August 2, 2010 – Intel recently began production shipments of its C5500/C3500 series processors, formerly code-named Jasper Forest. The chips, which are based on the Nehalem architecture and are part of the Xeon line of CPUs, are optimized for embedded storage and communications systems.
David Tuhy, general manager in Intel’s Storage Group, says there are four key features that storage vendors and end users will benefit from: a built-in RAID accelerator, asynchronous DRAM self-refresh technology, PCIe non-transparent bridging, and increased bandwidth.
The C5500/C3500 includes an integrated accelerator (internally dubbed Crystal Beach) that offloads RAID-5 and RAID-6 processing and eliminates the need for a custom ASIC for RAID-5/6 operations. In addition to increasing performance, the RAID offload functionality saves energy and space on RAID controller cards.
A single-core Jasper Forest processor consumes a maximum of 23 watts, while a quad-core processor consumes a maximum of 85 watts, resulting in decreased power consumption and denser storage designs. (The C5500/C3500 requires about 23 watts less power than the previous-generation Xeon processors.)
The asynchronous DRAM self-refresh (ADR) feature is data retention technology that provides “the ability to keep DRAM in a refresh state in case you lose power,” Tuhy explains.
The C5500/C3500’s PCIe non-transparent bridging (NTB) technology enables high-availability, active-active failover. And the integrated PCIe support and NTB allows multiple systems to connect over a PCIe link, eliminating the need for an external PCIe switch or hub chip.
Finally, the Jasper Forest processors have about 2X more bandwidth per watt than previous generation Xeon 5400 series processors, which enables the chips to support hundreds of disk drives as well as solid-state disk (SSD) drives, according to Tuhy.
The Xeon C5500/C3500 is typically integrated with Intel’s 3420 chip (see diagram), which has 12 USB 2.0 ports, six SATA ports, and eight PCIe 2.0 lanes.
Promise Technology, a RAID controller and array vendor, hopes to be among the first to deliver RAID arrays using the Jasper Forest processors. Promise plans to ship limited quantities of C5500/C3500-based storage systems in the fourth quarter, with production shipments expected in the first quarter of next year.
In a press release announcing its plans to integrate the Jasper Forest processors into future storage systems, Promise’s vice president of engineering, Jin-Lon Hon, called the C5500/C3500 “one of the most significant advancements in the storage industry in the past decade.”
For Promise, one of the key benefits of the C5500/C3500 is increased performance. Ray Bahar, Promise’s vice president of sales and marketing, expects a 4X to 6X increase in performance versus the previous generation Xeon processors that Promise has been using.
“With the older architecture we’re getting around 4GBps bandwidth, but the next generation will provide around 16GBps,” says Bahar.
He also likes the fact that the Jasper Forest processors integrate a variety of storage functions on a single ASIC, which “saves a lot of space on the controller board and significantly decreases power and thermal requirements,” says Bahar.
In addition, he says that the ability to scale from a single-core chip to a quad-core processor enables RAID arrays based on the C5500/C3500 to scale from the SMB market to large enterprises.
Finally, “much higher throughput eliminates the need for multiple RAID heads to get the same performance, so the overall cost to end users will be much less,” Bahar adds.
In addition to Promise Technology, AIC/Xtore has also announced support for the Jasper Forest processors. The company demonstrated its Orion Unified Storage Server, based on the C5500/C3500, at the NAB show earlier this year.
Side note: Jasper Forest is a petrified forest in Arizona.
Intel previews Jasper Forest processors