Workstation showdown: Xeon vs. Opteron
Intel's Xeon-based workstations are much faster than workstations based on AMD's Opteron when it comes to heavy multitaskingFollow @infoworld
What we found was eye-opening. The Opteron machine outperformed the Xeons when lightly loaded with minimal multitasking, but once the real work started, the Opteron stopped. It was effectively shut down by the same multitasking load that the two Xeons performed with ease. In the clean environment, it still performed at less than half the speed of the older and allegedly less-capable Xeons.
Initially we suspected that part of the reason for the A Pro's surprising performance under heavy loads might have been due to the fact that the unit we reviewed was a late preproduction model. We brought in and tested a new production A Pro from IBM, which did come through with improved performance numbers.
However, to be fair, we updated the BIOS in the NF 600 and installed the latest drivers. It also showed an improvement in speed that almost exactly equaled the IBM's improvement, so there was no difference in the relative performance of these two computers.
IBM A Pro
With its 4GB of memory and Nvidia 1100 graphics card, the IBM A Pro should have been the ultimate workstation in this review. The vast memory resources make it a natural for the classic workstation environment where lots of applications need to run together in real time.
The A Pro has the usual IBM workstation case that opens easily to reveal a well-designed, accessible interior with a selection of PCI-X slots for easy expansion. As has become the norm in high-end desktops and workstations, the A Pro includes USB, IEEE 1394, and sound card connectors on the front panel and on the rear of the box. Video capabilities include support for dual monitors using DVI-I connectors.
Although larger (mostly in depth) than usual for a desktop computer, the A Pro would still fit on most desktops. It also slides nicely alongside a desk, with the optical drives and the I/O ports conveniently at hand. Clearly, a great deal of thought has gone into the ergonomic design of the A Pro.
Initial testing kept our hopes up that the A Pro would fulfill its initial promise. We used Adobe Premier Pro to create a movie from an original digital source, and the encoding process was very fast indeed. Operations using Photoshop showed no discernable delay, regardless of the filter applied or the operations attempted. We also ran Futuremark's PCMark04 benchmark, which is mostly single-tasking, and the A Pro ran slightly faster than either of the Xeon machines.
When we moved on to the multitasking tests using OfficeBench and Clarity Studio, however, the Opteron showed its limitations. By the time we got to the tests that used heavy multitasking, the A Pro was running a lot slower. In its best case, the Opteron ran about two-thirds as fast as the least capable Xeon, the HP xw8000. Though it handles single-task processing very well, if multitasking is in your future, the A Pro is not the right choice.
MPC NetFrame 600
The NF 600 workstation is really MPC's dual-Xeon server with better video and a nice case. It uses an Intel server motherboard and retains all of the reliability features you'd expect in a departmental server. This includes hot-swap power supplies and fans, as well as front-accessible disk drives. It also means, however, that some workstation features (notably the IEEE 1394 port) are missing.
The NF 600's case also reminds you that it was born a server -- the cover slides off to the rear, just like its rack-mount siblings. Inside, the hot-swap, redundant, fan array, foam-mounted for sound isolation, reinforces the NF 600's server platform roots.