Netactive SynergieServer Pro

Every machine is put together by an engineer who approves it for shipping. Before it is shipped the same engineer writes a letter to the recipient explaining the configuration and highlights of the system.
  • Product Description: Pentium Pro Server machine.

  • Netactive Systems, LTD.

  • Price: $3,472 (as of August 5, 1996)

  • Reviewer: Jonathan Gross

Sitting on my desk is a 100mhz 486DX-4 workstation with 32M of RAM. It has cables falling out of the case, the cover is just sitting on the floor, the wiring is a mess, and god only knows where the manuals for the components are. It took me at least two days to get all the pieces working together, X configured, and everything running relatively smoothly—and probably cost me around $2,000.

My DX4-100 is relatively fast; I can run a couple copies of XEmacs on it, and a kernel compile takes around twelve minutes. Not too bad, and certainly better than the 386-25 sitting in my closet next to it, or the 486-33 in the living room.

The DX4-100 was enough until something happened at work.

A company called Netactive Systems, Ltd. sent Linux Journal a machine to try out—their SynergieServer Pro. My DX4-100 isn't so fast anymore.

I am impressed with Netactive. Usually when you buy a machine, either from a local vendor or mail-order, it is a fairly sterile transaction. You hand them your credit card and they blithely hand you a box full of electronics—it's kind of like going to the Motel 6 of computer stores. Netactive is more like going to the Four Seasons Olympic Hotel to buy a machine.

Every machine is put together by an engineer who approves it for shipping. Before it is shipped the same engineer writes a letter to the recipient explaining the configuration and highlights of the system. An excerpt from ours:

“Fundamentally, it does not take much engineering excellence to put together a great $15,000 dollar Intel-based computer; just buy a couple of everything with a great big name on its shiny new box and throw it together. It does, however, take a little bit of know-how to make a truly great $3,500 machine...”

The letter goes on to explain that they put 64M of RAM and a nice video card into it instead of SCSI Wide because Caldera (the installed Linux) is a GUI environment, and the RAM and good video card are going to be a better use of your money than faster disks.

This is cool. It gives you a much better idea of what is in the machine, and why (and even that there is a “why”!) than the usual random checklist of components does. The random list of components is also included, as is a Sysadmins Configuration Guide, which lists all the configuration settings, from IRQ and hardware addresses to domain name and host name of the machine to the disk partitioning. Both the list of parts and the Sysadmin Configuration Guide are sent loose with the other paperwork, and a second copy is taped to the inside of the case. The other paperwork includes: a warranty certificate (three years limited parts, and five year limited labor), the build sheet, and an invoice, all with customer numbers, job number, and serial number for technical support calls and tracking information.

Hardware

In the machine is:

  • Motherboard: Asus P/I-P6NP5, Intel Nanoma (440FX) chipset with 4 PCI slots, 1 PCI/Media Bus, 3 ISA slots, Optional Infra-red port, and 64MB FPM DRAM, and an Intel Pentium Pro 200 Mhz chip (with a bearing heat sink and fan).

  • Drives: Asus PCI-SC2000 Fast SCSI-II HDD (NCR53c810), with a 2.1 GB Seagate/Conner Fast SCSI-II, Teac CD56S 6x CD-ROM.

  • Video: Diamond Stealth 64 Video 2001 with 2 MB DRAM, and a Princeton EO15 15" monitor (1280x1024@70Hz, non-interlaced).

  • And more: 3Com 595-T4 (10/100 MB/sec Ethernet), ESS 1688 16-bit Soundblaster compatible sound card, Logitech mouse, 3.5" floppy drive, Seagate TapeStor T-3200, 3.2 GB Travan Drive, and USR v.34 internal modem, and, of course, all the manuals and documentation for everything neatly packed in Manila envelopes.

This all came in a very nicely configured mid-tower case with a dual fan and 250W power supply with all wires neatly routed and tied off.

Software

Software pre-installed included:

  • Caldera Network Desktop v1.0

  • Caldera InterNet Office Suite v1.0

  • X-Inside Accelerated X Server v1.2

  • Red Hat 3.0.3 “Picasso” kernel 2.0.10

  • Windows NT

  • Dual Booting under NT Boot Loader

I fired it up, and after figuring out how to work the NT boot loader (which I despise), Linux was all there, configured and running the way it should be running. I never booted NT, but I assume it was configured just as carefully.

NT brought up the one thing I didn't like about this machine. I would rather use LILO to boot Linux, and not have NT on the drive at all—I'm sure this configuration could be requested if you too want a Linux-only set-up.

The system was fast—we ran the informal JonGrossSpeedTest (building a kernel). Note that both machines had enough RAM so that swapping wasn't an issue...

Jon Gross Machine Speed Test results:

For kernel version 2.0.10 on the Netactive machine (timed using time -v):

Command being timed: "make zImage"
  User time (seconds): 246.31
  System time (seconds): 26.29
  Percent of CPU this job got: 93%
  Elapsed (wall clock) time (h:mm:ss or m:ss): 4:50.37

For kernel version 2.0.10 on the DX4-100:

Command being timed: "make zImage"
  User time (seconds): 881.37
  System time (seconds): 117.16
  Percent of CPU this job got: 93%
  Elapsed (wall clock) time (h:mm:ss or m:ss): 17:49.15

Netactive has done a hell of a job putting together a computer system that is fast, neat, clean and would be hard to build for the same price by buying parts off the shelf.

Jonathan Gross is a Perl hacker and wants some faster machines. Donations can be sent to jong@ssc.com.

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