Processor Watch (2003 H1 Update)

New processors in 2003 H1

As time goes by, new processors come out to replace the old one. After the publish
of Processor Watch a while ago,
it soon becomes outdated. The first half of this year regarding to processor industry
is exciting. First, the announcement of AMD Opteron and Athlon 64 in April. Then there is
an update of Itanium 2 line, Madison, in summer. In WWDC on June, Apple announced PowerMac G5,
powered by 64-bit IBM PowerPC 64 and is claimed to be the first 64-bit
and "the fastest PC in the world".

The following new processors will be discussed in this report:

  • AMD Opteron
  • Intel Itanium 2 (Madison)
  • Apple G5/IBM PowerPC 970

SPEC CPU2000 benchmark

SPEC CPU2000 benchmark is still a reference
benchmark platform in this report. What different from previous Processor Watch report
is, starting in this half-year report, SPECfp2000 is also included for floating point
performance comparsion.

Here are the SPECint2000 and SPECfp2000 benchmark for the mentioned new processors appeared
in the first half of year 2003:


Same as the previous, this report puts focus on single processor performance in server market, multi-processor platform is not evaluated. Depending on the scalability of the processor and OS, performance on multi-processor platform may be different to single processor.

AMD Opteron

AMD announced Opteron as the next generation x86 processor. It can operate in both 32- and
64-bits mode. That means it is compatible to the existing x86 code and OS such as Windows
and Linux. But its 64-bit power could only be unleashed through true 64-bit OS and application.
However, Linux and Windows for x86-64 still need some time to develop and need times to grow and mature.
Opteron 144, which operates at 1.8GHz, scores 1095 and 1122 marks respectively in SPECint2000
and SPECfp2000. Unfortunately, both integer and floating point performance is closed, but
not reach, to those from 3.2GHz P4 and 3.06GHz Xeon. AMD should be pleased that Opteron
has vast floating point improvement as compared to Athlon XP 3200+. May be the next
Opteron processors (146/246/846), which run at 2.0GHz, is the possible candidates to beat
P4 and Xeon. Indeed, the scores actually shows that Opteron has poised some serious threats to Xeon.

Intel Itanium 2 (Madison)

The new Itanium (Madison), changed its manufacture process to 0.13 micro, is leading its way
in all benchmarks. In this report, two server configurations are included. Dell PowerEdge
3250 running Window 2003 Enterprise, while HP Integrity Server rx5670 runs Linux64.
Ironically, Linux64 well performs than Windows. Suprisingly, the floating point performance in
the new Itanium is extremely well. Other competitors could hardly catch.


POWER4+ is another chip that changed to 0.13 micro manufacturing process. With better
fabrication and high frequency, it is still the fastest RISC-based processor in the planet.
As shown from
result, IBM pSeries 690 involves in
head-to-head competition with HP's Itanium-based Superdome. But as of this writing, it is
ranked third. Frankly, IBM needs POWER5 processor sooner to catch up with Itanium, if not,
better shorten their lead.

Apple G5/IBM PowerPC 970

G5/PowerPC 970
is similar to Opteron that supports both 32- and 64-bit mode. It is
interesting to see how the two processors compared.
However, the benchmark scores are not pulled from SPEC's site. Instead, the test was conducted
by independent vendor, VeriTest. Although Apple claimed G5 is the most powerful PC in the world, pairing the VeriTest's scores to the SPEC official marks, G5's performance looks dull. It was doubted that the GCC compiler used in
this benchmark is not fully optimized for this new chip, the benchmark result
(especially floating point) may not truely reflect the underlying performance.
As of the writing, IBM released
beta compiler
for Mac OS X to expliot the power of G5. We will soon see a better result.

Other processors

One notable chip is SPARC64V from Fujitsu. Its 1.35GHz processor out-performs SUN's 1.2GHz.
It becomes the most powerful SPARC-based in the UNIX server market. Moreover, a single
PRIMEPOWER can host more processors than SUN's Fire 15K does (128 vs 106).

HP's Alpha chip is still showing pleasing performance result, it is keeping ahead from SPARC and PA-RISC chips. Unfortunately, HP will be pulling resources from Alpha developement soon.

Conclusion and Looking Forward

Undoubtedly, Itanium now clearly leads it ways in performance realm. IBM POWER5 is likely the only candidate
to catch up, but it is hard to predict when. However, slow adoption rate of Itanium is
still a pain for Intel and HP. Another interesting fact is that Opteron is chasing Xeon, we
will see a closer fight between them very soon. Just like Itanium, the most concern is the
adoption rate of Opteron servers. But given the advantage of dual mode compatibility and its competitive price to Xeon, it would definitely make a difference.

In the coming months, we would like to see the revised benchmark of G5 on Mac OS X. Or if
IBM will unveil PPC970-based blade server, we could be able to see its true performance. Another
notable chip is the long-awaited, dual-core UltraSPARC IV. But it is hard to predict where it
goes at the moment.