic. As the Xeon was multi-processor capable, it also became a significant force in the midrange server market, formerly dominated by non-x86 powered machines which were considerably more expensive and generally lacked a clear upgrade path.

Shortly after the release of the original cartridge form factor Pentium III processor, the Pentium III Xeon was introduced. Its distinction was a level 2 cache built into the processor die itself for the first time since the Pentium Pro.

Unfortunately, the release of the PIII ‘coppermine’ processor line with the L2 cache built into the processor, stole much of the new Xeon’s thunder, as only a few select applications and systems that needed more than 2 processors saw much advantage in using the considerably more expensive Xeon processors.

In mid-2001, the first Pentium 4 based Xeon processors were released. Largely identical to the desktop P4 in terms of features, the new Xeon was intended to Bring the Pentium 4 Netburst architecture to the low-end business market, being dual-processor capable. The following year, Intel released the Xeon MP which supported more than two processors and added an additional Level 3 cache to boost performance. Since this point, Intel has been updating its Pentium 4 architecture Xeons with new technology as it becomes available.

A boost to 533Mhz front side bus (as opposed to the original 400Mhz) was first, followed by the introduction of Hyperthreading support in the Xeon and Xeon MP, and most recently Intel added a L3 cache to the Xeon, identical to that of the Xeon MP.

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Contents of Article: Intel Xeon 3.06 GHz
 Pg 1.  Intel Xeon 3.06 GHz Socket 604 Processor Review
 Pg 2.  — History and Technology of the Xeon
 Pg 3.  Hyperthreading Technology on the Xeon
 Pg 4.  Faster FSB and Cache
 Pg 5.  Benchmarks: SiSoft Sandra 2004, SuperPi
 Pg 6.  Benchmarks: ScienceMark, CINEBENCH 2000
 Pg 7.  Two Fast Server Chips!

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