Sun Microsystems Ultra 20 M2 (First Look Review)28 Feb, 2007 By: Patrick Davis
AMD-based workstation runs Linux.
The Ultra 20 M2 workstations are a new line of AMD-based workstations from Sun Micro-systems. The silver-and-gray case is very clean and measures 17" x 7.9" x 18.5" (H x W x D). The system offers six USB 2.0 external connectors (two in front and four in back), two IEEE 1394a (FireWire) ports in front and two Gigabit Ethernet ports.
Sun Microsystems Ultra 20 M2
The unit I tested was shipped with a dual-core AMD Opteron 1218 processor at 2.6GHz with 4GB ECC unbuffered DDR2-667 (4x1GB) DIMM. It can accommodate as much as 8GB of RAM in four memory slots. A SATA 3.0Gb/s 7200RPM 250GB hard drive had been installed in one of the two internal disk bays, leaving one bay open. The unit also ships with a DVD-Dual ODD drive, but no 3.5" floppy drive is available. The workstation has three PCI-Express slots, two x16 (one x1 electrical) slots, two PCI-Express x1 slots, one x1 slot and three conventional PCI slots (32-bit/33MHz).
The case is also fitted with numerous fans. When the Ultra 20 M2 first starts and all the fans are running at maximum, the workstation makes a lot of noise. After roughly two seconds, however, the fans power down, and the Ultra 20 M2 makes less noise than my Dell Inspiron 6000 laptop. At no time during testing did the fans power up enough to make any significant noise, other during the initial boot. This is definitely one of the quietest workstations I have used.
The Ultra 20 M2 uses the NVIDIA Quadro FX series graphics cards, and my test unit shipped with the NVIDIA Quadro FX 1500 PCIe graphics card with 256MB of onboard memory. This mid-range graphics card offers decent performance.
On the test bench, all tests were conducted using the latest NVIDIA graphic drivers v126.96.36.199 (08/14/2006) under Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 installed. The Cadalyst C2006 benchmark was run using AutoCAD 2005 with Service Pack 1 installed. The Ultra 20 M2 generated a total index score of 171 using the wopengl8.hdi accelerated driver that ships with that version of AutoCAD.
For the MAXBench4 benchmark, I used the same drivers with Autodesk 3ds Max 8 with Service Pack 3 installed. I obtained an averaged high/low score of 73.83 with the base video drivers and a speedy 148.34 averaged high/low score with the NVIDIA MAXtreme 9.00.00 (10/31/2006) accelerated driver for 3ds Max. The final test was the ProE-04 viewset of SPEC ViewPerf 9, for which I obtained a weighted geometric mean of 29.48.
Figure 1. Sun Microsystems' Ultra 20 M2 supports Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS v3 or v4, SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 and Solaris 10. Users who want to run Windows will need to install their own copies.
Sun configured this workstation for me with both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows XP. However, the workstation can't be purchased from SUN with any flavor of Windows. The Ultra 20 M2 supports Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS v3 or v4, SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9, Solaris 10, SuSE Enterprise Desktop 10 and Windows XP Professional and XP x64 Edition. If you're working in a Windows environment, you will have to purchase a copy of Windows and install it yourself. During my three to four months of testing using the Ultra 20 M2 with both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows XP, I experienced no problems.
As configured, the Ultra 20 M2 is $2,500 and includes a one-year, hardware-only warranty with next-business-day service. Extended warranty and service plans are available. Sun is now offering a Try and Buy program that allows users to try Sun workstations at their locations for 60 days before purchasing. For more information about this program, visit http://www.sun.com/tryandbuy/.
Patrick Davis is a BIM manager for HNTB in Kansas City, Missouri. He is a Cadalyst contributing editor and also serves on the board of the Kansas City Revit Users Group.