We keep review systems in the Windows NT Magazine Lab for general use and testing for six or more months to find out how they perform in the long term. We used an Intergraph TDZ-400, a DeskStation Technology Raptor 3, a NeTpower Calisto, an Aspen Systems Alpine, an HP Vectra XU, and a Total Peripherals Lighten PRO for testing various hardware peripherals and software packages. Although we won't present their performance data here, we will comment about the usability and reliability of these manufacturers' systems.
The Intergraph systems with the GLZ graphics cards are first-rate performers for 3D work. Our test TDZ-400 had a GLZ-1T card, which wasn't the top of the line and isn't nearly as fast as the new RealiZm cards, but the system still offered excel-lent OpenGL performance. With two 200MHz Pentium Pro CPUs, 128MB of RAM, and 4GB of disk, we didn't find much in the way of 3D animation and rendering that this system couldn't handle.
The Intergraph never broke, rarely crashed, and was a stable platform for testing all varieties of graphics software. Although we experienced sticker shock when we first received this system last winter (almost $40,000 at the time), the prices have dropped by more than 70 percent.
DeskStation Technology Raptor 3
The DeskStation Technology Raptor 3 also performed well for us. DeskStation started out in the MIPS market, but quickly found out that Alpha was the way to go for high-end RISC performance. The Raptor 3 can accommodate CPU daughtercards with any of three different CPU types: Intel, Alpha, and MIPS. This feature carries over to the current line of systems (the Raptor Reflex), without MIPS. Even though MIPS is gone, you have a variety of CPUs to choose from, depending on your speed and monetary requirements--and you can upgrade at any time to more current technology.
Our Raptor 3 test system has 128MB of RAM, a 300MHz Alpha 21164 with 2MB of Level 3 cache, and Fast SCSI-2 (estimated street price is now under $7000). You do take about a 10 percent to 15 percent performance hit because the CPU is not wired directly into the system board--the price of modularity. Extra connectors and a longer distance between CPU and memory resources take their toll in this architecture.
However, don't be scared away from these machines simply because of slightly slower compute times. Not many systems of this class and overall performance offer such excellent upgrade options: You can go from Pentium to Alpha in one box. The Raptors are well-built, solid performers with plenty of room for expansion and enhancement options.
NeTpower sent us a Calisto with a 200MHz Pentium Pro, 128MB of RAM, and an AccelPRO OpenGL graphics adapter from AccelGraphics. We used this system for many tests, including Alpha-to-Pentium Pro per-
formance comparisons, and even Web server software reviews.
The Calisto uses a standard Intel-designed motherboard, but NeTpower added value and functionality by using fast peripheral components such as Fast and Wide SCSI, 100Mbps Ethernet, and OpenGL accelerated video cards. This combination results in a potent graphics workstation.
With off-the-shelf standard components and an NT-focused strategy, NeTpower sits solidly in the NT workstation--and server--arena. These systems have proven to be reliable performers.
Aspen Systems Alpine 275XS
We've had the Aspen Systems Alpine 275XS in the Lab since we reviewed it more than a year ago (see "Aspen Systems' Alpine 275XS," December 1995). This 275MHz Alpha 21064 never suffered a system failure or experienced software compatibility problems.
When we tried to use a Perception Video Recorder (PVR) from Digital Processing Systems, the card was large enough that one corner sat on the system's CPU. Although we couldn't review the card on the Alpine, Aspen provided a full-tower Timberline that handled the PVR with no difficulty.
The Lab has run several performance tests on the Alpine. We've found that with 64MB of RAM and a Fast SCSI hard disk, the Alpine makes an excellent 3D rendering station.
HP Vectra XU
We first reviewed the HP Vectra XU in January 1996 (see "HP's Pentium Pro-based Vectra XU 6/150") as a single-processor 150MHz Pentium Pro. We received another version (with a few kinks worked out) with dual 200MHz Pentium Pros. What a change in performance! The Pentium Pro 150 scored 428 on the BAPCo SYSmark/NT tests, and the dual 200MHz system scored 670.
Is buying a 200MHz system worth the price? You bet! Based on the difference in CPU speed, the finalized BIOS, and the production versions of NT device drivers, the Vectra XU is one of the fastest systems we've tested. At only $5137 with 32MB of RAM, an 8X CD-ROM, and a 2GB disk drive, you get a lot for your money.
The HP systems we've tested--production models, not pre-release versions--haven't given us significant problems. When we had a problem loading something, it was usually because we didn't have the proper driver.
Total Peripherals Lighten PRO
The Total Peripherals system we received in the Lab included an Intel Pentium Pro 200MHz processor, 128MB of RAM, a Diamond Multimedia Stealth 64 Video VRAM PCI video card, an Adaptec 2940 SCSI controller, a Seagate 2.1GB SCSI hard disk, and an Acer 8X IDE CD-ROM in a minitower case.
We used the Lighten PRO to test Citrix WinFrame software and the Tektronix Windows terminal. This system was fast, scoring 610 on the SYSmark/NT test suite. An affordable clone, the Total Peripherals Lighten PRO provides industry-standard components and top-end performance.
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