64-bit Linux: Ready for prime time?
Our tests of Opteron and Itanium servers show big performance gains today and promises of bigger gains to come
Finally, regarding the four systems tested, all proved to be solid machines. Among the Opteron units — all 1U boxes — the Appro and Pogo Linux systems offer great value and horsepower for the price, while the Newisys offers a more substantial feature set, including a management card and hot-swap SCSI drives. The Itanium-based HP system, a 2U box, offers great expandability and redundant everything, albeit at a higher price.
Three Little Opterons
The Opteron has one advantage over the Itanium: It can run 32-bit applications in native mode, while the Itanium runs 32-bit applications in emulation mode. This means legacy 32-bit applications will run slower on the Itanium than on Xeon systems or Opteron. It also means that applications can be ported to Opteron gradually, weaving in 64-bit support component by component, without requiring a wholesale rewrite before deployment.
Each of the three Opterons I tested ran SuSE Linux’s Enterprise Server, while the Itanium system from HP ran Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux AS. All four systems came with Apache installed; I also installed Zeus Web Server 4.2r2, which is optimized for both Opteron and Itanium.
The Appro 1122H is a value-oriented 1U server, available with two 1.6GHz or 1.8GHz Opteron processors, up to 16GB of RAM, one or two ATA or SCSI drives, and two 10/100/1000 Ethernet interfaces. My test unit came with two 1.6GHz processors, 2GB of RAM, one 80GB ATA hard drive, and SuSE Linux Enterprise Server already installed.
The Appro system produced the best performance by a slight margin across all my tests — despite having the lowest price tag of the bunch. The case is nicely put together and required no tools to gain entrance. It was the only system that included rack-mount rails, which were well-engineered. On the downside, the power button is tiny and hard to press, and the keyboard and mouse ports were not labeled.
The next-best performer was Pogo Linux’s PerformanceWare 1264. Pogo Linux has been specializing in Linux systems for several years, and the PerformanceWare 1264 is typical of their product line — well-engineered with no frills. At $2,489, it’s nearly as affordable as the Appro system, and it’s solidly in the middle of the Opterons in performance. As tested, the system included two Opteron 1.6GHz processors, just 1GB of RAM, a 40GB ATA hard disk, and two 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports.
The PerformanceWare was the only one of the four systems that required a screwdriver to open the case, and the only one with drives that couldn’t be removed without opening the box. The interior of the system is laid out well, with solid airflow controllers and dual fans.
Interestingly, although the Newisys 2100 Server had faster processors, a faster hard drive, and more RAM than the others, it recorded the lowest performance of the three Opteron systems, though only by 2 percent to 3 percent in most of the tests.
Partly funded by AMD, Newisys has been working in close cooperation with AMD to create reference motherboard and chassis designs. Newisys systems are not available directly from the manufacturer but can be purchased from a number of resellers, including Colfax International, ProMicro, and RackSaver.
The Newisys 2100 has a surprising number of enterprise-class features for a system under $3,000. These include hot-swap SCSI drives, four Ethernet interfaces, an extra PCI-X slot, and a management processor.