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Power8 Hits the Merchant Market

December 30, 2014

Author: Tom R. Halfhill

IBM is making good on its plan to sell Power8 processors to third parties, with Tyan already offering rack-mount development systems. Newly disclosed scores show Power8 beating Intel’s most powerful server processor, the 18-core Xeon E5-2699v3 (Haswell-EP), on important benchmark tests. Both processors deliver outstanding performance on the SPEC CPU benchmarks, but IBM’s huge advantages in multithreading and memory bandwidth favor Power8 when running larger test suites that more closely reflect real-world enterprise applications.

Overall, the results show that IBM offers a viable high-end alternative to Intel’s market-leading products. Equally important to Big Blue, Power8’s performance is energizing the OpenPower Foundation, an IBM-led alliance that rallies other companies to create a larger hardware and software ecosystem around the processor. IBM is offering Power8 chips to system builders in the merchant semiconductor market and is even licensing the architecture to other processor vendors. So far, the alliance has more than 80 members, including software, system, and semiconductor vendors.

Power8 is IBM’s most powerful microprocessor yet. On the merchant market, it’s available with 8, 10, or 12 CPU cores at maximum clock frequencies of 3.126GHz to 3.758GHz. Compared with its Power7+ predecessor, which is not a merchant product, Power8 offers twice the threads and L2 cache per core, up to 20% more L3 cache, a new L4 cache, up to four times the peak DRAM bandwidth, and twice the per-core SPEC CPU throughput.

Power8 began production in 2Q14 and is already available in systems, such as IBM’s Power S824 server and Tyan’s GN70-BP010 “Palmetto” reference system. Whereas the Power S824 is a production server, Tyan’s offering is a rack-mount 2U chassis intended for development; it uses a quad-core Power8 processor. Taiwanese OEM Wistron is showing another 2U chassis scheduled for production in mid-2015.

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