IBM unleashes 333 MHz Pentium II workstation

At a time when government workstation buyers are considering Windows NT systems as replacements to traditional Unix machines for 3-D graphics applications, IBM Corp.'s new IntelliStation M Pro offers a flashy design, solid performance and a refreshed feature set that will surely attract attention.

IBM last week began shipping its IntelliStation M Pro NT Workstation running on a dual set of Intel Corp.'s new 333 MHz Intel Pentium II processors. The FCW Test Center received one of the first pre-production models and put it through its paces on a suite of demanding 3-D graphics benchmarks.

The 333 MHz processors in this system offered modest performance gains when compared with workstations using dual 300 MHz Pentium II processors tested in the March 2 Government Best Buys supplement. However, this system's performance should improve when IBM converts to Intel's new BX chipset, which is scheduled for release next month and which will increase internal bus speeds to 100 MHz. In contrast, the current LX chipset offers internal bus speeds of 66 MHz.

The IBM IntelliStation M Pro is not just another high-end PC. Its imposing black chassis gives the impression of a muscle car. Even more impressive are the two new 333 MHz Pentium II processors that are tucked away under the hood. Intel claims a 10 percent performance increase over the 300 MHz Pentium II processor. Our results show performance gains ranging from 9 to 31 percent over the dual 300 MHz Windows NT workstations we recently tested.

The IntelliStation M Pro comes with four external drive bays and two internal drive bays. Access to the system is as easy as turning a key and sliding off the cover. We found the overall layout of the motherboard to be clean. Cables are neatly tucked away to the side, and the user has easy access to memory and drive bays, expansion slots and processors. Each processor is cooled by a fan that is built onto the CPU card. To add extra cooling power to the unit, a third fan is mounted on the rear of the chassis, and this pushes cool air directly across the processors and into the case.

Management Focus

Several desktop management features set this system apart from other Windows NT workstations on the market. First, the system is compliant with the Desktop Management Interface 2.0 standard, which enables system administrators to remotely collect information on the hardware and software.

It also includes Wake-on-LAN support on the integrated 10/100 Ethernet card, which makes it possible for the administrator to turn on the system over the network rather than going to the desktop itself; this feature can be a big time-saver when changes are made to multiple desktops.

IBM includes features that are musts for power users, such as dual-channel Wide-Ultra SCSI ports on the motherboard for fast access to data. Overall slot expandability is also impressive, with six open slots: one 16-bit, two standard 32-bit Peripheral Component Interconnect, one shared, one 64-bit PCI and one accelerated graphics port (AGP), which is a PCI slot specifically designed to handle the high-throughput demands of graphical data.

We tested the midrange and the high-end graphics solutions that ship with the IntelliStation M Pro. The midrange configuration includes a Matrox Graphics Inc. Millennium card with 8M of video memory. The higher-end solution features an Intense 3-D card from Intergraph Corp. with 4M of texture memory and 16M of frame buffer memory, both of which improve support for rendering complex images.

With Intergraph's Intense 3-D graphics card installed, the IntelliStation M Pro posted a SYSmark/NT 4.0 score of 307— 9 percent faster than the fastest system in our recent Windows NT workstation roundup (see benchmark scores on this page).

On our Viewperf 3-D tests, the Intelli-Station M Pro posted middle-of-the-road overall performance results using the high-end graphics solution from Intergraph. However, its scores on the advanced visualization and data visualization portions of the test were very competitive.

According to IBM officials, the Intelli-Station M Pro will be available on the General Services Administration schedule within a few weeks. Estimated commercial pricing will range from $8,650 for the midrange graphics solution to $13,800 for the high-end solution.

Overall, the IntelliStation M Pro is a very powerful machine for the money. And buyers can look for even more power soon, once the BX chipset is integrated into the system.

At A Glance

Pros:

Good performance

Dual 333 MHz Pentium II processors

DMI 2.0-compliant

Very well-designed system

Easy access to all internal peripherals

Cons:

Still uses LX chipset

Limited drive expandability

Needs a more sophisticated graphics solution

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