64-Bit Desktop Challenge

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2004-01-05 Print this article Print

eWEEK Labs recently tested Apple's Power Mac G5, driven by dual PowerPC 970s, and Polywell Computers' Athlon 64-based Poly 900NF3-FX1. Both systems delivered high performance running 32-bit code in our tests, but they still await the breadth of software s

Desktop systems based on IBMs PowerPC 970 and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s Athlon 64 processors place 64-bit computing within the reach of mainstream users without closing the door to 32-bit applications. This is important because for now—and for the foreseeable future—its a 32-bit world. eWEEK Labs recently tested Apple Computer Inc.s Power Mac G5, driven by dual PowerPC 970s, and Polywell Computers Inc.s Athlon 64-based Poly 900NF3-FX1. Both systems delivered high performance running 32-bit code in our tests, but they still await the breadth of software support required to make the most of their 64-bit capabilities.

The Power Mac G5 is Apples top-of-the-line desktop system. Platform enhancements such as one 1GHz front-side bus per processor—compared with 167MHz on the G4—deliver plenty of benefits on 32-bit code. The G5, therefore, is a clear choice for companies looking to replace or augment high-end Macintosh systems.

Polywell also sells a workstation system built around dual Opteron processors that starts at $3,499. Workstations from Hewlett-Packard Co. based on Intel Corp.s 64-bit Itanium chips start at $3,882 for single-processor configurations and $5,623 for dual-processor configurations. The workstations lack the performance with 32-bit code that the AMD-based systems boast.

The case for the initial crop of Athlon 64-based systems, such as the Polywell machine we tested, is more complicated. Although AMDs server-targeted, 64-bit Opteron processor has begun to pick up support from major server hardware OEMs, the Athlon 64 has so far shown up only in enthusiast-oriented systems. The Polywell system we tested, for example, came with a plexiglass window in its case cover and a purple cathode tube to light the machines interior—not exactly designed for the enterprise.

Even putting aesthetics aside, many companies will opt to hold out for acceptance of the Athlon 64 by larger system vendors before bringing these machines into the IT fold.

The Polywell system we tested shipped with a 2.2GHz Athlon 64-FX51 processor, 2GB of DDR (double-data-rate) RAM, two 10,000-rpm Serial ATA hard drives configured in a RAID array and an Nvidia Corp. GeorceFX 5950 Ultra graphics card. As configured, the unit costs $2,799.

The Power Mac system we tested was built with dual PowerPC 970 processors running at 2GHz, 2GB of DDR RAM, a 160GB Serial ATA hard drive and an ATI Technologies Inc. Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card. As tested, the system sells for $4,498.

Apple also ships a version of the Power Mac with a single, 1.6GHz G5 chip, which is priced starting at $1,799.

The G5, which comes in a nice-looking case that is easy to open, has a FireWire 800 port, a USB (Universal Serial Bus) 2.0 port and a headphone jack on the front. There are two more USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire 800 port and a FireWire 400 port in the back. Inside the case, the G5s components are well-organized and easily accessible.

We were impressed with the fan setup in the G5: Nine temperature-controlled fans keep the G5 cool while keeping noise to a minimum.

The Polywell system comes with two FireWire ports—one in the front, one in the back—and two USB 2.0 ports on the front and four others on the back. There are also headphone and microphone ports on the front.

The G5 we tested came with Bluetooth and 802.11g radios built in, and Apples software for working with these wireless radios is probably the easiest to use of any weve seen.

Next page: Whither Apps?

As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. Jason's coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at jbrooks@eweek.com.

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