The P6--On the Road to Bigger Things

It's finally here: Intel's Pentium Pro (a.k.a. the P6). And at a sizzling 150 MHz, it's the fastest--and biggest--main-line CPU to come out of Intel's empire to date. I admit I have been biased against the Pentium technology in favor of RISC architectures for some time, but that feeling is changing fast.

This early release of a Pentium Pro system takes the form of the Hewlett-Packard (HP) Vectra XU 6/150, and I think you'll like its speed, its modularity, and its options. It goes far beyond any previous Pentium technology in sheer processing power: BAPCo benchmark tests revealed its capabilities nicely, and it dusted all of the Windows NT Magazine Lab's older 90-MHz P5 systems at anywhere from three to five times the performance. Architectural changes in the 6/150 can take some of the credit for this: HP has tuned this platform to be a desktop demon.

HP is one of the first companies to build and make publicly available the P6 technology with the Vectra XU 6/150, but it comes at a price: $6400 for a fully configured system--yet what a system it is! This Vectra is a true 32-bit Intel architecture (with a 64-bit data path), making it an ideal platform for 32-bit Windows NT applications, including multimedia, spreadsheets, databases, application development--you name it.

But, if a single 150-MHz processor isn't enough for you, then add a second. A slot is provided, and the bus can accommodate up to a 200-MHz CPU (with an adjustable bus speed of either 60 MHz or 66 MHz)--both processors must be the same speed. Cache is provided on-chip with 16KB of Level One and 256KB of Level Two. And, there are eight 64-bit ECC Dual Inline Memory Module (DIMM) slots that can hold up to 256MB (thus providing a 128-bit data path).

Lest you think that the features stop at CPU performance, let me point out the Vectra's multimedia capabilities: it comes with a 64-bit Ultra VGA card (a Matrox Millennium on the PCI bus) with 2MB VRAM (upgradeable to 4MB); an integrated ISA SoundBlaster 16 interface (upgradeable to wavetable synthesis); a joystick/MIDI interface; and audio input/output ports (stereo).

The XU 6/150 is no slouch with respect to expandability options, either. Its minitower case, which has a modular design that is easy to work on (the power supply slides out for easy access to the system board for CPU and memory upgrades, and the case releases via two side latches and a key), has room for six add-in boards (three PCI, two ISA, one combo PCI/ISA) and seven disk drives (front access: two third-height 3 1/2", three half-height 5 1/4"; internal: two full-height 3 1/2"). The system board has both PCI fast SCSI-2 and E-IDE controllers and a PCI LAN controller supporting 10-megabit (Mb) and 100Mb transfer rates (HP 10/100VG AnyLAN).

It has the standard suite of connectors for parallel, serial (x2), VGA, and PS/2-style mouse/keyboard. Documentation is thorough and well written with plenty of diagrams, error-code descriptions, and information on everything ranging from ergonomics to memory upgrades.

The test system came with 32MB of RAM, 2GB disk, and a 4X CD-ROM drive, but even with only one processor, it flew through everything I could toss at it. HP reports that it should be able to outperform a 133-MHz P5 by at least 80%.

The system has some compatibility issues to resolve: On occasion while running the benchmarks and some other Win16/Win32 applications, the P6 would crash and require a reboot. The system gave no indication as to why this occurred. However, contrary to other reports, the P6 has no speed problems with either 16-bit or 32-bit applications.

All in all, I'd say that this machine is going to give a serious challenge to other members of the workstation community. Its relatively low price and high performance make it a real contender in the power computing marketplace.

See the sidebars: "A New Breed" and "Buy the Numbers".

HP Vectra XU 6/150

Contact:
Hewlett-Packard * 800-752-0900
Price:
$6400 (as tested)