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Lab Budget 2008

This year I have my first research budget to spend .  I am a strong beleiver in open disclosure (public accountability) of the use of any of the public (tax) funds, so I am including justifications for my decisions.


I often need to run extensive simmulations therefore I need access to some computing power. 

I personally would prefer to utilize computing cloud (e.g. Amazon's elastic cloud).  Quite unfortunately due to the budget spending restrictions, I am not allowed to do that.  So this leaves me no option but to buy some servers.

Intel just introduced a new Nehalem architecture which significanlty outperforms the previous architecture (Penryn)  [wiki]:

  • 1.1x to 1.25x the single-threaded performance or 1.2x to 2x the multithreaded performance at the same power level
  • 30% lower power usage for the same performance
  • According to a preview from AnandTech "expect a 20-30% overall advantage over Penryn with only a 10% increase in power usage. It looks like Intel is on track to delivering just that in Q4."[10]
  • Core-wise, clock-for-clock, Nehalem will provide a 15%-20% increase in performance compared to Penryn. [1]

It is due mainly to [wiki]:

  • Integrated memory controller supporting two or three memory channels of DDR3 SDRAM or four FB-DIMM channels
  • A new point-to-point processor interconnect QuickPath, replacing the legacy front side bus
  • Simultaneous multithreading by multiple cores and hyperthreading (2x per core).

Unfortunately the Nehalem based server CPU (Xeon) is not available yet.  The desktop core i7 cpu is available, and outputerforms the current Harpertown, at lower cost (especially considering the cheaper cost of the DDR3 memory in comparison with FB-DDR2).

Using desktop architecture instead of server architecture may not provide the desired stability.  But for non-cruicial applications it is not likely to be an issue. 

From the main vendors Dell seems to be the only one currently offering the core i7; so I decided to go with Dell Studio XPS Desktop.   I am ordering a base system and then separately ordering additional memory, hard drives etc; since Dell overcharges for upgrade by quite a large margin (e.g. to get 12G of memory costs $450, while I can purchase it online for $216 (36x6), thats a very unreasonal markup of over 100%).