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Mac vs. PC VI: Boxx 7400 Dual Opteron 275 Workstation

Who's your daddy, Mac G5? Dual core, dual processor Opteron, that's who By Charlie White

Mac vs. PC, part 6(6/13/05) Boxx Technologies is now shipping its first dual processor, dual-core AMD Opteron workstation, the Boxx 7400 ($5669 as tested). Its equipped with two Opteron model 275 processors, each using AMDs newest dual core technology and running at 2.21 gigahertz. Since we now have the newest PC and Mac machines in the same place at the same time?both so fresh that they still have that new-car smell?we decided to pit them against each other in the sixth edition of our ongoing series, Mac vs. PC. If youre one of the Mac faithful, the results might surprise you.

Even though we will compare the performance of this dual core Opteron box against that of the fastest Mac, the Power Mac G5 dual 2.75 processor machine, this article is primarily a review of Boxxs new workstation and the difference between its performance and the Macs. If youd like to see a detailed assessment of the fastest Mac G5 workstation that we reviewed just two weeks ago, take a look at this article first. It was a positively glowing review, and it was my opinion that it would be difficult for any manufacturer to beat the high-quality industrial design of its hardware and the friendly usability of the Mac OS X operating system within. But were not going to be concentrating on operating systems or software applications in this article. Were going to be talking about raw speed. Were going to compare these machines in the context of what would be needed most by a content creator who has clients breathing down his neck, waiting for layered composites and 3-D graphics to render. We used the most processor-intensive application for content creators available in both Mac and PC versions, Adobe After Effects 6.5.1. In addition to our eight real world After Effects benchmarks which test every aspect of its capabilities, we also ran CineBench 2003, which has been optimized separately for the Mac G5, Windows XP 32-bit, and Windows XP x64 edition.

Before we get started, Id also like to remind some readers who in the past have had objections to using After Effects on the Mac as a benchmarking tool that Apple itself, on its own Web site, declared After Effects optimized for both OS X and Windows XP when it cited benchmarks using a comp called Nightflight, a narrowly-hewn rendering routine that tests just one specific aspect of the system, one that?no big surprise here?favors the Macs rendering characteristics. Given Apples implication that the Mac G5 2.7GHz machine is faster than the fastest PC using Nightflight, we obtained a copy of that benchmark and tested the veracity of that as well. Sure, that claim might have been true when Apple tested the dual Intel Xeon 3.6 machine, using a processor that was released nearly a year ago, but thats not the fastest PC chip any more, as you will see. In fact, youll finally get to see the up-to-date, whole truth here in this report.


First, lets take a look at the Boxx 7400. Although its form factor is pleasant enough, its boxy-looking (pun intended) and doesnt have the same sleek lines of the Power Mac G5. Built of aluminum, the Boxx 7400 gives an impression of understated, unfettered power. I didnt much care for its flimsy door with its anachronistic thumbscrews, but even so, it was still easy to open. Once I got inside (see graphic below), I was impressed with its construction and components. Included is a workstation-class graphics card, the ATI FireGL V3100 as its bare minimum configuration. Then there are the numerous slots, including two PCI Express x16 slots (not available on the Mac), a PCI-X 133 MHz slot, two PCI-X 100 MHz slots and for old times sake, a PCI Legacy 32-bit 33 MHz slot. A big plus is the option to equip the six slots with all kinds of exotic graphics cards, up to a dual arrangement of two NVIDIA Quadro FX 4400G 512MB GDDR3 cards, for $3787 extra. And if you want to stoke it with RAM, itll hold 16GB of DDR-400 (versus a maximum of 8GB on a Mac G5). Thats power, and it gives this platform a variety of choices that simply arent available on a Mac. The lack of this freedom of choice and next-generation power is probably why Apple sidesteps calling any of its products ?workstations.

Boxx 7400 interior shot -- click for enlargement
(Click graphic for enlargement) Take a look inside the Boxx 7400 and you'll see an orderly arrangement with plenty of slots and first-rate components all around.

I like the way the Boxx 7400s hard drives are located in easy-to-reach cages on the right, and you have the option to populate that space with six drives. Theres also a choice of a 1.6TB Promise Serial ATA RAID 0 Array, consisting of four drives ($1551), still leaving you room to install two more of your choice. Plus, there are four SATA 3Gbps ports inside to add your own SATA array of disks. Overall, the storage I/O capabilities of this machine are second to none.

Leading another positive trend in PCs, which has long been standard on all Macs is the Boxx 7400s 1394 (FireWire) on the motherboard, giving you a 1394 port on the front and the back of the machine. Too bad theres no provision for FireWire 800, as there is on the Mac. But adding FireWire 800 is as easy as installing a $75 card into one of the many PCI slots available. Of course, there are six USB 2.0 ports, with two on the front and four in the back.  Then we see the heart and soul of this computer, the two dual core Opteron 275 processors. When I first looked inside at the two chips, each with a fan on top, I dreaded the cacophony of noise that would undoubtedly emanate from the two chip fans, as Ive experienced each time Ive encountered hot-running AMD processors in the past. But when I started up the machine, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Boxx has been diligently working on a concept that has been nearly perfected by its Texas neighbors, Dell? building a whisper-quiet workstation. And quiet it is, where even though it does make a tiny bit more noise than its Dell competitor, its still the quietest AMD-packing machine Ive ever encountered. Its not as quiet as a church mouse, but perhaps it could be compared to the sound of the late spring breeze outside if you left the window open while sleeping. Its a significant improvement for Boxx, and its noticeably more quiet than the Mac G5 even when the Mac box is running its variable-speed fan assembly at the lowest speed.

Boxx 7400 dual core dual Opteron workstation product shot

But lets not linger too long on appearance and features with this workstation, even though it excels in both of those areas. This Boxx boxs main claim to fame is raw speed. As the 7400 sprang to life, I noticed the technicians at Boxx had loaded both Windows XP Professional and Windows XP x64 edition for my testing pleasure. My first task was to install After Effects 6.5.1 into Windows XP Professional, along with the newest version of Maxon CineBench, CineBench 2003.  

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Related Keywords:Mac vs. PC, Boxx Technologies, dual processor, dual-core AMD Opteron, Boxx 7400, Opteron model 275 processors, dual core technology, Mac faithful, Charlie White, review, After Effects benchmarks

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