Power Up!

A Review of the YDL PowerStation.
The Software

The PowerStation comes with Yellow Dog Linux 6 pre-installed. YDL began life in 1999 as an alternative to the Mac OS on Apple's PowerPC hardware. It is based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Fedora. Like every Red Hat/Fedora derivative I have ever used, it uses RPM for package management. Yum, which started as a Yellow Dog-specific add-on for simplifying package updates (and has been adopted by most RPM-based distributions) is naturally included, along with the graphical yum updater, Pup.

When first booting the PowerStation, you go through the normal Anaconda new-user setup. Unfortunately, this process crashed on me at the very end, forcing me to reboot the computer. It seemed like it was just a fluke, so I didn't worry about it too much, but I think it may have contributed to my Firefox problems (more on that later).

Figure 6. On initial boot, the PowerStation walks you through setting up an initial user.

The package selection available in the default YDL repositories is decent, but it's not as large as I am used to on Ubuntu and Fedora. The repositories configured out of the box include the Yellow Dog Base, Extras and Updates repositories, along with a PowerStation-specific one. Most of the basic apps—from Firefox to OpenOffice.org to The GIMP to PostgreSQL to Pidgin—are present and accounted for.

Although most of the packages I expected to find were available, a couple interesting ones were absent. One in particular (which happens to be one of my favorite applications), Inkscape, was missing. Thanks to the PowerPC Fedora Extras repository, I was able to install it easily.

A couple packages I wanted to use on the box, such as the renameutils (from www.nongnu.org/renameutils), were not available as pre-built RPM packages (as far as I could see, anyway). In the case of renameutils, I was able to download, compile and install the package manually.

One big thing I had to get used to on the PowerStation was the lack of GRUB. Yaboot is the bootloader for the PowerStation.

Figure 7. The Yaboot Configuration File

Being unfamiliar with Yaboot, I elected not to tinker with it or even spend much time looking at it. The system booted fine, and I didn't want to render the box unbootable inadvertently. The Yaboot configuration does look marginally similar to GRUB's, and I'll leave it at that.

Enlightenment is the default desktop environment for the PowerStation. The default theme and layout are nice, and the menus are well organized.

Figure 8. The PowerStation's Default Enlightenment + Nautilus Desktop

One interesting decision Terra Soft made was to configure the first Enlightenment desktop to run Nautilus full screen for file management purposes. This was a little confusing at first when I tried to change the Enlightenment wallpaper and nothing happened. To change the wallpaper of the first desktop, I had to change the GNOME wallpaper. Wallpaper issues aside, using Nautilus is a smart move, because it is one of the most advanced file managers available. I soon got used to using the first desktop for file management and the rest for running apps. This arrangement actually forced me to become better organized as different tasks were more clearly and cleanly separated. The other three desktops do not have Nautilus running on them, so they behave like regular Enlightenment desktops, animated backgrounds and all.

GNOME also is available out of the box as a session login option for those who prefer it, and KDE can be installed with the package manager.

There's no difference in running apps like The GIMP, OpenOffice.org or Firefox on an IBM Power processor as opposed to an Intel or AMD processor, so I won't go into running them other than to say they ran fine.

The Performance

Performance is one of those tricky areas that are hard to define and nail down—especially when trying to compare the PowerStation to x86 workstations. One thing I can say without any equivocation is that the PowerStation definitely is speedy. Applications launch instantly (or nearly so), and everything feels fast and snappy. But “feelings” sometimes can lie, so to get a more accurate view, I turned to some performance testing.

For testing, I installed the Phoronix test suite. Unfortunately, although I was able to install it without trouble by following the directions on the Phoronix Test Suite Web site and run most of the tests, a few of them, including compiling the Linux kernel and calculating Pi to 32 million digits, failed. In the case of the Linux kernel compilation test, Phoronix reported that the test completed in 4.12 seconds. This compares to a time on my laptop of 4,407.53 seconds. Now, I am the first to admit that the PowerStation is much faster than my old laptop, but it is not a thousand times faster.

In the case of the Pi calculation test, the issue was that the test assumes you are running on x86, and it tries to load an x86 binary, which obviously won't run on the IBM 970MP-powered PowerStation. Thankfully, other tests in the Phoronix test suite provided more trustworthy results. The mencoder test, for example, which converts an 89MB avi file, took a respectable average of 42.13 seconds. See Table 1 for the results of some of the other Phoronix test suite tests I ran on the PowerStation.

Table 1. Phoronix Test Results on the PowerStation

TestAverage Result
RAMspeed Average Integer Test2,661.78MB/s
OpenSSL36 signs per second
GnuPG 1GB file encryption21.96 seconds
Compress a 128MB file with lzma315.53 seconds
Compress a 512MB file with gzip39.38 seconds
Compress a 512MB file with parallel-bzip267.60 seconds
SQLite 2,500 insertions on indexed db74.05 seconds
SciMark composite test264.64Mflops
Timed PHP compilation82.93 seconds
IOMeter file server access pattern89.87 seconds
Timed Apache build54.48 seconds

One caveat in my testing is that all of the tests shown in Table 1 finished with minor errors, such as “PHP Notice: Undefined offset: 0 in /usr/share/phoronix-test-suite/pts-core/functions/pts-functions_system_cpu.php on line X”. I don't think the errors skewed the results in either direction, but there is a bug somewhere that does not exist when the tests are run on an x86-based machine.

My original plan was to run these tests head to head against a quad-core Xeon system I was testing at the time. However, due to delays in receiving the PowerStation and some unforeseen issues with the Xeon system, I was not able to do this. Feel free to run the same tests on your workstation and compare your performance to the PowerStation.

One curious thing about the test results is that some of them are slower than the score achieved by my laptop—for example, the SQLite test. My old laptop is able to complete that test in an average of 62.63 seconds—more than ten seconds faster than the PowerStation. This may be because of the way the SQLite test works, or maybe it favors Intel processors—I don't know. In most tests, the PowerStation was faster, and in some tests significantly faster, which is what I expected.



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FredR's picture

I think the details of a PPC port of Linux KVM are a bit sketchy, but can you imagine buying one of these as a VM host? That would be interesting. I know historically PPC processors are better at math and floating point operations.

-- FLR or flrichar is a superfan of Linux Journal, and goofs around in the LJ IRC Channel