Constructing a 40-Thread Xeon Monster PC for Much less Than the Worth of a Broadwell-E Core i7

In the two months since Intel introduced Broadwell-E, I've been going back and forth with my decision to invest in one. We received the 10-core i7-6950X for review, and while it was an attractive chip in terms of performance, it was extremely ugly. At $ 1,650, we recommend a hard pass for the 6950X.

Frankly, the older 8-core 5960X was hard to justify at $ 1,050, so we don't have to get our wallets out of the slightly updated $ 6900,000 for $ 1,100. Spending over $ 600 on the 6-core 6850K isn't particularly attractive either. What can an enthusiast do if he needs more than the 4 cores in Intel's mainstream desktop Core i7 processors?

One solution would be to build our hideous 16-core, 32-thread Xeon E5-2670 workstation, which was introduced in April. For less than $ 1,000, we bought core components, including two 8-core E5-2670 processors, a new LGA2011 motherboard with two sockets, and 64 GB of DDR3 memory. If you use a case, a power supply, a graphics card and some memory, you have a seriously powerful machine for the price of a Core i7-5960X.

In terms of performance, our affordable Xeon build clearly outperformed the 5960X in more than one review. When the extremely expensive 6950X came on the market, we prevailed against the dual CPU system, and to our surprise, the Xeons were strong and even won in some tests.

One solution would be to build our hideous 16-core, 32-thread Xeon E5-2670 workstation, which was introduced in April.

It was interesting to note that this older Sandy Bridge EP build could trigger a real battle in many application and coding tests. It tends to be one step ahead in terms of performance and price, with the only flaw being power consumption. The Dual Xeon system consumed 300 watts in our Hybrid x265 test, while the Core i7-6950X setup only used half that amount.

Of course, we compared two 8-core processors to a single 10-core chip, but the main problem was the four-generation Sandy Bridge architecture.

This led us to look for affordable Xeon processors based on the Haswell EP or maybe even Broadwell EP architectures – it certainly seemed like a wish that we would come across a relatively inexpensive Broadwell EP Xeon.

Our search put us on the trail of Intel's Xeon E5 2630 v4, a 10-core Broadwell EP part that runs at a base clock of 2.2 GHz, but can increase up to 3.1 GHz depending on the workload.

You typically spend around $ 700 on this processor – much more than the $ 70 we paid for each of our E5-2670 v1 processors. However, it is possible to buy the E5-2630 v4 on eBay for just $ 200. The only catch is that they are technical samples (ES), not retail chips.

The examples we came across are based at release step (SR2R7), i.e. motherboard compatibility This is not a problem, provided the BIOS has been updated to support Broadwell EP Processors.

It used to be rare to find technical examples from Intel, but today they appear online in large quantities. For example, only eBay sold thousands of these E5-2630 v4 ES chips, and countless others are still in stock.

We usually recommend avoiding ES chips if possible, but $ 200 for a 10-core, 20-thread Broadwell EP processor is really too hard to refuse. With so many of you asking how these chips have worked in the past few weeks, we decided to find out.

The build

The previous build with the Xeon E5-2670 v1 processors was put together on a fairly tight budget. That's why we chose one of the cheapest Dual Socket R (LGA2011) motherboards we could find.

Since we spend more than twice as much on the processors this time ($ 400), we chose a more powerful motherboard. After being so impressed with the previous Asrock rack motherboard, we bought the EP2C612D16-2L2T for $ 580 from Newegg (which is now $ 100 cheaper if you need more temptations).

This is a dual socket LGA2011 R3 motherboard that complies with the SSI EEB form factor and measures 30.5 cm x 33 cm. The EP2C612D16-2L2T, which was announced in September 2014, was supported by Broadwell-EP's BIOS version 2.10 in March.

The heart of the EP2C612D16-2L2T is the Intel C612 chipset, a 7 W part that was manufactured using the 32 nm process and Gen 2 PCIe support for up to 8 lanes, six USB 3.0 ports and 10 SATA 6 Gbit / s offers ports.

Asrock Rack has expanded SATA support to a dozen ports with a single Marvell 9172 6Gbps controller. Since it's a two year old motherboard, you won't find any fancy storage options like M.2. High-speed SSDs must be integrated using PCI Express adapter cards.

There are a total of 16 DIMM slots with support for NVDIMM (Non-Volatile Dual Inline Memory Module). Each processor is connected to 8 DIMMs and of course there is support for quad-channel memory. Both RDIMM and LRDIMM modules are supported at speeds of DDR4 2133/1866 and 1600.

There are three PCIe 3.0 x16 expansion slots and three additional PCIe 3.0 x8 slots on board. That means 72 PCIe 3.0 lanes are available – impressive stuff.

One of the most important highlights of the EP2C612D16-2L2T is the network support. With the Intel X540 controller, you get a pair of 10G network connections instantly. There are also two Intel i210 controllers for two Gigabit Ethernet connections. Finally, there is also a single dedicated IPMI LAN port.

The ECC memory that this card can support is generally intended for servers where data corruption is unacceptable. 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.

Ideally, we wanted to fill every DIMM slot with DDR4-2133 memory to reach our good friends at G.Skill. They are happy to provide 16 4 GB sticks of Ripjaws V DDR4-2133 memory for a total capacity of 64 GB so that both Xeon E5-2630 v4 chips can support quad-channel memory.

G.Skill sells this storage in 16GB quad-channel storage kits for only $ 74 each. The total cost of this build is just under $ 300. For those who are wondering, the CL 15-15-15-35 timings operate at 1.2 volts. The modules are available with either red or black heat distributors and we chose red.

As with our previous dual Xeon build, we equipped the processors with Noctua NH-U12DX i4 coolers. Noctua's DX line is a popular choice for high-performance, quiet cooling solutions for Intel Xeon CPUs. The latest i4 version supports the LGA2011 platform (both Square ILM and Narrow ILM) and comes with a 120mm NF-F12 fan with focused flow.

Thanks to its slim design with a slat depth of 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. Priced at $ 60, both the NH-U12DX i4 and the NH-D9DX i4 are affordable and have a six-year manufacturer's warranty.

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