Buyer's Guide: High-End Systems - December 2000by Mike Andrawes on December 24, 2000 2:52 PM EST
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Ethernet – integrated
Intel 82559 on motherboard – “free”
Since our motherboard choice, the OR840 already has an integrated Intel 82559 chip onboard, there’s no reason to go with anything else. It’s an excellent 10/100 fast ethernet chipset, used in Intel’s Pro/100+ Management adapter for the desktop, and is supported fully under Linux and Windows 2000. Even if it weren't on the motherboard, we'd probably be picking the Pro/100+ Management adapter in its place anyway.
Hard Drive – 4 x Seagate
Cheetah X15 - $450 x 4
Hard drive performance has always been one of the biggest bottlenecks in the speed of a computer. After all, the only component whose speed is measured in milliseconds is the hard drive – everything else is nanoseconds or microseconds. Even with the fastest drive on earth right now running at 15,000 RPM, the Seagate Cheetah X15 still has an access time of "only" 3.9 ms. Now 3.9 ms is phenomenal for a hard drive, but still an eon compared to 133 MHz SDRAM.
Because the X15 is a new model, the drive is only available in 18GB capacities for now. We're sure Seagate will bump up the capacity soon enough however. The Ultra 160 interface provides a maximum throughput of 160MB/s to keep things moving along smoothly. We'll go with four of them to keep that RAID card purring along happily in RAID 0+1 mode for the best combination of performance and data integrity.
SCSI RAID Adapter – DPT
SmartRAID IV Century PM2865U3 - $900
The first name that pops to mind for SCSI adapters is, of course, Adaptec. While Adaptec didn't have an Ultra160 RAID solution at the time of publication, one of the companies they own, DPT, does offer one. The PM2865U3 is a 2 channel controller with an 80 MIPS i960 processor onboard to keep things moving along smoothly. This particular model includes 32MB of cache, but up to 128MB of cache is available. It's actually a 64-bit PCI card, but will work just fine in the 32-bit slots of our OR840 motherboard. Best of all, it supports all the OS's we want to run except BeOS.
Pioneer DVD-304S / Plextor UltraPlex Wide - $150
Plextor Plexwriter 12/10/32 - $350
This one is a matter of personal preference, but the top two options are the Pioneer 10X SCSI DVD-ROM, which is also capable of reading CD’s at 40X max, and the Plextor Ultra Plex 40X max UW SCSI CD-ROM. Plextor drives are well known for their reliability and excellent performance, although Pioneer is certainly no slouch. If you want DVD support, go with the Pioneer. Otherwise, stick with the Plextor.
Plextor can’t be denied in the CD-RW category as they have one of the few 12X burners on the market. They've recently released the 12/10/32 model, upgrading the rewrite speed to 10X and adding Burn Proof technology that will theoretically prevent you from ever having a coaster again. The Plextor name is synonymous with reliability and high performance and the Plexwriter 12/10/32 delivers on all accounts. It’s a SCSI model, but that’s not a problem since we already have a SCSI adapter in the system for the HD.
Note, we passed on the 16X DVD from Pioneer in the interest of keeping our system all SCSI, although that is an option if raw DVD performance is critical to you. The same goes for Yamaha's CRW2100EZ 16/10/40X burner, which is also IDE.
Operating System – Quadruple
Windows 2000 Professional - $250
Windows Millennium Edition – $175
Your favorite Linux distribution – free download or $50 retail
BeOS Version 5.0 - $70 (Personal Edition is a free download)
This is another matter of preference, and is obviously affected by your particular application requirements. However, since we’ve gone with an SMP system, we at least need an SMP capable OS, and all of the above take advantage of SMP except for Windows ME. We’ll quadruple boot between the OS’s depending on what we need to do, although it may be a bit of an adventure to get all of these working together.
Windows 2000 Professional is probably the best bet if you have the future in mind. Its enhanced hardware support, including full USB and IEEE1394 (Firewire), will be the key to its success and the reason it’s our pick over NT 4.0. Windows NT 4.0 is a more tried and true solution; so if that is of concern to you, by all means go with NT 4.0.
Just about any current Linux distribution should support SMP right out of the box. If not, go with the tried and true Redhat 6.2 – we know for sure it supports SMP without any additional installation steps. The beauty of Linux? It’s free if you’re willing to download a distribution from the internet. This is getting easier and easier now that you can just download a bootable ISO CD image that you can burn. If that’s too much work, but you still want it cheap, there are a number of companies on the net that will sell you the GPL (same as the download) version of your favorite distribution for under $5. If you want a full manual and support, go for a retail distribution, like the boxed Redhat set that sells for about $50.
The last major SMP-aware OS is BeOS, an OS that hasn’t been around nearly as long as any of the others. We think that this OS is cool enough to be worth its price of admission, only $70. Of course, version 5.0 was released on the web for free on March 28, 2000, so you should definitely give it a shot then.
Of course, the option of booting to Windows ME is still there if you need to play games, but remember that it doesn’t support SMP. Windows 2000 users won’t absolutely have to do this as 2000 has full DirectX 7 support built in, although it does take a performance hit in some games compared to Win98/WinME. Note that the NVIDIA's 5.xx drivers don't seem to get along with SMP that well and actually run slower when Quake 3 is put in SMP mode under Windows 2000.
Bottom Line: $9,130 (without software or shipping)