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
The PCI-X expansion slots are protected by clear plastic air baffles, and everything is easily accessible for quick, convenient replacement, even while rack-mounted. The redundancy and reliability features, as well as the heavy-duty construction, make this workstation much larger and heavier than the others in this test. You wouldn't want the NF 600 on your desktop.
However, the server-based MPC showed its mettle in our tests. The NF 600 was nearly as fast as the IBM A Pro even in single tasking, and it blew the IBM away in multi-tasking, despite the IBM A Pro having four times the memory.
In our real-world testing with multiple applications and tasks, the MPC was many times faster than the Opteron-based IBM. Even in our clean multitasking tests, the MPC was 30 percent faster than the IBM. It simply wasn't a contest. As a result, the NF 600 turned out to be the fastest workstation that InfoWorld has tested to date.
HP Workstation xw8000
We kind of threw in a ringer here. To get an idea of what a business could buy that provided both excellent performance and reasonable cost, we called Sabrina Bozant, who sells HP's refurbished workstations, and asked for a 3.06GHz Xeon workstation. She sold us one for $1,395 and added an additional processor for $549.
Installing the second processor was a simple task because these earlier generation Xeons had a smaller 512KB cache. Like the MPC, it has 1GB of memory and an Nvidia video card, if a lower-end one.
By choosing a refurbished high-end workstation, we paid about one third of the cost of the MPC and a quarter of the price of the IBM (a new HP xw8000 would have cost about twice as much as our refurbished model).
The xw8000 is beautifully designed for its intended use as an office workstation. It's small enough that you could use it on the desktop, but it will work just fine alongside a desk. The top-mounted optical drives are easy to reach, and the midmounted power button is also convenient. Unfortunately, USB, FireWire, and sound connectors are inconveniently located at the bottom of the front panel (there's also a full set on the rear).
The case opens easily with a simple latch to reveal a very clean design with minimal cable intrusion. You will need to remove a holder for the video card -- but not the card itself -- to install the second processor and perform other work inside the case, but this is a minor inconvenience.
For the most part, the xw8000 performed like the MPC NF 600, other than being slightly slower, which we expected from the slightly slower processor. Single-tasking tests showed that the xw8000 was slightly slower than the Opteron.
But also like the MPC, the xw8000 was much faster than the Opteron when multitasking demands grew heavier, and the xw8000 breezed through the most demanding tests that brought the IBM to its knees. A current model of the xw8000 with a larger cache would likely do even better, as would HP's just-released Workstation xw8200, which we'll review in the near future.
Xeon 1, Opteron 0
After all our tests, we found that the most demanding jobs ran best on the dual-Xeon processor with its ability to run hyperthreading. The dual-Opteron, although faster in less demanding environments, simply wasn't a match when the going got tough.
That doesn't mean it doesn't have a place in the enterprise, though; an Opteron-based system would be a good choice for tasks such as CAD, which is basically a single-task, high-performance-requiring process.
Xeon's speed is good news for financial services companies such as Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and Credit Suisse First Boston, which have long used workstations to deliver the massive computing power required to drive their trading operations (a single active trader can easily bury a top-of-the-line PC). In an environment where time literally is money, the improvements coming down the pike for the Xeon platform should be welcome news for those firms with heavy investments in Intel-based workstations. It also means that AMD will have to do some serious tuning before Opteron poses a significant threat to Intel in the high-end workstation market.