Comparing apples and … suns.

Today Apple announced the Powermac G5, the worlds fastest personal computer and the first in its class to use a 64-bit processor.

And today, Apple leapfrogged Windows on intel PC’s completely and entered into an arena that used to belong soley to Sun, IBM, HP and SGI.

Apple isn’t the first to use a 64-bit CPU – but most people are in the trenches every day with a 32-bit architecture and a 32-bit operating system. (More to come on Panther/Mac OS X 10.3 down the road, I’m sure!)

There has been a fine line of distinction between personal computers and workstations that has just been eroding for years and may have just been completely erased with Apple’s announcements today. For those that use Sun workstations because they need the raw performance of the UltraSPARC 64-bit architecture, there is a much cheaper alternative suddenly – and probably even a faster one.

I don’t have a Sun Blade 2000 workstation. My Sun workstations are limited to an Ultra10 and a Sparcstation 20 with dual hypersparc CPU’s. Around the office we have some heavier Sun iron but the day I tether a UE450 to a keyboard on my desk is the day I have a much bigger, much fancier desk.

But the Sun Blade 2000 is the high-end workstation from Sun – with up to two 1.2GHz UltraSPARC III Cu processors, USB and firewire, 64-bit PCI slots, and up to 8GB of RAM.

It’s hard to get a close configuration of these two hosts, because I feel that the 2GHz G5 processor is faster and offers more flexibility than a 1.2 GHz UltraSPARC III Cu. The UltraSPARC does have 8MB of cache, however – which is bound to make a big difference.

I compared two systems configured as closely as possible – the Mac with dual 2GHz G5’s and the Sun with dual 1.2GHz UltraSPARC III Cu’s.

I put a gigabyte of RAM in each, and gave the Mac more disk space. I also bumped the video option on the Mac to the highest available – a RADEON 9600. The Sun was configured with a Sun XVR-1000 Graphics Accelerator.

The Sun can’t have a DVD Recorder, Bluetooth or 802.11g built-in. I added Bluetooth to the Mac and left Airport Extreme off – and added gigabit ethernet to the Sun.

Unless proven otherwise, I have to assume these machines are pretty much on equal footing. Granted – my experience with this workstation is nil, so this is purely subjective. But I am familiar with the UltraSPARC CPU family in a variety of flavors for servers, so I feel that this comparison isn’t totally out of line. If anything, the Sun is going to be outclassed in every way by the similarly equipped Powermac G5 – and the price difference is quite staggering.

For very similar configurations, dual 64-bit CPU’s on both, a gigabyte of memory, and similar disk subsystems, the Sun workstation costs US$23,289. The Mac costs US$3,695.

I operate in a fairly different world from the core Apple customer – I don’t care about intel PC’s running Windows one lick. I don’t have to use them, and they are for all intents and purposes insignificant to me. When I buy a computer to use at home or in my office, it’s not a PC.

Sure I keep a Windows PC on my desk at work, it’s something to connect to my Exchange server and allow access to the office schedule and meeting system without using a web browser, but that’s all that system does. All of my work takes place on Sun servers and workstations, and my Powerbook G4. The only time I need to touch a Windows PC or server is when a customer is using one. And I’m very thankful so many people have gone that route – it keeps the paychecks rolling in.

Point is, I don’t drool over anything Dell or HP releases, and never have. They don’t make computers that are useful or even interesting to me. I already have a Gamecube.

I can’t afford the high-end workstations from Sun, but I can certainly afford the high-end workstations from Apple. For a machine so flexible, so powerful and for it to be so affordable is astounding. I will bite my tongue and let people compare it to Windows PC’s if they must, but clearly Apple has entered into an entirely different arena and has a price that simply cannot be beat.

My situation may be unique – I’m not using custom software only for Solaris OE that cannot be ported easily to Mac OS X. If I had a considerable investment in scientific or modeling software that required Solaris, obviously I’d have to consider sticking with that platform. Though the very nature of X11 allows for very quick and easy deployment of Solaris applications on ANY computer on your network by remotely displaying them to your local X11 server, which Apple graciously provides free of charge on their website.

PDF’s of the configurations for the Mac and Sun are available – the Sun one seems to report that I selected 4GB of RAM but the checklist says 1GB. It doesn’t seem to match up with what you select in the boxes at the bottom. Don’t get confused, and you can always configure your own Sun Blade 2000 at http://www.sun.com/, and your own Powermac G5 at http://www.apple.com/!

powermac g5 leaked (from apple)Apple actually leaked their own specs tonight on the Apple Store for the new Powermac G5 workstation.

* 1.6 GHz, 1.8 GHz, or dual 2GHz PowerPC G5 CPU’s
* 1 GHz Bus speed (wahahahahahhaha)
* 8 GB max RAM (ahahahahahaahha)
* Fast Serial ATA disks
* Three PCI or PCI-X slots
* Three USB 2.0 ports
* One Firewire800
* Two Firewire400
* AGP 8X video – NVIDIA or ATI
* Bluetooth and Airport xtreme
* Optical and analog audio in and out

Okay the optical and analog audio is awesome, PCI-X is nice, and it also doesn’t hurt that Apple wasn’t too proud to not use USB2.0 in these new bad boys. No word on pricing yet, and the systems should be released next Monday at WWDC.

Am I just so out of touch that my Powerbook G4 667 and dual G4/533’s are perfectly adequete? I feel like I should be out there doing Very Important Things with all the horsepower available!
I went to Dell’s website and equipped a hyper-threading dual 2.6GHz Xeon workstation with 1 GB of RAM and an 80 GB disk. I gave it a decent ATI Fire GL and still don’t have Bluetooth or 802.11g built-in.

Also no firewire 800. I don’t know if it has USB2 or not, but who knows.

Dell’s system costs $3800 without firewire 800, maybe with usb2, and with an audio break-out box. Bluetooth would be another $40 or so, and wireless would be … who knows. I assume the Dell has fast ethernet, but I bet the new Powermac will have gigabit built-in.

I bet Apple can beat Dell in pricing this time around for a machine that will spank any Dell.

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