Intel SoC targets low power but lags Xeon on performance per watt

Intel has launched the first of its family of system-on-chip (SoC) processors intended for low-power data-centre equipment, but a benchmark put together by the company has revealed that, in terms of compute efficiency, its existing Xeon E3 processors remain more energy efficient.

Chris Feltham, data centre product manager for Intel EMEA, described the Atom S1200 as “our first data centre-focused SoC” in what what is expected to be a gradually expanding portfolio of processors designed for different applications. Describing the server space in terms of three parameters – CPU performance, I/O performance and memory capacity – Feltham said the new Atom devices sit at the low end of each of those, suiting the new processors to environments such as basic web hosting and communications switches.

The S1200 is based on the same Saltwell core as that used in Atom processors aimed at the mobile tablet market and is based on the company’s 32nm process rather than the 22nm finFET process used in its mainstream products. Running at up to 2GHz, the fastest device in the three-member S1200 family –the S1260 – consumes up to 8.5W, about five times less than the existing, four-core Xeon E3.

Feltham said, thanks to integration and lower individual power consumption, a manufacturer could put five times as many Atom S1200s into a rack than Xeon E3s. Feltham said that web hosts looking to provide dedicated servers to customers, Atom provided a good fit.

“When it comes to revenue to Intel, it’s about the same for both of these racks,” says Feltham. “It really depends on the customer in question what they are trying to achieve as to which approach is better. The choice for performance per watt would still be Xeon.”

In its benchmark, Intel calculated that a rack fitted with 112 Xeon E3s – the maximum possible today in terms of space – would outperform a rack containing 560 Atom S1260s. With a power per node of 60W versus 20W, the Atom-based rack would consume 40 per cent more power.

Intel expects to follow the Centerton next year with follow-up called Avoton that uses the 22nm process and which will provide higher integration. Although it has an onchip PCI Express controller, the S1200 lacks an Ethernet port.

“Avoton wil bring Ethernet integrated into the SoC,” said Feltham.

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