Nehalem workstations: A new era in performance

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Balancing all these factors, these two systems earn similar ratings from me, with a slight preference for the Dell due in large part to the prominence of performance and value in my weighting -- a weighting that I believe reflects the realities of the market. If you want price-performance, get the Dell T5500; if you want a more expansive, better-designed, albeit more expensive workstation, then HP is the one to choose. There is one element not touched on here regarding expansion: The HP Z800 is the company's top-of-the-line workstation; however, Dell's T5500 is only its midrange offering. If you're shopping for truly high-end systems, make sure to explore Dell's T7500 system, which is significantly more expandable.

[ Compare the Dell, HP, and Lenovo workstations on features. Compare their performance benchmark results, power consumption, and scorecards. ]

A word on the benchmarks All the benchmarks used in this review are available at no charge for Windows-based platforms. Google the benchmark and you'll find sites and numerous mirrors from which to download them. For SPEC Viewperf and the Sandra XII benchmarks, we used the same executables as last year, so the results are directly comparable with those of the previous roundup. This year, I added the Cinebench 10 mark for the dual-processor systems. It measures the gain provided by having multiple cores render a large graphic. As you can see, both systems came in at roughly 6.5x speedup when using eight cores (versus one core) -- a testament to the power of parallel processing.

For all the workstations, we present the hard disk configuration data. This data is intended only to show what elements make up the price of the system. As explained previously, disk drive performance is not included in tallying the performance score in our report card. Our view is that assessing disks on workstations is akin to assessing kit lenses when reviewing camera bodies. They are items that are part of different buying decisions. But as can be seen from the disk figures, the new RAID 0 striped drives are extraordinarily fast -- easily surpassing 150MBps at very little cost.

Finally, we understand that the workstation market has many subsectors that might weight factors differently. So, in our report card, we carefully list the weighting we give to each of the criteria and the respective subscores. This approach enables you to recompute the scores with your own weightings so that the data aligns best with your needs.

The Nehalem generation of processors has unleashed performance far beyond what was previously available in workstations. In many ways, this new performance is an inflection point. Jim McGregor, the Chief Technology Strategist for Microprocessor Report -- the bible of the semiconductor industry -- observes that "Nehalem represents a huge increase in performance. It’s hard to remember when the roll-out of a new generation of processors delivered so many enhancements at once -- all targeted at performance. This is why these new chips perform so much better than previous generations, even at the same clock speed."

To wit, overall system performance has more than doubled since the review 14 months ago. If you’ve been holding back on upgrading workstations at your site, it now makes sense to seriously consider upgrading. These systems open a new chapter in workstation history. 

This story, "Nehalem workstations: A new era in performance" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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