IBM's new Xeon system proves speedy

Tested by Anna Bernat and Andreas Uiterwijk

IBM Corp. recently released its latest Black Beauty: the IntelliStation Z Pro Workstation with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT 4.0. In our testing, the Z Pro was so fast that we initially thought it was a dual-processor system. But with only one of Intel Corp.'s new 450 MHz Xeon processors and a price of less than $5,500, the Z Pro is an ideal choice for government users involved with computer-aided design, multimedia or other power-hungry applications.

The Z Pro is one of the fastest computers we've ever tested. We ran the Viewperf 3-D graphics benchmark on it and found that the single-processor Z Pro has almost double the performance of dual-processor 300 and 333 MHz Pentium II workstations we tested last year [FCW, March 2, 1998]. The single-processor Z Pro had a Viewperf score of 64.24 frames/sec.

When we ran the SYSmark/NT 4.0 office applications benchmark, the Z Pro blew away the competition. It posted a score of 387 - 25 percent faster than its closest competitor, IBM's dual 333 MHz Pentium II processor, the IntelliStation M Pro, which had a score of 307.

The FCW Test Center received the new Xeon-based Z Pro with two graphics cards: for advanced 3-D work, Intergraph Corp.'s Intense3D Pro3400 card with the Geometry and Lighting Accelerator (3400 GA) and Matrox Graphics Inc.'s Millennium G200 for 2-D and low-end 3-D applications. The 3400 GA is the better choice for 3-D applications such as those on the Viewperf benchmark, while the G200 excels at office applications. IBM also offers a middle-of-the-road graphics card option that it didn't send to us; that card has just the Intergraph Intense 3D Pro 3400 for standard 3-D applications. In addition, IBM will offer new graphics cards and hardware options for the Z Pro in March, the company said.

The Z Pro's Xeon processor features a 440GX accelerated graphics port (AGP) chipset with a 100 MHz system bus, MMX technology and 512K of full-speed Level 2 cache. The Z Pro has room for another processor for the most demanding applications. The system features an Ultra2 SCSI 9.1G hard drive and 256M of 100 MHz Error Correcting Code-protected SDRAM. RAM can extend up to 2G. Other system features include a 32X/14X variable-speed CD-ROM, a standard 3.5-inch floppy drive and integrated 10/100 Ethernet. The workstation includes five PCI slots, two of which are open, one shared PCI/ISA slot and one AGP slot. There are seven bays, but only two internal bays and two external bays are free after factory configuration.

While the Z Pro is built for power and performance, IBM includes hardware and software features for desktop management. It offers an intrusion-detection device and hardware that monitors fan speed, voltage and thermal characteristics. IBM also includes Asset ID, which carries system information such as serial number and configuration. A radio antenna enables this information to be read by a handheld device that IBM sells separately. Alert on LAN and Wake on LAN are included. The Z Pro is DMI 2.0-compliant and includes IBM's LANClient Control Manager and Intel's LANDesk, among other management software.

While the Z Pro is a screamer in performance, its internal construction leaves a bit to be desired. The system uses screws to hold everything in place and is not modular. The insides are cramped, and system wiring hangs loose. We'd prefer screwless removal of internal hardware components as well as easy access to those components. And while the black case is different, it is small for all of the Z Pro's goodies.

However, government customers will find that the Z Pro's price is great for this much performance.


IntelliStation Z ProIBM Corp.(800)

Price and Availability: The IntelliStation Z Pro is available on Government Technology Services Inc.'s General Services Administration schedule. The Z Pro with the Matrox Millennium G200 video card sells for $4,395, and it sells for $5,435 with the Intergraph Intense3D Pro3400 video card with the Geometry and Lighting Accelerator. Call (800) 999-4874 for more information.

Remarks: The Z Pro is an impressive machine. Built using a single 450 MHz Pentium II Xeon processor, this Windows NT workstation is the fastest system we've ever tested. And there's room for another processor. The system's only drawback is its case design. The unit is too cramped and not modular enough.

Final Score: Very Good


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