Windows, SQL Server and Multi-Core / Hyper-Threading

Updated 14 March 2019: the information in this blog post is NO LONGER RELEVANT. Official licensing information should be obtained through your regular Microsoft sales / licensing specialists.

Very often we get asked a question about ‘how many processors does my SQL Server 200x Edition really support’. This post hopes to summarize the considerations and actual limits.

SQL Licensing is per socket

First, let’s take a look at the Books Online topic ‘Maximum Number of Processors Supported by the Editions of SQL Server‘. It says: SQL Server is licensed per processor socket, and not per logical CPU basis.

So what does that really mean? Again from the above Books Online topic:

For example, the following is considered a single processor for purposes of this table:

  • A single-core, hyper-threaded processor with 2 logical CPUs per socket.
  • A dual-core processor with 2 logical CPUs.
  • A quad-core processor with 4 logical CPUs.

Windows Licensing is also per socket

Just like SQL Server, Windows Server licensing has been based around sockets. This document summarizes it nicely:

For Microsoft software with processor limits, each processor counts as a single processor regardless of the number of cores and/or threads that the processor contains. For example, Windows Server 2003 R2 Standard Edition can be used on a four-processor system, whether the processors in the system are single-core, hyperthreaded, or multicore.

So, what’s in my box?

A natural question for customers is, how to determine what is in my server hardware? Is it socket, or cores, or logical CPUs from HyperThreading?

Option 1: Use Intel’s utility

From our KB article on SQL and Hyperthreading, we recommend using Intel’s CPUCount utility to distinguish this for IA32 or Intel 64 class CPUs. The utility distinguishes between CPUs (sockets), cores, and logical CPUs (HyperThreading). The current article describing it is here and the sample code is here (both are from the Intel website.) If you build the samples using Visual Studio you can see the output below:

Option 2: Use SysInternals CoreInfo

Mark Russinovich has released CoreInfo which can also dump similar information. The only concern I have is that it uses the term ‘physical processor’ a little too freely, which can confuse someone. Here is sample output for a 1-socket, 2-core, no HT CPU:

Option 3: Windows Vista / Server 2008

MSInfo32 (a.k.a. System Information program) can be used to distinguish between sockets, cores and logical processors.

Option 4: Third Party Tools

A variety of 3rd party tools can report detailed CPU information, such as number of cores, logical processors and more.

Product Limitations

The Windows 2003 CPU (physical socket) limitations can be drawn from this page and an updated one for Windows 2008 at this page:

Windows Edition Number of physical sockets supported
Windows Server 2003 / 2008, Standard Edition 4
Windows Server 2003 / 2008, Enterprise Edition 8
Windows Server 2003 / 2008, Datacenter Edition 32 (32-bit) or 64 (64-bit)

SQL Server limitations from Books Online:

SQL Edition Number of physical sockets supported
SQL Server 2005 / 2008, Express Edition 1
SQL Server 2005 / 2008, Standard Edition 4
SQL Server 2005 / 2008, Enterprise Edition OS Maximum (as per the table above)
SQL Server 2000, Desktop Engine (MSDE) 2 on currently supported OS editions *
SQL Server 2000, Standard Edition 4 on currently supported OS
SQL Server 2000, Enterprise Edition Check link below *

* There are specific notes for older unsupported OS platforms such as Windows 98 and NT 4.0 which are described in this SQL 2000 Books Online entry.

Also note that SQL 2000 only introduced HyperThreading awareness in SP3 so that the number of logical processors are handled correctly when it comes to enforcing the licensing limits.

There is a related blog post from our CSS SQL brethren which I would recommend all to read.


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