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Since your cache is sized to fit internal nodes, it is most efficient to discard LNs immediately by configuring CacheMode.EVICT_LN. Without this, LNs are kept in cache until the cache is full, and then evicted. The eviction and resulting Java GC is very expensive and may be what is using CPU time and slowing down the inserts.
To find out what is really happening with JE (for example, at what point eviction begins) you can look at the EnvironmentStats. You can also log GC information to see what's happening with that.
Great thanks, that did it.