When Sun made their first announcement that they were going to embrace AMD's x86_64 push for practical desktop 64-bit computing, we were excited. Then we started hearing details about Solaris 10, Looking Glass, Sun Java Desktop System and countless other new technologies to catapult Sun back into the workstation market, even if they weren't going to use those incredible SPARC processors exclusively anymore. When Sun approached us for an opportunity to check out their newest dual Opteron 250 based performance workstation, we had to oblige!

We are approaching our Sun w2100z as a system review, but in actuality, this is just as much a Linux review than anything else. We have already seen Linux performance tests of Opteron/Athlon 64 setups performing excellently in memory intensive applications, both on 32-bit and 64-bit platforms. Although most of our benchmarks are 64-bit Linux oriented today, we have a brief look at Sun's Java Desktop System 2.0 and Solaris 10 in the review, which are both 32-bit SMP kernels. We are also going to focus on some other operating systems configured for the w2100z as well as a slightly comparative analysis of a comparable system built with off-the-shelf components.

Ultimately, our goal will be to decide if Sun's w2100z is worthy of the buzz that it has created in the industry. We have structured our analysis so that anyone can easily compare the w2100z to their own test setup or even future setups that we have lined up for review. Most importantly, we will be assessing why one configuration performs better than another; benchmarks require us to read between the lines for the entire picture.

Eventually, we plan to build on this analysis of the Sun w2100z with comparisons from other Opteron workstations - this is the first in a series of Linux workstation articles.

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  • KristopherKubicki - Wednesday, October 27, 2004 - link

    PrinceGaz: Multiple probes.

    Thanks for all the positive feedback!

  • slashbinslashbash - Wednesday, October 27, 2004 - link

    #12, the Power Mac G5 is Apple's high-end workstation/server. The iMac is Apple's consumer-oriented product.

    I'd say that the PPC970 (G5) should be roughly comparable to an Opteron/Athlon64 at the same speeds -- at least much more comparable than a P4 at the same clock speeds. It's got a 16-stage integer pipeline, and the FPU units kick serious ass, especially with code that utilizes AltiVec (similar to SSE for x86). It's got a high-speed bus comparable to HyperTransport. AMD's integrated memory controller does give an advantage, but still I think the G5 could hang in there. Really though, any benchmark would come down to optimized code. Companies like Adobe and Apple that have the time, money, and inclination to optimize their applications for Apple hardware will see serious performance advantages over PC hardware. gcc-compiled apps, not so much, although more PPC-specific optimizations should come sooner or later.

    Arstechnica has a very lengthy article on the PPC970 architecture. Take a look, if you have the time, and I don't think you'll walk away with a bad opinion of the G5.

    BTW, I'm glad to see a Sun review here :) Interesting stuff. I would've liked to see another shot or two of the case itself, with all the components in it; plus a shot from the rear of the system. I'd like to see just how much space is in between that mezzanine card and the motherboard, and I'm kind of confused as to how the extender card fits in. It looks like it simply lies parallel with the motherboard (attaching along the bottom of the motherboard), but most of the time that there's a separate card, it is perpindicular.
  • thesix - Wednesday, October 27, 2004 - link


    "mlittl3 is attempting to compare a consumer product with a high end workstation/server."

    You talk like a typical marketing person.

    From pure HW design/layout point of view,
    G5 _feels_ so much better than w2100z.

    What makes me feel better with w2100z is the (new) Solairs OS and Opteron CPU.
    Plus, I want to show support for both Sun and AMD :)

  • thesix - Wednesday, October 27, 2004 - link

    I assume AMD CPUs/systems are faster. I haven't got a chance to do any serious testing between my dual-246 w2100z and my friend's dual-2.0GHz G5.

    I guess I simply don't care that much, anything less
    than 10% of performance difference is not that significant to me. However, it's always good to know "my computer is faster than yours". :)

  • Reflex - Wednesday, October 27, 2004 - link

    The problem with the recent Mac article appears to be that it has attracted the zealots to this site in force. mlittl3 is attempting to compare a consumer product with a high end workstation/server. They target different market segments and are designed for different tasks. Furthermore, the support offered for each, and the type of support is considerably different. Its Apples to Oranges.

    #11: We'll never really know how fast a G5 is in comparison, Apple does not allow independant hardware reviews, leaving it up to websites to purchase and test their own hardware. I know of no site as comprehensive as Anandtech on the Mac side of things as a result, so any claims of G5 performance are pretty much guesstimates and marketing unfortunatly. I wish this would change, it would be nice to know how Apple hardware really does perform as that would assist network admins in determining where it fits/if it fits into their current setup. Just being told by a company that "Its fast and stable" is not enough to make a corporation invest in a platform.
  • PrinceGaz - Wednesday, October 27, 2004 - link

    Great review, the thermal graph is especially good in showing how the cooling performs. Did you attach many probes and take all the measurements in one go, or have to do it multiple times?
    The dual G5 uses some sort of liquid-cooling system inside the case I believe. That probably helps it reduce the noise.

    Is a dual 2.5GHz G5 machine as fast as a dual Opteron 250 (2.4GHz) box anyway? Results posted by Apple themselves don't count of course :)
  • fic - Wednesday, October 27, 2004 - link

    #8 you could replace the FX3000 with a 6800 and save another $1000.

    I would like to see a comparison between the w2100z and 2nd tier companies like Boxx, XI, Aspen, etc. I have been trying to talk my company into moving to a 2x 250 system from a 2x Xeon system to ship with our product. BTW, we do digital medical imaging and need the processing power to do image processing on our 4096x5625 images.
  • thesix - Wednesday, October 27, 2004 - link

    I am surprised to see w2100z is rated as _quiet_ here. I _personally own_ w2100z for almost 3 months now, at home. Apple G5 is _much_ quieter than w2100z. In fact, noise is my biggest complain about w2100z, and I spent lots of time trying to "fix" it. I am confused.
  • mlittl3 - Wednesday, October 27, 2004 - link

    Well, I guess all you apple-haters' comments that x86 computers are cheaper than apple computers can eat your words.

    Whitebox system $5284
    Sun w23100z $8695
    Apple Dual G5 2.5 GHz $5570
    (configed with 4 GB RAM, larger 160 GB harddrive, Geforce 6800 which spanks the FX3000's ass and combo drive)

    Oh that's right, you guys think the dual G5 system was meant for your grandmother to check email and your baby brother to play spongebob squarepants video games.

    Get a clue. Good x86 systems with dual processors from reputable companies like Sun (or even whitebox systems) and dual apple systems cost about the same. Let's end at least the price part of apple vs x86 right here and now.
  • Araemo - Wednesday, October 27, 2004 - link

    Wow.. you guys outdid yourselves, especially with the thermal graphs. I also want to say how nice it is to have a couple new reviews every week again. Keep up the good work guys. :)

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