posted by Robert Minvielle on Mon 22nd Sep 2003 19:29 UTC

"The bad continued, the good, conclusion"
Ok, now a recompile of the kernel, install it and reboot. Gentoo comes up and 64 bit is go! This great, with the exception of two small notes: a lot of packages that I wish to install do not work, or crash and burn during compilation . This could be a lack of knowledge on my part, but it was a little disturbing all the same. The other real point of note is this: I need to work in X due to the project I have to complete in graduate school and X will not work on this box. I did not have any other video card to try other than a TNT, which will put me in the same boat. Even pulling down the AMD64 drivers from Nvidia did not work (as the developer said they would not). One person claimed to have it working, in 2d with no GL, etc, under the Geforce, but they also stipulated that no window manager would work other than the built in one for XFree. This was going to be a major problem for me. I look at my other machine and note that I am finished downloading RedHat Taroon-AMD64 beta. Here we go...

After a moment of thought I reboot the machine and stick the RedHat Taroon disc one in the drive. It boots, and launches the kernel, but then when it gets to the install, it "looses the interrupt" for the IDE CDrom drive. Since my SCSI controller is so old, booting from it is not an option. I found out from trial and error that if I take the CD off of the secondary IDE channel it works fine. Ok, booting into RedHat install again and it all seems fine (except for the scary blood red BETA across the install splash screen in huge spray paint like fashion). After a hitch free install of RedHat beta I reboot. Going through the booting process I see that it can not get DHCP from nic2. Hrm. I am greeted with the "final steps in X windows (works in RedHat) and complete the install and login as root. BlueCurve greets me, but I notice something else... it is excruciatingly slow to read and write from the drive. Looking over the dmesg output I notice two things, I am in PIO mode on the IDE drives and the 3Com driver is not loading due to a PCI bus conflict. Hrm. Thinking back to the night before, I decide to rebuild the kernel and patch the IDE driver as I did in Gentoo. The source code itself for RedHat is different, but not hard to figure out (they just go through more checking to see what chipset is being used). I insert the appropriate modifications for the Nforce3, and also hack the pci_ids.h file. I then note that the Nforce3 is listed already in that file. Strange. I save all of those, double check them and do my normal recompile. This crashes horribly. The kernel compile can not even get past the first few items. It seems to be crashing on everything that gcc has to touch. I look through the rpms and see what is installed. Everything looks good, but it seems as though what they sent in the beta release does not correspond to the version of headers and gcc that is distributed. I give it up to it being beta (as they warn) and sit there looking at my new hardware. I have a choice to make.

I can either run this machine in server mode with no X windows under Gentoo and have the high speed I/O, or I can have X windows under RedHat beta and deal with it being slow. First, let us define slow: I copied the second RedHat Taroon disc from one drive to another (approximately 650megs) and it took over 6 mins, or roughly 1Mb/s. This is unacceptable. This can be fixed under Gentoo but not under RedHat. Under Gentoo we have no X windows.

Idea: I will go and look for other distributions, recalling that I noted earlier that Mandrake and Suse were supposed to have AMD 64/Opteron versions out. Well, the Mandrake version is 9.0 and is now unavailable. They have a corporate server edition out, (2.1 for AMD Opteron) and it is reasonably priced at $749. Ouch. Well, I can not afford that (much less $100) so I head on over to the Suse web site. They also do not have a personal edition that supports Opteron, but they do have an "Enterprise" server edition that they would like to sell me for $767.

I give it all up and proceed with the following plan: install RedHat 9.0 standard and rebuild the kernel with the pci and IDE patches in place. I put my RedHat 9.0 CD in and away I go. After install X windows works fine, IDE access is slower than a 486 with a 5400 rpm drive and I am in 32 bit mode. I let out a large sigh and go back to working on my homework, oddly enough, for my VLSI class.

The good:
Performance notations: I wish to state the following, when I started all of this I was going to put forth some performance metrics of my own choosing, namely the standard povray benchmark and others. On the ABIT motherboard, with the same ram and hard drive running the AMD XP 1.6Ghz cpu, under RedHat 9.0, the standard povray benchmark takes right at 49 mins. Under RedHat 9.0 on the Opteron/ASUS setup (same ram/hard drives, etc) the difference is mere seconds, at just under 49 mins. Let me point out that in reality, this is impressive. I have read all of the benchmarks on the review sites where they go on about it being faster even though they are running a 32 bit OS, but let me remind the reader that in order for the Opteron to run a 32 bit app, it is doing its own internal translation which takes time. The end user really is not gaining any 64 bit performance increase, and typically we would expect a performance penalty and not a gain. This is a good thing. A CPU which is performing translation, taking a penalty for it, and running a 200Mhz slower clock speed is still faster than a CPU running natively on the same hardware (less the motherboard). This gives us a good feeling for the performance of the opeteron, in that it should be an excellent performer with 64 bit apps running a 64 bit operating system.

Note that I did not run this test under gentoo as povray compiles crashed and burned and running the 32 bit app on the 64 bit OS may be interesting, but it was not to me. I wish to see native performance of 64 bit apps on a 64 bit OS. In particular, on Linux.

Linux is close to being on the AMD 64/Opteron systems, and in fact may be there with Suse and Mandrake (RedHat claims "sometime"), but at that price range for the OS itself, its use will (for now) be limited to commercial application. I wonder about personal adoption of the platform. AMD claims that it is to be the next generation of personal computing, and I tend to agree (in part). The normal user may not have as much to gain as say myself, or a CAD/CAM user or someone doing imaging, etc (there are many applications which stand to gain). But this adoption will be slow if all of the OS vendors think that this platform will be limited to commercial/industry use only. Funny, this reminds me of Sun Microsystems applications. I once wanted a copy of mathematica for my Sun Ultra workstation for my Thesis, and they could not believe that as an individual, I owned a Sun workstation. I received the same response from Suse, who I called and inquired about getting a copy of the server for Opteron to use at a reduced rate. They could not fathom that an individual would actually own an Opteron system, much less have a need for it. Gentoo looks very promising, and I will probably devote my spare time (when it comes along) to porting window managers and other things to the Opteron. For those who were paying attention, X should actually work fine with say an ATI card, as it is the Nvidia drivers themselves which are problematic on the Nforce3 and not the XFree server itself. A working window manager is another thing. Then again, Nvidia may rebuild their drivers to actually work (according to the Gentoo developers, no one has had luck getting their drivers to work on the Nvidia).

It would be advantageous for Linux users and others if a personal desktop edition would come from a large vendor for the AMD Opteron. A fully working Gentoo release would be good also, but the mainstream workstation users may not want to go that route (as eye candy may be important to them or a less demanding install).

For the time being, its 32 bit land for my Opteron.

About the Author:
Robert Minvielle is a Ph.D. student at the Center for Advanced Computer Studies at UL at Lafayette. He has a Masters in Physics and a B.S. in Computer Engineering, and enjoys building hardware, embedded systems, and programming. He can be reached at

Table of contents
  1. "Intro, the ugly, the bad"
  2. "The bad continued, the good, conclusion"
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