I was comparing various desktop/server processors on Intel's website and found that Xenon Coprocessor family constitutes 61 cores. (firstly, this name lead me to think as if this would be a secondary processor in a multi-processor environment.. but I guess its not the case?)

However, the core-i series processors for desktops and workstations have maximum clock speed of 3.9 GHz. While the maximum clock speed of any server processor has clock speed of 3.0 GHz and the latest (above mentioned) Coprocessor has only 1.33 GHz.

Don't we need higher (or highest) clock speeds in server machines as it is the major threshold in processing power? Momentarily, if we have 61 cores and some 100+GBs of RAM, would it render the clock speed irrelevant from the perspective of performance centric / resource hungry task?

An answer with actual process execution analogy / example would be much appreciated. :)

  • 61 core running at 1.33GHz each gives 81.13GHz which is not truly it's full capacity. However say you had a well optimized bit of software that fully utilized each core independently ignoring all synchronization resources required, then you would out-perform a single-quad core cpu running at 3GHz-5GHz on those tasks. How much does it matter? It matters as much as the software using more cores is optimized for more cores. You can make a super computer out of 100 personal computers (folding@home) and likewise you can make a super-processor out of 100 slower cores. – Enigma Jun 20 '13 at 21:42
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    "61 core running at 1.33GHz each gives 81.13GHz" No, it doesn't. Fours cars going at 50 miles per hour don't somehow "give" 200 miles per hour. Clock speed is not a measure of the rate at which work is done and can't be added. – David Schwartz Jun 20 '13 at 21:50

One car has a bigger gas tank than another, does that mean it will go further on a tank of gas? Well, no.

It makes no sense to compare clock speeds across different processor architectures. Even if one processor's clock is twice another's, if that processor takes twice as many clock cycles to get the same amount of work done, it won't be any faster. Use benchmarks to judge processor speed, not specifications.

  • Thank you. Would be better had you described it little more specific like; "why would Core i7 4th generation processor take more cycles than Xenon Coprocessor for the same task?" – Annie Jun 21 '13 at 0:11
  • @Annie: That's not possible because those aren't processors -- those are marketing names. Just like you can't compare clock speeds across processor architectures, you can't compare processors by their marketing names. At least right now, "Core i7 4th generation" is pretty narrow, but Intel has called a variety of totally different CPUs across many generations "Xeon"s. "Xeon" is just a marketing name Intel uses to refer to CPUs intended to go in servers. – David Schwartz Jun 21 '13 at 0:23
  • Understood thanks again. I will narrow it down to a specific scenario: lets say we are considering same architecture (say "Haswell") by Intel, and our intent is to run multiple VMs (like 12-15) with Hyper-V (clients, servers, server cores, windows for data-center in Windows-based cloud). Now, if I'm looking for optimal speed what would matter most between clock-speed and no. of cores of same architecture? Other hardware include two Nvidia graphics cards SLI together and most intense tasks are graphics/rendering related and we are hosting separate VM for team members with separate role. – Annie Jun 21 '13 at 0:40
  • @Annie: In that case, you'd probably just be looking for raw processing power and not particularly concerned with how many cores gave it (within reason). So you could just compare PassMark CPU ratings. – David Schwartz Jun 21 '13 at 2:58

It doesn't, directly. What matters is what you're doing with them. If you're using programs which parallelize nicely, then multiple cores are much better than clock speed (This is why Graphics cards have 1000+ cores and barely operate at 1GHz or slower). If you have a load which is single threaded (like a lot of games), then clock speed matters a lot more because the extra cores are useless

Think of it like this:

A slower multi-core processor is like a bus, while a faster single-core processor is like a race car. The goal is to get as many people where they need to go as possible.

Let's say you need to get 20 people from point A to B: The bus will win, even though it's slower, simply because it can carry all 20 people at the same time, where as the race car can only move one person at a time, and has to make 20 trips. It's fast, but it's not that fast.

But what if you need to move one person from point A to B? A race car is much faster than a bus, even if the bus is only carrying one person.

The trick is finding out if your applications have one person that need to go really fast, or a bunch of people that need to be moved.

Servers frequently have many processes running and are doing lots of separate jobs: Very often, they find themselves in the "bus moving 20 people" scenario, so it's common for them to have slower CPUs with lots and lots of cores.

Consumer desktops are starting to do more and more in parallel, but relatively speaking compared to servers, a desktop still has one person sitting at it, doing one thing at a time, so it's still worth it to try and push CPUs faster instead of having insane numbers of cores.

That said, it's much, much easier to make a CPU with more cores than it is to make it faster. We've been making them faster for many decades, and while they'll get faster yet, it requires a lot more research for smaller and smaller improvements. Comparatively, we've just recently started really pushing multi-core technology, which means that for very little research, we can add more and more cores. This is why lots of stuff is being rewritten to utilize multithreading and multiple cores.

  • This answer seems based on the false notion that you can compare clocks speeds across different CPU architectures. You can't. – David Schwartz Jun 20 '13 at 21:49
  • @DavidSchwartz When you're talking about very small differences yes. In large scale no. Think about it. Two processors. One with 4 core (no HT) running at 3GHz vs one mono-core (again no HT) running at 4 GHz. – Griffin Jun 21 '13 at 0:30
  • @Griffin: I have no idea what you're trying to say. What about those two processors? If they're different architectures, the fact that one has a 3GHz clock and the other has a 4GHz clock tells you nothing. – David Schwartz Jun 21 '13 at 0:31
  • @DavidSchwartz The number of cores and the speed tells me which one would be faster. You are attempting to make little speeds seem much larger than they really are. If anyone walked up to you and told you those specs which processor would you put money on for being better at the benchmarks? – Griffin Jun 21 '13 at 0:35
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    @DavidSchwartz Since architectures were not mentioned in the question, my answer was based upon the assumption that all properties not being varied (architecture, OS overhead, L1-3 caches, Memory speed, etc.) are constant. If you start changing those, then yes, all bets are off and it's very difficult to compare processors, which is why I opted to explain a small subset in hopes that the OP could gain an understanding of what he did not before have, and help him get closer to making his own judgements. – Darth Android Jun 24 '13 at 14:22

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