An Apples to Oranges Comparision of a Gigabit Ethernet PHY to a General-Purpose CPU

Intel Core i7 Extreme Edition i980EE Broadcom BCM54980
Type 6 core CPU 8 port Gigabit PHY
Geometry 32nm 90nm
Operations Per Second 127 Billion instructions per second 4,800 Billion operations per second
Power 130W 4.0W
Operations Per Watt 976 Million Ops/W 1.2 Trillion Ops/W

Of course, this is an unfair comparison, but it shows you:
1) how much processing power goes into PHY (physical layer) products
2) how specializing a chip for a particular task can increase the number of computations per second
3) how ASICs can reduce power for certain applications over a general-purpose architecture by running an algorithm hard-wired rather than in software

Special Purpose Hardware for the Web

Ashlee Vance wrote an interesting article, Big Web Operations Turn to Tiny Chips describing some new startups using netbook chips as the CPU in webservers. SeaMicro virtualizes the I/O. Several companies have have designed I/O virtualization producs such as Xsigo Systems, Next IO, and Vertensys but these products are top of rack. SeaMicro points out that only 1/3 of the total power consumption of a server is used by the CPU. Virtualization of I/O will help with that. SeaMicro stuffs 512 1.6GHz Atom z530 chips in a 10u chassis.

A search of the careers on their website indicates they are targeting running nginx or apache webservers with MySql. I wonder what 10 systems each with 10 gig Ethernet, solid state storage and dual sockets populated with AMD Phenom II X6 1090T CPUs which have a passmark of 6,527 would compare to SeaMicro’s 512 z530s with a passmark of 299 with 64 gigabit ethernet ports. It will be interesting to see the benchmarks.