Feature: Armari RO-X64TE (Opteron 248 2.2GHz) versus Armari RX-E (Xeon 3.06GHz) versus Apple G5 Power Mac Dual-2GHz

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Armari RO-X64TE (Opteron 248 2.2GHz) versus Armari RX-E (Xeon 3.06GHz) versus Apple G5 Power Mac Dual-2GHz

High-end system builder Armari created a pair of dual-processor Windows PCs to take on Apple's dual-2GHz PowerMac. But which is the faster and can they beat the G5?

Apple and AMD have rightly been saying for years that processor speed is only one crude measure of a system's performance, but it's still not something that's understood, especially by computer buyers.
Design is more important, affecting how well a CPU works in conjunction with the RAM, graphics card, disk drives and various elements of the motherboard.
The operating system - its type and the way it's set up - also plays a big part in performance, as does the coding of programs. Mac and Windows versions of the same program will have different features and perform differently.
Armari's Win XP PC using AMD Opteron processors took first place in 10 out of the 19 tests. Most times, the Apple dual-CPU Mac trailed both Windows dual-processor PCs, sometimes by a considerable margin. Yet the winner and the tail-ender both use 64-bit processors run with 32-bit operating systems. So is Win XP 32-bit currently, if not inherently, faster than Mac OS X 10.3?
A major factor, though - certainly when comparing the two Windows boxes - looks to be memory bandwidth. The Opteron system can handle far more data per second than the Xeon. But using the raw figures quoted by the three chip makers (something that can lead to wrong-headed thinking), you'd presume that the Apple would be way out ahead. Claimed bandwidth of the G5's IBM CPU is 16GByte in total, 8GByte/sec per processor - way ahead of the Opteron's 12.8GByte/sec total (6.4GByte/sec per processor).
Hard disk speed may also be at play - or rather, the speed with which the G5 and Opteron machine can read from disks and write to them. Unlike Armari, Apple didn't fit a second hard disk, so we tried to create a more level playing field by adding a S-ATA drive - a Western Digital 250GByte, not the same Maxtor drive used in the Windows PCs. The WD is certainly no slouch - but may have had a slight effect. Nonetheless, some of our tests suggest that for sheer speed, a three-drive system would be best - one for system and programs, one to read from, and another to write to - making the Mac's limit of two internal drives and absence of built-in Raiding look even more of a disadvantage.
Of course, all this assumes that it's sensible to even ask whether it's best to buy a Mac or a Windows PC for video editing. Our view is that two alternative questions should be posed - what video editing software and hardware do you want to run, and which computer is likely to run it best within the chosen budget?
If the software is Apple's highly-rated Final Cut Pro 4 and DVD Studio Pro, then the debate about relative speeds is a nonsense, as it is if you can't afford a Mac as fast as the G5. And the same is true if the programs of choice are Windows-only - of which there is a far wider range, including options for real-time editing cards that may only run on specific motherboards/CPU combinations.
Yes, the dual-2GHz G5 PowerMac is the world's coolest PC and also, probably, the most desirable, which is why it deserves our Innovation award. But, it's far from being the fastest, even though it is hugely innovative. Fastest on test here is the Armari-built dual-Opteron - winner of Editor's Choice award - and we believe that AMD's 64-bit CPUs will extend their performance lead over their competitors when a 64-bit operating system, programs and drivers arrive this year. As for the dual-Xeon system, it's fast, and more affordable than the other two machines - so this gets the Value award.

Read the full review in April 2004's Computer Video magazine.


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