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Sun, Dell, HP, Lenovo workstations tested

Aditya Nag | Jan. 28, 2009
We had four solid machines, but there's only one winner: the Sun Ultra 24.

BANGALORE, 27 JANUARY 2009 - We have four workstations from the top brands: Sun, Lenovo, Dell, and HP. Of these, Sun, HP and Dell sent us their quad core configurations, while Lenovo sent in a very fast dual core. The three quad cores were tested with 4 GB of ECC RAM (Error Correcting RAM, that reduces the possibility of RAM errors), while the dual core had 2 GB of ECC RAM. All four have Nvidia Quadro GPUs--these are graphic cards that are designed for professional applications, and come with certified drivers. As workstations go, these are one step above the basic configuration, and they make very good machines for graphics designers, sound and video professionals, architects, and software and design engineers. Besides the configuration, all four come with good service and support options, for three years.

Our Test Process

For this comparison, we focused on tests that truly reflect the kind of applications that these machines will be used for. We began by installing 64-bit versions of Centos 5.2 and Vista Ultimate; the 32-bit versions cannot adequately address more than 3 GB of RAM, and most professional applications work in 64-bit mode. Subsequently, we ran SPEC CPU2006. The Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation's benchmark is widely used in both industry and academia. This suite tests the CPU, memory systems, and the compiler. We used the integer benchmarks for our test (CINT). These twelve tests are drawn from real world applications. To ensure compatibility and repeatability, we used the Intel C compiler to compile the programs. The tests were done with the baseline tuning to ensure that all the machines were treated equally.

This was followed by a series of tests from the Phoronix Test Suite. We used twenty-one tests from this to test various aspects of the overall performance of the machines. Everything from multi-core performance, to memory bandwidth, to disk speed was put through the wringer. The suite runs around fifty tests, but all the others were in line with the results of the chosen twenty one.

Finally, we used SPECviewperf 10.0 to test a set of common workstation applications. This benchmark uses programs such as Maya, 3D Studio Max, Solid Works, Pro/ENGINEER, and CATIA to run simulations of complex designs. We ran the tests in 64-bit mode and multi-threaded mode, to really take advantage of the four cores. Naturally, we used the newest drivers, and Windows was updated before we started.

Features and Design

These machines are more than just the sum of their parts, and nothing brings that fact home with more force than simply lifting them up. You'd expect them to weigh roughly what a standard desktop does--and you'd be dead wrong. They are a lot heavier. This weight is a testament to the solidity of the materials used in their design. All four abound with clever design touches, from their tool-less designs to the airflow patterns. Sun's Ultra 24 has a mesh grill in front, for optimum airflow. Inside, all the cables are very neatly routed away. This machine had the neatest interior of the lot. There is only one case fan, at the rear of the machine, which pulls air across the components from the ventilated front.


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