GHz's Bang for the Buck - 16 Mar 2000

How fast is a gigahertz processor? You could say it's twice as fast as a 500MHz chip, which is twice as fast as a 250MHz chip. Although correct, these responses, don't answer the real question: "How much will the new processor speed up my existing workload?" I don't know about you, but I've become jaded about the ever-increasing processor speeds. Sure, processors keep getting faster, but opening Microsoft Word always seems to take the same amount of time. So can AMD's and Intel's new gigahertz processors be that important to database people like us? You betcha!

First, how many of your customers are using processors that run at speeds less than 500MHz? For me, the answer is most of them. I've got dot-com customers who order boxes and fill in the price later, but most real-world customers aren't in that position. Microsoft recently published a TPC-C benchmark world record with eight-way SMP boxes running 550MHz chips, for goodness sake! When was the last time the latest and greatest batch of Intel-compatible chips was two or three times faster than corporate America's common departmental server CPU?

Although Windows 2000 (Win2K) will probably eat up more server resources than its predecessor, for the first time in a while, applications such as SQL Server—instead of a greedy operating system—will have access to most of the new processing speed. Will the gigahertz boost drop through to the bottom line for SQL Server (and other database) benchmarks? You betcha!

Not long ago, people were content with a measly 33MHz or 66MHz jump every 6 months or so. Now we've jumped about 500MHz in a matter of weeks. Why the sudden activity around gigahertz processors? The answer is simple: AMD. Intel has always been the market leader in this segment, hence the term "Intel-compatible." But AMD's recent leapfrogging of Intel to become the first chip maker to put GHz after the CPU name forced Intel to play catch-up to reclaim the mantle of fastest Intel-compatible chip. I hope AMD and Intel continue to challenge each other in a never-ending quest for market share. The innovation that comes from such competition is great for Windows server platforms, helping them quickly close the performance gap between them and their high-end Unix server brethren. And competition on the price front is always good news for customers.

Eight-way gigahertz SMP boxes aren't shipping yet, but they soon will be. So with Microsoft's new TPC-C numbers reigning for less than a month, they're already nearly obsolete. Let's do the math. Microsoft's current world record achieved TPC-C scores of 227,079 transactions per minute using 96 processors for a total system cost of $7,157,450. Assuming the new gigahertz Pentium IIIs will cost about $400 per chip more than the 550MHz versions used in the current world record benchmark, total system cost would increase by about $38,400, or .5 percent. Keeping in mind that well-tuned TPC-C numbers tend to be CPU-bound, I think it's reasonable to expect a 100 percent increase in CPU speed with the gigahertz chip to add 25 percent throughput to a CPU-bound benchmark. A 25 percent performance increase for a .5 percent increase in system cost? That's what I call bang for your buck. Who says Windows doesn't scale? Are AMD's and Intel's new gigahertz CPUs important? You betcha!

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