Again, I do not have any benchmarks on CPU performance to show off. I did run the povray benchmark, but looking over the Povray benchmark page I see P4 3.0GHz machines getting beat out by Athlon 2800's and vice-versa, so I have little faith in the results (or at least in peoples postings to the site). Other sites on the net have run benchmarks on the Opteron, but without a 64 bit OS, and without 64 bit compiled benchmarks, I also have little faith in them. They should be used as a "touchy-feely-sort-of-may-bee" mark at best, in my opinion.
This is the major factor in my mind. The setup I have above is actually cheap, when you think about it. For those bargain shoppers out there, this may not seem like a cheap computer at all, but for those of us who need 64 bit computing, its a deal. For example, the configuration above costs (price from pricewatch as of 12-16-2003) $1196 with shipping, $300 of which is the video card. Yes, this may sound like a huge amount for a computer, but consider the alternatives. A Sun Blade 1500 with comparative features for instance. The "large" model comes with 1GB ram and an 80GB IDE drive, it costs $3995, and the Ultra-SPARC CPU is running at 1GHz. While it is unclear of the performance differences between say the Opteron and an Ultra-SPARC or a Power CPU, a large corporation could just purchase one of each and perform their own internal benchmarking, if they were considering purchasing any more than a few machines.
"And now for something completely different":
Again on cost, if you are doing normal day to day activities on the machine and do not need 64 bit computing, the cost is large. I would suggest a AMD Athlon XP Barton instead. In general, the performance of loading and using a web browser, or Open Office, etc, is about on par with a speedy AMD Athlon XP. I do not have any Intel based machines to compare it to, so that is why they are left out here. The cost difference is non trivial in the AMD line too, as a Athlon XP based machine is going to be much less than an Opteron or FX/64. I digress once again, having said that, and make the notation that for a 1.4GHz machine, the Opteron is very speedy.
Rant on Suse 9.0:
In the past I have mostly run Red Hat. I have been using Linux since 1992 (tarballs and TSX-11 archives from MIT), and after slackware came out I moved onto that, and then Red Hat. Today is a different story, as we know of the recent changes at Red Hat. I have previously used (or at least tried out for a week) SuSe 6.2, so I am not a complete newcomer to SuSe. I find that SuSe 9.0 was very impressive for a distribution that I think is still classified as beta. Everything worked out of the box (application wise) and the Xwindows performance was impressive (compared to the others). My suggestion thus far for anyone building an Opteron/FX system who wishes to run Linux would be SuSe 9.0, although the install could take an extreme amount of time if broadband is not available. One option is to have someone with broadband mirror the ftp site and then perform an NFS install if you have a spare machine to mount the CD in. The 9.0 install does not have ISO's and can not be installed via CD. This is really a shame as it is (thus far, IMHO) the best distribution out there for the Opteron/FX in a desktop/workstation environment.
The coming months (weeks?) should be interesting in that Mandrake is set to release the AMD64 version any time now, as they are taking pre orders for it in the Mandrake store. Recall, it was one of the best (if not the best) in my first review, and I blame the drive problems on the Asus BIOS update. Gentoo is nearing (from what I read) a really stable working system, and I have read repeatedly that others have it working fully (as a workstation with X windows) on other motherboards, so I again blame the Asus for my troubles with Gentoo. Red Hat is another story, having dropped the desktop edition, the "workstation" edition is well beyond my financial reach. A corporation may consider purchasing a copy for evaluation, but I would be tempted to wait on Mandrake or Suse.
FYI: costs as of 12-16-2003 for AMD64 Linux distributions:
Mandrake pre order $100
Mandrake corporate server $750 (standard support) $1500 (unlimited support)
Red Hat AMD64 workstation $792
Red Hat Advanced Server $1992
Suse Professional 9.0 $120 (distribution on DVDs, no CDs)
Suse Enterprise Server $767 (2 cpu) $1450 (4 cpu)
Looking at the above cost matrix and my experience, it is almost tempting to purchase SuSe just to have the DVDs (no CDs, strange). The enterprise/server editions seem to all be priced about the same, with no definitive mention of CPU capability from RedHat or Mandrake on the server editions. (I assume at least 2 CPU capability built into the kernel)
Final thoughts on hardware:
The Opteron system can be run with a 365 Watt power supply, which is what I was using in the first setup. I switched to a larger one as more disks will be added to the system. One need not purchase a huge power supply for this system unless you need it, but a warning is in order: looking over the CPU specs, be sure to purchase a good power supply that can sink lots of current on the 3.3V line. Purchase good, high speed RAM. I switched from the 266MHz to the 333MHz _dual channel_ RAM and the difference was non trivial. As always, a good case is in order, not that the Opteron gets very hot in my Lian-Li, in fact after large compilations for hours the CPU heatsink is only warm to the touch, but the RAM can get hot, as well as the video card. Besides, you don't want $600 worth of RAM/CPU/motherboard to be sweating it out in your case.
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 baddlci@NOSPAMyahoo.com.