Intel has officially unveiled its new line of Lynnfield processors which were unofficially unveiled a few weeks ago thanks to a leak somewhere. The Lynnfield chips have a number of changes and innovations from previous Intel processors, but how does that matter to you?
The Lynnfield processors have a lot of the characteristics of the more robust Nehalem processors from Intel, and steal the headlines back from the AMD ‘Istanbul' chips released a couple weeks ago. But, the battle between processors is like the battle for the tallest building or the difference between first and second place in the Indy 500. Yeah, one is taller or faster than another, but the bragging rights matter mainly to the bragger.
For average users a microsecond here or there doesn't really matter. Yes, users want faster and more powerful computers. But, consumers and small businesses (and even cost-conscious enterprises in this economy) are not going to rush out and invest hundreds of dollars in new hardware for minor differences.
Let's look at five reasons that IT managers should care about the Lynnfield processors, and why you might want to look into them if you are in the market for a new system or server.
1. The P55 Chipset. Intel likes to roll out new chipsets in parallel with new processors. The advantage to vendors and users is that the new chipset is customized and tuned to take advantage of the latest processor innovations, so the platform as a whole is more stable and performs better.
Chipsets normally have two chips, the northbridge and the southbridge, which manage data flow between the CPU and other motherboard components. The P55 chipset has only one chip, a sign of the future as Intel and AMD both strive to incorporate more functionality directly into the CPU.
2. PCI Express Integration. Case in point: the Lynnfield processors incorporate 16 lanes of PCI3 2.0 into the processor. That means that PCIe devices, typically graphics cards, will communicate directly with the processor instead of working through the chipset as an intermediary.
The performance improvement will be negligible- essentially those fractions of a microsecond that define bragging rights. Where it matters in the real world is that hardware manufacturers will be able to build systems using the lower-cost P55 chipset.
3. Turbo mode tweaks. The Intel Nehalem processors introduced Turbo Mode as a tool for both better power management and improved performance. The Lynnfield processors improve on the Turbo Mode functionality to auto-overclock even more than Nehalem processors and squeeze out more performance when needed.
4. Dual-channel memory controller. One of the big drawbacks of Nehalem processors is the Triple-channel memory controller. Its one thing that Intel processors require the more expensive DDR3 memory (while AMD processors can still use the cheaper and more widely available DDR2), but the triple-channel Nehalem processors require that you have 3 DDR3 memory modules.
Reducing to a dual-channel memory controller makes it possible to build more cost-effective systems by only requiring two memory modules instead of three.
5. More powerful entry-level. The Lynnfield processors allow hardware vendors to create more powerful 1U entry-level Intel servers. For a single-processor hardware platform, the Lynnfield processor represents a 50% increase in performance.
For both consumers and businesses, the Lynnfield processors deliver an equivalent experience to the Nehalem processors at a lower cost. The combination of the single-chip P55 chipset and the dual-channel memory controller reduce overall system costs.
Of course, the Lynnfield processors are only quad-core and use more power than the 40-watt, 6-core Istanbul processors from AMD. The cost of the system itself may be less, but looking at the total cost of ownership- including power consumption, cooling costs, and processing power per square inch of server room rack real estate, the Lynnfield may not be the better value.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.