Constructing a 32-Thread Xeon Monster PC for Much less Than the Worth of a Flagship Core i7

It's been two years since Intel released its first octa-core desktop processor, the Haswell-E-based Core i7-5960X, which until recently was the most powerful consumer processor on the market. This title is now part of the impressive and even more expensive 10-Core i7-6950X. The 6950X is ready to use and 20 to 30% faster than the Core i7-5960X in applications where these additional cores can be used. At $ 1,650, however, it is also absurdly expensive.

Granted, most would consider $ 1000 + an inappropriate amount of money for a desktop processor – but for some, the price of them isn't as important as the performance they deliver. Thanks to its 8-core design supported by hyper-threading, the 5960X is a multithreading monster and a popular choice for those who edit a lot of video, especially with 4K content.

But here's the thing. Before Intel equipped us with the 8-core i7-5960X, there were already 8-core Xeon processors in server quality on the market in 2010, namely the Xeon X6550, X7550 and X7560. The cheapest one was originally sold for ~ $ 2500, while the flagship model cost a cool $ 3700. At just 2.27 GHz, the X7560 was no longer impressive with the arrival of the 5960X. In addition, the X7560 was a 45 nm part based on Nehalem (read: hot!).

As with desktop processors, Xeons saw a leap in efficiency and computing power with the launch of Sandy Bridge, which used a 32nm design process. Sandy Bridge chips can still hold their own against Skylake processors today, four generations apart.

Note: This function was originally published on April 4, 2016. We revised it and came across it as part of our # ThrowbackThursday initiative. Most notably, RAM prices have risen, the Xeons are only $ 20-40 more expensive than their lowest point, and it's still a bargain to build this Xeon machine if you need multi-core computing power.

Desktop Sandy Bridge processors arrived in 2011, while the Xeon models came a year later. In 2012, a large selection of "Sandy Bridge-EP" octa-core processors was released, the cheapest of which cost $ 1,100 – even more expensive than the 5960X.

Over four years later, the Xeon E5-2670 met with great interest in enthusiastic circles. The E5-2670 was originally priced at around $ 1,550 and has eight cores clocked at 2.6 GHz with a turbo frequency of 3.3 GHz and a whopping 20 MB L3 cache.

Using the LGA2011 connector, the E5-2670 was designed for use with the C600 workstation series chipset. However, it is also compatible with X79 desktop motherboards. Therefore, the E5-2670 supports quad-channel DDR3 memory as a desktop cousin Core i7-3970X and 4960X. The 5960X, on the other hand, offers support for more modern DDR4 memory, which, however, is not a significant performance advantage in most applications.

Even faster (and still affordable): 40-thread Xeon PC for less than a Broadwell-E Core i7, read our follow-up here

At this point, you are probably asking yourself: Why are we talking about a four-year-old, terribly expensive server processor? Last year, these processors were sold for around $ 300. Not a bad deal for an 8-core Sandy Bridge processor with great L3 cache …

At its lowest point, the Xeon E5-2670 was sold for just $ 70. PC enthusiasts who followed the used market snatched the price in disbelief.

Not much has changed in the expectation that this apparently too good deal is about to end, and at the time of writing the E5-2670 is available for $ 90-100.

So how can it be that an 8-core Xeon devalued by 90 +% in 4 years? The answer is simple: the demand for these processors is not large (or at least not), but the supply became massive at the end of last year, when thousands of processors came on the market as servers from the previous generation of Facebook and other large Internet providers Recycling company for used equipment shut down. With so many processors, prices dropped to the level you see today.

In addition to the obvious specifications we mentioned earlier, another notable feature of the Xeon E5-2670 is its ability to support symmetric multiprocessing. This means that you can buy not just one Xeon for ~ $ 100, but two for less than $ 200 to create an insanely affordable 16-core / 32-thread beast.

The Asrock Rack EP2C602 server motherboard we selected to build this build costs about the same amount as a high-end X99 motherboard, $ 300 brand new. So the two Xeons and the dual-socket motherboard totaled only $ 500, less than the price of a single Hexa-Core 6850K.

The build

To get the most out of the incredibly affordable Xeon E5-2670 processor, you need two on a Dual Socket R (LGA2011) solution. For our build, the Asrock Rack EP2C602 seemed the best option as it was the cheapest board we could get our hands on.

The board is well designed and quite well equipped for a basic model with the Intel C602 chipset.

In addition to the standard two SATA 6 Gbit / s and eight SATA 3.0 Gbit / s ports offered by the Intel C602 chipset, Asrock Rack has a Marvell SE9230 controller that supports four additional SATA 6 Gbit / s ports , so that the EP2C602 offers a total of 14 ports SATA ports ready for immediate use. These storage options make this motherboard an ideal motherboard for use in a storage box or SAN (Storage Area Network) server.

The EP2C602 also has five PCIe x16 slots, as well as a single PCIe x4 slot and an older PCI slot – meaning there is no lack of space for expansion cards.

Network support is provided by two Intel 82574L gigabit controllers that support teaming. There is a third network connector on the I / O control panel that is connected to a Realtek RTL8211E controller that supports business-friendly features such as integrated IPMI 2.0 with KVM and dedicated management LAN.

Note the limits of DDR3 memory support. While we For example, limited, it can still process up to 256 GB of ECC memory or 64 GB of UDIMM memory. However, memory capacity is limited because the card only supports four DIMM slots per CPU and not eight, as is the case with more expensive cards like the EP2C612D16C-4L. However, if you don't need large amounts (512 GB +) of system memory, the EP2C602 should be sufficient.

If you want to use the EP2C602 as a workstation rather than a traditional server, you should be aware of the limited options for peripheral connectivity. Since it is a server board, the rather simple I / O panel has two PS / 2 ports, a COM port, a VGA port (supported by ASPEED AST2300 graphics), only two USB 2.0 ports and three gigabit ethernet ports. Another four USB 2.0 ports can be installed via integrated headers. If you are looking for USB 3.0 support, you have to use PCIe expansion cards. The same applies to 10 Gbit / s networks.

The ECC memory that this card can support is generally intended for servers on which data corruption is not acceptable, e.g. B. for scientific calculations. Since this is not a real problem for most of our readers, we chose standard U.SIMM modules from G.Skill instead of equipping the card with ECC memory.

The G.Skill F3-1866C10Q2-64GZM (8 x 8 GB) memory kit costs $ 385 $ 285 (storage has become more expensive in the past few months), which equates to $ 48 per 8 GB module. Each DDR3 module is designed for operation at 1866 MHz and offers each of our Xeon E5-2670 processors a four-channel memory.

A pair of Noctua NH-U12DX i4 coolers keep the two 115 W Xeon processors nice and cool. Noctua's DX coolers have become a popular choice for quiet, high-performance cooling solutions for Intel Xeon CPUs. The latest i4 version supports the LGA2011 platform (both Square ILM and Narrow ILM) and is equipped with a 120 mm NF-F12 fan with focused flow.

Thanks to its slim design with a slat depth of only 45 mm, the NH-U12DX i4 ensures easy access to the RAM slots. With parallel installation to the slots, the memory does not overhang even with two fans installed. For those who are concerned about space, the NH-D9DX i4 is an even more compact option. For a price of $ 60, the NH-U12DX i4 and the NH-D9DX i4 are both affordable and come with a 6-year manufacturer's warranty.

The 16-core beast is finally powered by the Corsair RM Series RM100x. At $ 170, there are cheaper options, but only a few better ones. Ideally, consumers want a power supply with an output of around 600 watts, so that the RM100x is certainly exaggerated. That means it offers plenty of room for expansion.

Note that a pair of 8-pin EPS power connectors must be supported for each power supply you choose. The lowest rated power supply in the Corsair RM series that offers a pair of EPS power connectors is the RM850x.

With a pair of GTX 980 Ti graphics cards, for example, the performance values ​​rise significantly above 500 watts. The RM850x may be a smarter option, as it is considerably cheaper at $ 120 and still supports a lot of devices.

The RM850x and RM1000x are fully modular power supplies with 80 PLUS Gold certification and 100% Japanese capacitors. The RM1000x in conjunction with the Noctua fans made for an incredibly quiet dual Xeon server, and the power supply was in "Zero RPM Fan Mode" most of the time, which was very nice.

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