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Scale-out computing gets new low-power option

Web-scale IT shops get the option of a low-power Xeon-based offering that looks to outperform Atom-based products in more ways than one.

Power-hungry data centers are getting another tool for scale-out computing as Intel’s Xeon chips replace Atom processors in a new offering from SeaMicro, which will take on heavier workloads than its predecessors.

Atom-based devices target a fast-growing market for lightweight Web-based scale-out applications used by power-constrained service providers, Internet companies like Mozilla and large-scale government projects.

These apps — including Web serving, Apache, Hadoop batch analytics and real-time analytics — require computing environments where problems are divided up among dozens— or hundreds — of nodes, lessening the need for a single high-powered CPU.

The Xeon-based SM10000-XE will take on heavier app tier workloads, such as Java and PHP applications also used in such environments, as well as Web-scale database processing apps like NoSQL, MySQL and MongoDB. The SM10000-XE costs $138,000 per unit and is available now.

For experts, this release shows that Atom, no matter how densely arranged, is not as effective.

“Atom can do a lot of things but should [it]?” said Pete Sclafani, CIO at 6connect, a data center consulting firm. “I think this is an important step, to show that there is a home for both of these processors depending on the workload, versus just saying one chip can do everything.”

With greater processing power per core, for some workloads Xeon may be more efficient than Atom despite a higher power draw, Sclafani added.

“If I have an Atom that would take, let’s say, four times as long as a Xeon to perform a given process, the Xeon may use more power, but it’s doing that work for a shorter amount of time – that’s your efficiency gain,” he said.

SeaMicro has built its business by stuffing hundreds of low-voltage Atom chips into its server chassis for scale-out Web applications. The SM10000-XE instead packs in 64 sockets, each with a quad-core 2.4 GHz E3-1260L Xeon CPU. A 10U contains 256 cores; a rack, 1,024 cores. The system also offers 2 TB of DRAM per unit and delivers 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) bandwidth to each socket. It draws 3.5 kW of power. 

By comparison, the densest previous Atom-based unit, the SM10000 64-HD, contained 384 1.66 GHz Intel Atom N570 dual-core processors in 10U, offered 1.5 TB of DRAM per unit, 64 GbE uplinks and also drew 3.5 kW.

For now, mainstream Xeon-based boxes are expected to outsell their Atom counterparts because Atom “requires a lot more cognitive change,” said SeaMicro CEO Andrew Feldman said in a press conference Tuesday.  

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for and Write to her at

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