There are a few server-grade processors in the market. The well-know ones are Intel Xeon, AMD Opteron, Intel Itanium, and Sparc. Core2Quad and Phenom are, for example, desktop CPUs. There is confusion as to what makes a server-type CPU different from a desktop counterpart. Besides the bus speed improvement, there is a fundamental difference that proves to be important especially if there is a lot at stake. At UNIXy, all servers we promote to production are either Intel Xeon or AMD Opteron processors. We have to offer the best quality components to our customers.
Before we delve into the main differences, there is one element that makes server processors stand out from the rest: validation. It is about the effort spent validating processors that differentiates desktop from server CPUs. As an analogy, it makes perfect sense that a passenger aircraft engine would require much more stringent validation than a car engine. The risk is undoubtedly higher for an aircraft engine. The same applies to server processors. A desktop processor is designed to cater to the needs of one person. On the other hand, there is much more at stake with a server processor!
Let us cover each point one by one.
Server processors are put through all kinds of tests under stressful conditions such as higher temperatures, strict environmental conditions, and high computing loads. The time spent performing these tests increases the costs and time to delivery considerably.
Server processors are designed for reliability. For example, if your desktop processor were to somehow fail, the whole workstation becomes inoperable. Server CPUs have the smarts to be able to failover, in the case of a dual CPU server, without having to crash or shutdown. Granted, one would have to have a dual CPU configuration. It is important to note that desktop CPUs do not support dual processor configurations.
Server processors have the circuitry in place to correct memory errors that can affect stability. The technology is called Error Code Correction (ECC). Some desktop configurations are also capable of ECC but the feature is not validated as is the case with server CPUs. Hence, my stressing the importance of validation first and foremost.
Server CPUs are designed with buses that operate at much higher frequencies (bandwidth). This means that they can process more data in and out of memory and other subsystems. Heat can be a concern for these buses as it impedes the flow of electricity and hence throughput. This is why server-grade processors have their matching powerful fan blowers.
That’s all folks!