Developers and engineers rely on workstations for a range of demanding activities, including engineering, graphic rendering, and application development. Not everyone wants or need SPARC processors. This where the Ultra 20 and its successor, Ultra 20 M2 fit in.
In a departure from its line of SPARC-based workstations, the Sun Ultra 20 M2 is a dual-core x86 workstation with a second-generation AMD Opteron chipset. The Channel Test Center received a Sun Ultra M2 tower with dual-core AMD-1218 processor at 2.6 GHertz, 2 Gbytes of memory, and 1 Tbyte of storage consisting of two 500 Gbyte SATA hard drives. The unit also came with a Nvidia Quadro FX 560 graphics accelerator as well as on-board ATI ES1000 graphics controller. The Nvidia card's presence automatically disabled the on-board graphics controller.
Sun offers a choice of three professional 3D graphics cards in the Ultra 20 M2: the Quadro FX 560, Quadro FX 1500, and Quadro FX 3500. The low-end card in the machine sent to the Test Center is more than enough for most applications.
The base system is reasonably priced, beginning at $895. The mid-level configuration Channel Test Center received is priced at about $2,528. Regardless of the configuration, the box comes pre-installed with Sun's Solaris 10 operating system and a full suite of application development tools including Sun Studio, Java Studio Creator, Java Studio Enterprise, and NetBeans. This may not be a selling point to non-Java developers, however.
While the system is shipped with Solaris 10, it can run Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, and Microsoft XP Professional (both 64-bit and 32-bit). Engineers encountered no difficulties installing Debian or Ubuntu. Test Center engineers at one point turned the system into a triple boot system, installing Solaris 10, Windows XP Professional, and Ubuntu Linux, without any difficulty. VMware can also run under Linux or on Windows to potentially expand the number of installed operating systems on a single box.
Customers not yet ready to move their shops entirely to 64-bit operating systems and applications can take heart. The Ultra 20 M2 supports existing 32-bit operating systems and applications alongside next-generation 64-bit operating systems and applications on a single architecture. Development teams will appreciate that multiple development and test environments can co-exist peacefully in a single box.
Physically, the box is pleasing to the eye. A full size tower case, it's straight lines and minimalist. The front panel has a DVD Dual drive, the power button, a headphone jack, as well as USB and Firewire ports. The Dual gigabit Ethernet is integrated with the motherboard and there are two RJ-45 ports for networking on the rear panel.
Inside is spacious, with plenty of room for additional components. There are also a number of fans, which sounds pretty loud when the machine is initially powered on. However, the noise was not very noticeable under regular usage. The initial fan noise seemed troublesome in an open-office environment, but after an hour or so, it became indistinguishable from other noises in the room. The fans kick in for big processing jobs but they quiet again once the job is completed.
The system is flexible about upgrades and expansions. With four DIMM slots for memory, the system can be upgraded up to 8 Gytes of RAM. With six expansion slots - three PCI Express slots at varying bandwidths (x16, x8, and x1) and three 32-bit PCI slots " there is more than enough room to add components. For external devices, there are six USB 2.0 ports and 2 IEEE 1394a Firewire ports. The system can support a maximum of 1 Tbyte in hard drive capacity. The system supports both RAID 0 and RAID 1 configurations, as well.
In a market that has been dominated by Intel-based workstations, this AMD offering is a welcome choice. The Ultra 20M2 is a great workstation for technical experts and developers. While Solaris is the default operating system on this box, users have a choice. Sun offers full Windows support and Linux runs great run on the architecture. As a developer or engineering workstation, it's an attractive offering: The price is right, and it comes with full support.