A $7,000 Server Comparison

Tired of x86? See what Linux on Itanium, Sun T1 or POWER5 can do!
Balanced: IBM POWER5

The Power architecture is the big brother of the PowerPC chips used in the current generation of gaming consoles, many embedded systems and, until recently, in Macs. The POWER5 processor supports all PowerPC features and adds a special hypervisor mode. This mode is similar to the new Intel-VT and AMD-Pacifica visualization technologies and allows multiple operating systems to run on the same system.

The POWER5 team at IBM has decided to balance single-core performance with a multicore and multithreading implementation. The result is the POWER5 Quad-Core Module (QCM) used in the 510Q. It has four processing cores and the capability of running two independent threads per core.

In addition to balancing the design, IBM invested heavily into manufacturing technology and automated design tools. This allows IBM to reach high clock speeds and produce top-performing processors with much less effort than its competitors.

The Servers

Reviewers often select servers based on the number of CPUs and memory, and then compare the prices. This works well for an x86-based comparison, but the servers covered in this article are too different to be compared by CPU count or number of memory slots. Instead, this article evaluates the servers based on cost. In other words, what kind of features and performance can $7,000 buy?

All servers were purchased with standard one-year warranty and no operating system. The internal disks are used only for the OS installation. The database and application files are located on an external SCSI disk array connected via an LSI Ultra-320 controller.

Sun Fire T1000

The Sun Fire T1000 is the smallest of the four CoolThreads servers currently sold by Sun. It is a 1U unit and comes with a 1GHz T1 processor. Depending on the configuration, either six or all eight cores are enabled. Eight slots of registered DDR2 memory support configurations from 2 to 32GB.

Four gigabit Ethernet ports and a remote management card called ALOM (Advanced Lights Out Manager) are standard. The ALOM is one of the most easy-to-use and capable remote management methods found on UNIX servers. One PCI-Express slot is available for expansion.

Like most 1U servers, the T1000 has only a single power supply. A single 3.5" SATA drive comes standard. A cold-swap drive tray for two 2.5" disks is available as an option. Hot-swap disks are not available.

The server selected for the review was equipped with eight 1GHz cores, 8GB of RAM and a single 160GB disk. Quoted at $7,322, this configuration was just barely over the target price for this review.

Because the T1 is a complete SPARC V9 implementation, the T1000 runs Solaris 10 and virtually all Solaris applications. Sun's Web site also lists Gentoo 2006.1 and Ubuntu 6.06 LTS as certified.

The T1000 tested in this article is based on an Ubuntu 6.06 installation. The installation was easy, but required a lot of patience, as the installer obviously is not designed to run on a 9,600bps terminal. Instead of overwriting the current screen with the next, the installation wizard first erases the current screen content, then redraws it completely blank and finally, in a third pass, draws the next screen. At 9,600bps, this results in a five-second delay between the screens. Unfortunately, there is no way around this, because in true UNIX spirit, the T1000 does not have a VGA port.

HP Integrity rx2660

The rx2660 is HP's newest low-end Integrity server. It is the first HP Itanium system that shares the chassis with the Proliant line. From the front, it is difficult to distinguish the rx2660 from the 2U DL380G5 without looking at the model number or Intel logo. The rx2660 even has the front VGA port of the DL380—making it the only proprietary system in this review featuring a VGA output.

Like the T1000, the HP server has eight memory slots for up to 32GB of registered DDR2 memory. This is, however, where the similarities end. The rx2660 is a two-socket system and can be equipped with single- or dual-core processors. The single-core processors run at 1.4GHz and offer 6MB of level-three cache. The dual-core processors can be clocked at 1.4GHz (12MB cache) or at 1.6GHz (18MB cache).

Two gigabit Ethernet ports are standard, and the system has eight 2.5" hot-swap SAS drive bays. Depending on which I/O-cage was selected, either three PCI-X slots or one PCI-X and two PCI-Express slots are available for expansion. The server can take a second power supply for redundancy and offers a slot for an optional iLO2 (Integrated Lights-Out 2) remote management card.

Our test system came with two dual-core 1.4GHz CPUs, 4GB of memory and two internal 36GB SAS disks. The iLO2 remote management card was included, bringing the price to $7,095.

The rx2660 is the most versatile unit in this review. It supports HP-UX 11i, OpenVMS v8.3, Windows 2003 and Linux, without changes to the base unit or firmware. HP currently supports Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 and SUSE Enterprise Server 10. Several other Linux variants, such as Gentoo and Fedora, have Itanium2 versions, but HP currently does not offer support for those flavors.

This rx2660 discussed in this article is based on RHEL 4 Update 4. After powering on the unit, the system starts the EFI firmware. The EFI prompt is menu-based and makes gathering system information and booting the OS very easy. However, after starting the installation from CD, only two lines about the kernel being decompressed are printed. Then, the boot process seemingly stalls. SUSE Enterprise Server showed the same behavior.

An attempt to install HP-UX eventually brought the solution. The system booted normally until “Console is a serial device, no further output will appear on this output device” appeared on the screen. Switching from the VGA port to the serial console worked and allowed RHEL 4 to install without any further issues.

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Throughput computing and pbzip2 throughput

Glenn Fawcett's picture

I do not really understand your graphs with pbzip2... Are you saying that it takes more time to compress a file with higher parallelism? I think the y-axis is goofed up.

Anyway, for in-depth analysis on throughput computing on T2000 and beyond look at:

http://blogs.sun.com/glennf/category/Throughput+Computing

-Glenn

Really? You compare these

Anonymous's picture

Really? You compare these architectures using Linux? Why not the T1000 with Solaris and IBM with AIX? It seems incomplete to not test with the native OS which these architectures are optimized.

Also, you mention these architectures are "proprietary". While most are, it seems not fair to call Solaris and CMT proprietary. Both the OS and chip architecture are Open Source :)

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