Sizing up IBM's new RS/6000s
- By Eric Hammond
- Apr 05, 2000
IBM Corp.'s new copper-based microprocessor technology made its debut in
the RS/6000 line earlier this year, where it serves as the power plant for
a pair of machines designed to run World Wide Web-based applications.
I checked out these two Unix-based computers, the 170 and 270, which are
the latest models in IBM's 44P line of RS/6000s. The 170 is a single processor
machine that comes with either a 333 or 400 MHz Power3-II processor. The
270 is a symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) box that supports up to four 375
MHz Power3-II processors. The Power3-II processor is the first IBM chip
wired with copper, which IBM claims boosts processor performance dramatically
over chips wired with aluminum.
The 170 is aimed squarely at the workstation market, though it would certainly
make an adequate server for a small workgroup or even a lower volume, less
complex Web site. The model I tested included a 400 MHz processor, 1G of
RAM, about 36G of disk, and a GXT130P graphics adapter. A variety of configurations
are available better graphics or more storage.
The first thing I noticed about the 170 was that the plastic door covering
the storage and power switches had sheared off at the hinges in transit.
This is a problem that RS/6000s have had for years, and I don't even want
to think about what it costs to have an IBM tech come out and replace the
door. To be fair, evaluation systems such as the ones I tested spend a lot
more time on the road than the typical system, but that's hardly a solid
Though it's certainly more spacious than the previous line of 43P models,
you won't find too much free space inside the 44P Model 170. Side-panel
access to virtually any component except memory and PCI slots involves removing
additional panels. Two difficult-to-reach screws locking the front panel
in place hinder front panel maintenance access to storage devices.
Once powered up, the 44P is a snappy performer. I configured the machine
for Web development and found it to be more than up to the task. The 44P
model 170 is suitable for a variety of graphical applications and traditional
development jobs. It certainly has enough horsepower to be used as a server
in certain situations.
As tested, the 170 costs about $20,700. Nearly $12,000 of this price is
for the IBM disk drive and RAM, two items that you might find for less money
from another vendor. Though the 170 offers impressive SPEC (Standard Performance
Evaluation Corp.) performance numbers for the money, Sun Microsystems Inc.'s
comparable Ultra 60 and Ultra 80 product lines, with the increased flexibility
of their SMP configuration options (two processors in the Ultra 60 and four
in the Ultra 80) may mean that the pricier 270 is a better competitor to
these models, and may leave the 170 without a niche to fill.
Where more computational clout is needed (and where budgetary constraints
allow), the 170's big brother, the 44P Model 270 steps up to the plate.
With up to four state-of-the-art IBM CPUs and plenty of room for storage
and RAM, the 270 fills the bill as a very high-end workstation or as a server
for complex Web applications.
I tested a 44P Model 270 with four 375 MHz Power3-II processors, a 9G hard
drive and 4G of RAM. The machine can take up to 8G of RAM and a hard drive
as large as 54G.
I configured the 270 in much the same way as the 170 — as a Web development
machine and server. There is no question that this machine is a great performer
for this type of task, with it's powerful SMP capability making it an ideal
candidate for multi-threaded, server-side Java applications.
As tested, the 270 comes in at about $48,000, with $26,685 of that being
for RAM. The system compares favorably from a cost standpoint to the Sun
Enterprise 450 server. Though the 450 has significantly more storage capacity
than IBM's 270, the 270 turns in significantly better SPEC CPU95 benchmark
results, according to the SPEC Web site. This makes the 270 a clear choice
for workstation performance, though the case for it as a server is hindered
somewhat by its weaker storage flexibility.
My major gripe about the 270, aside from the high price, is the somewhat
bulky case. With it's odd height, width, and depth, it's going to require
its own special space in the data center. A more rack-friendly form factor
would increase the appeal for this box in the data center.
Nevertheless, the RS/6000 44P Models 170 and 270 are solid performers. Engineering
users, developers and administrators looking for high-end workstations and
servers will be quite pleased with these offerings from Big Blue.
—Hammond is a freelance writer based in Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.