A couple of interesting developments this week. First, Intel has officially released (and lifted the embargo) on their new high-end, Sandy Bridge-E desktop processors that use the LGA 2011 platform and X79 chipset. This is relevant for SQL Server professionals because Sandy Bridge-E is a binned version of the upcoming Sandy Bridge-EP two-socket server processor (which is due to be released in Q1 2012). The initial Sandy Bridge-E desktop processors only have six cores (plus hyper-threading), and either 12MB or 15MB of L3 cache instead of eight cores (plus hyper-threading) and 20MB of L3 cache like you will see in the Sandy Bridge-EP, aka the Xeon E5-2600 series. They both support PCI-E 3.0 and have quad-channel memory controllers, which is far more important in the server space than for desktops. In the desktop space, you will see support for eight memory slots, which means you could have 64GB of RAM on your desktop if you have deep enough pockets. AnandTech, Tom’s Hardware, HardOCP, and LegitReviews all have good coverage of these processors. Personally, if I was looking to build a new desktop system, I would wait for the mainstream 22nm Ivy Bridge, which is due in Q1 2012.
Second, AMD has officially released the AMD Opteron 4200 and 6200 series processors (even though they have been shipping to OEMs like Cray since September). Until Microsoft changed their licensing policy for SQL Server 2012 a couple of weeks ago, I was pretty hopeful that the AMD Opteron 6200 (with sixteen physical cores) might be competitive in the SQL Server space, especially for data warehouse workloads. With core-based licensing for SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition, that will be a much harder challenge for AMD. You can check out AMD’s presentation here (PDF warning).
I really think the Sandy Bridge-EP (Xeon E5-2600 series) is going to be a world beater in the two socket space. Keep in mind that there will not be a Sandy Bridge-EX processor for four socket and above systems, so the current Xeon E7-4800 and E7-8800 series (Westmere-EX) will be the best you can get in that form factor, staying around until the Ivy Bridge-EX is released in probably 12-18 months. If you look at the per core performance on the TPC-E OLTP benchmark, the current Xeon X5690 (Westmere-EP) smokes the current Xeon E7-4870 (Westmere-EX) processor. The Sandy Bridge-EP should only increase that performance gap, which will make a two socket system with Sandy Bridge-EP a very compelling choice for SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition.