Old hardware and Linux

Faster with SSD

A significant increase in speed was expected after replacing the SATA II hard disk with an SSD, because additional performance potential was certainly available. The SATA II bus supports maximum physical transfer rates of about 250MBps (the EIDE interface in the HP Compaq NC6220 reached a maximum of 100MBps). The access times of an SSD when retrieving and storing data are significantly shorter than with conventional disks, as well.

If you plan to run very memory intensive applications such as image processing or even large databases, you can upgrade the disk, but bear in mind that the Core 2 chipsets in notebooks only support RAM expansion to a maximum of 8GB.

HP Z600 Workstation

The 2010 HP Z600 [10] professional workstation by Hewlett-Packard is a real powerhouse. With an exterior designed by BMW Designworks, the tower weighs approximately 19kg and is equipped with two Intel Xeon processors [11]. The 16GB of RAM in a triple-channel configuration means only one third of the maximum capacity is available. The two Nehalem generation Xeon processors each have four physical and four logical cores onboard.

A 240GB SSD by British manufacturer Integral was used as mass storage in the test device, but the workstation has additional slots for hard disks or SSDs. In addition to SATA, disks can use a SAS interface, and you can run the Z600 with hardware RAID configurations.

The workstation can be further upgraded with even more powerful Hexacore processors, each with six physical and six logical cores, and with PCIe SSDs, which accelerate the system enormously and provide more storage capacity, especially for write-heavy applications. Depending on the equipment, this setup would cost between $150 and $800.

Also note that systems in the HP Z series were designed for use 24/7; therefore, they do not use conventional RAM devices, but RAM based on the DDR3 standard with error-correcting code (ECC) memory. Because most workstations of the Z600 series also have a powerful dedicated graphics card, generally designed for two- or three-monitor operation, the machines are suitable for graphically demanding applications such as CAD.

Because some graphics adapters only have DMS-59 output [12], operating a monitor requires an adapter cable with two monitor connections. Such cables are available with VGA, DVI-I, display port, or HDMI connections.

Very Fast

Unsurprisingly, the Z600 Workstation demonstrates its brute speed during the Q4OS installation routine, which prompted the installation of a heavyweight desktop environment such as Plasma 5 and Gnome. After installation, the usual performance specifications were checked.

As expected, the Z600 boot process was far faster than for the previous test candidates: After the install, the system was ready for use in just 12 seconds. The heavyweight desktops, especially, showed almost no latency after logging in compared with the two lightweights Trinity and Mate.

This time, the WiFi connection came courtesy of a PCI card, which took several seconds to establish a connection, and slowed down the system at the start. Latencies caused by the preload service or SSD mounting no longer occurred with the Z600.

Surprisingly, the resource check revealed that the supposedly massive KDE Plasma 5 desktop used less memory than Mate or Trinity: Plasma 5 managed with around 380 to 430MB, and the desktop environments usually considered leaner required between 600 and 630MB of RAM (Figure 6).

Figure 6: The KDE Plasma 5 desktop on the Z600 is surprisingly frugal.

The Z600 also shined during video transcoding by playing to the strengths of the two Xeon CPUs. The process utilized 75 to 88 percent of the cores on average and, for individual cores, at times slightly more than 90 percent. The Z600 thus completed the DVD video transcoding in a few minutes. The frame rate rose to well over 300 frames per second at times (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Even the most demanding tasks did not push the Z600 to its limits.

The eight-year-old professional workstation is still in the upper performance segment and, in some respects, can compete with current computers with four- and eight-core processors. In view of the otherwise good equipment, the Z600 proves to be a genuine alternative for admins looking for inexpensive but powerful used equipment.

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