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Intel Xeon E5-series Processors Explained
  31 October 2012

Intel Xeon E5 processors are available in a large variety of models and this article attempts to assist system administrators and architects by identifying and clarifying the exact differences.

As of today, Intel has launched the following models this year:
  • Intel Xeon E5-1400 (Sandy Bridge-EN)
  • Intel Xeon E5-1600 (Sandy Bridge-E)
  • Intel Xeon E5-2400 (Sandy Bridge-EN)
  • Intel Xeon E5-2600 (Sandy Bridge-EP)
  • Intel Xeon E5-4600 (Sandy Bridge-EP)

Understanding the model numbers for the "Xeon E5-xxxx" family:
  • The first digit represents how many sockets are supported; where '1' means the CPU can only be used in Single Socket motherboards, and a '2' means it can be used in either a Single Socket motherboard or a Dual Socket motherboard.
  • The second digit relates to the actual CPU socket and package - the number of pins - and therefore representing both compatibility and feature support. A '2' stands for socket H2 or LGA1155; a '4' stands for socket B2 or LGA1356; a '6' stands for socket R or LGA2011; and an '8' stands for socket LS or LGA1567.
  • The last two digits are simply the product SKU and usually the higher the number, the faster the processor in general. The higher SKUs will have either more processing cores or a faster clock frequency compared to lower product SKUs. If your applications do not make use of multiple cores, you can achieve better fitness for purpose (and save money) by selecting 4-core models that run at a higher clock speed.

The performance/price sweet spot for most servers is probably the Xeon E5-2400 series and E5-2600 series. On the surface their technical specifications are very similar but in fact the E5-2400 series is intentionally crippled performance-wise and are sold at a lower price point compared to the E5-2600 series. Let's look at an example:


The difference is in the QPI link, maximum memory support, main memory bandwidth and the number of PCI-Express lanes supported for add-on cards. The Intel Quick Path Interconnect (QPI) is the link between two Xeon E5 processors on a Dual Socket server - it replaces the old Front Side Bus and competes with AMD's HyperTransport link. The E5-2620 has 2 x QPI links which gives us a bandwidth of 115.2 GB/s. The E5-2420 on the other hand has a single QPI link which gives us 57.6 GB/s - exactly half. The main memory bandwidth is also crippled in the 2400-series - it has a Triple Channel memory architecture (32 GB/s) versus a Quad Channel architecture (42.6 GB/s) in the 2600-series family.

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