That is to say, if you’re a software developer, or anyone whose computer does some heavy lifting, and yours isn’t that new because you’ve been unexcited by the last couple of years’ new systems. I say this because I’ve started fooling around with an Ultra 20 (disclosure: I didn’t pay for it) and holy crap, have deskside machines ever come along while I wasn’t looking. Great big huge complicated Web pages just snap into place; NetBeans starts up in seconds; compiles are done before your finger leaves the “build” function key. The Ultra, an Opteron at 2.6GHz/2GB, is I think about as über as a single-CPU machine gets. I suppose there are two-headed boxes that would eat its lunch, but that gets into some real money. These puppies start at $900 and stay under $3K and our marketers claim they’re out front on bang for the buck. I wouldn’t know, but the business being what it is, I’d be surprised if the competition were dramatically cheaper or more expensive; except for, I poked around a bit and didn’t find any other mainstream players selling single-Opteron workstations. Would I have paid a kilobuck or three for this productivity boost if I’d known what it felt like? No doubt about it. Read on for some details, pro and con.

Pro · Insanely fast, like I said. The fan is alarmingly loud when you turn it on, but then it drops into nicely-quiet cruise mode; I got it to rev up once for like 3 seconds, I think when unpacking a multi-gig .bz set with kazillions of little files.

There are tons of USB and FireWire ports and two DVIs, and they’re all easy to get at; the industrial design is much better than average, assuming that the whitebox Athlon I recently spent unpleasant hands-and-knees time wire-wrangling is typical.

Contra · It’s kind of ugly (geometry: square) and I just cannot bring myself to love the Sun signature steel-grey/corporate-blue colors. It’s got this weird bright green light on the front labeled “OK” that is on when the computer is, and sometimes when the computer’s off; and sometimes not. When the green light’s off you have to hit the on/off button twice to start it booting. If you want to sleep in a room with it, you’ll want to use the main power switch or your dreams will be suffused with a ghastly green glow.

And on the software front, I just don’t feel at home in the Solaris userland. It’s not a big irritant since I’m spending all my time in NetBeans and hitting “up-arrow, Enter” in a shell window to launch tests. And since I’m building heavily-multithreaded code I want to stay with the S10 kernel; but they can’t bring GNU/Solaris on fast enough for me. Hey, anyone out there who’s working on that stuff, get in touch and I’ll be your guinea pig.

author · Dad · software · colophon · rights
picture of the day
October 18, 2005
· Technology (87 fragments)
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