Sparc desktop vs x86 desktop

Dave McGuire mcguire at
Thu Oct 16 11:10:51 CDT 2008

On Oct 16, 2008, at 7:21 AM, Dan Williams wrote:
> I have just bought a dual 900mhz Sparc machine with 2gb memory. for
> £130. I haven't got it yet. But I am quite sure it will be fast enough
> to use as a desktop machine. Also should be fairly quick at compiling
> bits and pieces.
> I haven't had a decent Sun machine for a few years so am looking
> forward to this one.
> I did have an Ultra 2 with dual 400 procs and it was my main machine
> for a good few years.

   Ohhhh my. :)  You are going to LOVE your new machine, then.  I've  
always loved the Ultra2; it's one of Sun's finest workstations.  The  
UltraSPARC-II processor is a good design...but the UltraSPARC-III  
kicks the snot out of it.  It's a whole different world.

   For about a year until a recent upgrade, I ran the following on a  
dual 900MHz UltraSPARC-III+ machine with 4GB of RAM and native FC  
disks, a Sun Fire 280r:

   - Eleven virtual machines (using Solaris "Zones" virtualization  
   - An email server for about 100 people, comprising:
       = Incoming SMTP, 50K-70K messages per day, ~91% spam
       = Spam filtering (heavy REGEXP processing)
       = Virus scanning, for those few still running Windows
       = POP3, IMAP, and IMAPS spool access
   - Two web servers handling about thirty virtual hosts, most PHP-based
   - Network monitoring system
   - Real-time NEXRAD weather imagery processing system
   - A biggish (20 queries/sec) database server
   - Three Sun Ray thin client terminals (often running Firefox,  
Thunderbird, etc)
   - All of my software development (editing, compiling, testing)

   ...All on a SINGLE 4U rackmount machine with two 900MHz UltraSPARC- 
III+ processors (8MB L2 cache each) and 4GB of RAM.  It was a bit  
swappy with only 4GB (450 processes in the process table, "ps" output  
scrolls and scrolls), but very responsive.  I recently upgraded it to  
a dual 1.2GHz UltraSPARC-III+ machine with 8GB of RAM.

   Show THAT to an x86 fanboy and watch the pimply jaw drop. ;)

> I was looking at getting something similar, there was loads of old Sun
> machines on ebay a few years ago. Now there are only new expensive
> ones.
> Although I was disappointed they stopped making desktops this might
> mean the 2nd hand prices of the latest ones will drop as people go
> over to Intel. Although they may go up if they are rare.

   Sun discontinued the SPARC-based desktop machines for three main  
reasons.  First, it's very hard to make them cost-effective; they'd  
have to trim their margins down to the near-nothing that the PC world  
is accustomed to...which means they'd have to start making cheap  
garbage.  They tried that with the unbelievably crappy non-Sun-like  
Ultra5 and Ultra10 machines; everyone with more than a smidgen of  
real computer experience poo-pooed them loudly, and Sun listened.   
(but apparently the Blade 100 [not 1000] was already in the pipeline,  
too late to axe)

   Second, the later UltraSPARC processors are *big*'s not easy  
to make a physically small machine with those.  A proc/mem module for  
a V480 is the size of a phone book and is definitely a two-hander.   
These are not "desktop" processors.

   Third, Sun is having great success with the Sun Ray product line.   
These very effectively replace standalone desktops, and are being  
deployed by the thousands.  I use them myself here; they are  
fantastic.  There's not much point to try to make a low-cost  
standalone desktop machine when they're making money (and happy  
customers) with the Sun Ray line.


Dave McGuire
Port Charlotte, FL

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