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Review: High End Workstation Chipsets

by Ryszard Sommefeldt on 10 July 2003, 00:00

Tags: Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), SuperMicro (NASDAQ:SMCI), Broadcom (NASDAQ:BRCM), ServerWorks

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The hardware that Hexus tends to look at generally falls under one category, home and enthusiast. That means to say, your usual consumer motherboards based on consumer oriented chipsets, consumer oriented processors and the latest AGP based graphics cards are all par for the course here. But now and again we get to poke our heads outside of the consumer and enthusiasts barrel and take a look at the other things the computing world has to offer. So I thought I'd take a look at something a little outside the Hexus box.

In the high end workstation space AMD used to give Intel a good fight and they tended to be the pair of companies you'd see offering base hardware for the sector. AMD with their 760MP and then 760MPX dual processor Athlon chipsets and boards from their regular partners based on that core logic. Intel with i850 and i860 RDRAM based Pentium 4 chipsets with dual processors taken care of by i860 and the Xeon P4 derivative.

But times change and AMD have since dropped away from the limelight in the high end workstation sector. They have an upcoming new platform for this sector later in the year with Opteron and Athlon64 and their own chipsets, along with core logic from the usual suspects like VIA and NVIDIA for companies to build products around. I type this that first wave of hardware is in the hands of large integrators and specialist outfits before general workstation release some time this year. I'll cover the current Opteron state of play later on in the article since it isn't truly workstation enabled without AGP.

So if you are looking to put together a top of the line workstation for digital video editing, graphics work, high end software development or any such similar pursuit, who do you turn to just now?

In the time since i860 and 760MPX fought it out, there's been a quite complete shift towards dual channel DDR chipsets, both in the regular desktop arena and all the way up here in the high end clouds. Intel put their flag in the ground with E7505 (Placer), a dual channel DDR, dual P4 Xeon based solution with AGP8X. And their seemingly sole competitor until AMD pull their AGP equipped 64-bit finger out is ServerWorks. You may not have heard much about ServerWorks unless, you guessed it, your area of interest is servers. But that's not to say they don't know how to put together a similar platform for the workstation crowd, so in to the breach steps the grandest of chipsets, GrandChampion WS, a similar chipset to E7505.

I've deliberately bypassed E7205, otherwise known as Granite Bay, to concentrate on E7505 for a couple of reasons. Firstly we've had a look at Granite Bay already at Hexus and I wanted to look at something new. Plus E7205 is single processor P4 only. To compete with GrandChampion WS in the eyes of the SMP crowd, one CPU doesn't cut it and no, HyperThreading doesn't really count. We want two discrete processor packages for the purposes of this article.

So E7505 vs Grand Champion WS it is with a sniff of Opteron later. Let's take a look at each of the two chipsets in turn.