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Jonathan Erickson

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Nehalem Benchmarks Make For Happy HPC

April 20, 2009

It's little surprise that attendees at this week's Intel HPC Summit in Salzburg, Austria, were more interested in benchmarks than your average group of developers. After all, benchmarking is all about the numbers, and HPC developers tend to be uber-number crunchers.Of course, one reason for this this elevated interest is that, because of the size and compute-intensive nature of HPC applications, HPC users stand to benefit the most from performance improvements in both hardware and software. Nor, for that matter, is it much of a surprise that the benchmarks, which focused on Intel's Xeon 5500 processor (code name "Nehalem"), made the processor look pretty darn good.

In most cases, the benchmarks, which compared Nehalem to the previous generation Xeon 5400 (code named "Harpertown"), showed nearly a 3x performance gain at the top end of the spectrum. With server tests, for instance, Nehalem performed 2.61x better than Harpertown when running the VMmark virtulization benchmark. At the low end of the spectrum, Nehalem outperformed the server-side Specjbb2005 by 1.6x. VMmark is a free tool that measures the performance and scalability of applications running in virtualized environments. This virtualization benchmark software features a tile-based scheme for measuring application performance and provides a consistent methodology that captures both the overall scalability and individual application performance. The SPEC Java Business Benchmark 2005 (Specjbb2005), written in Java, is a multithreaded benchmark that emulates an order processing environment in a company with multiple warehouses serving multiple customers. The benchmark measures average transaction throughput of a heavily loaded server. Performance is reported in "Business Operations per Second" (BOPS).

Likewise, on standard HPC benchmarks such as the Landmark Nexus Reservoir Simulation, the Xeon 5500 outperformed the 5400 by 2.96x. At the low-end of the spectrum, Nehalem outperformed Harpertown in the LS-DYNA vehicle collision benchmark by 2.12x. Landmark's Nexus is a reservoir simulation that enables fully implicit, fully coupled surface-to-subsurface simulation. SPE10 is an industry-standard reservoir model derived from an oil reservoir in the North Sea. LS-DYNA is a general-purpose transient dynamic finite element program capable of simulating complex real world problems, for use in industries such as automobile design, aerospace, manufacturing, and bioengineering.

With performance improvements such as these, along with others that are sure to come, it is no wonder that HPC developers were in a good mood by the end of the day. Or maybe it had something to do with the beer garden that's just outside the conference hall. In any event, these and other Nehalem benchmark reports are available here.

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