Issue: Volume: 24 Issue: 7 (July 2001)

IntelliStation M Pro




By Joe Greco

Last November, Intel introduced its latest Pentium, the P4. Entering the market at 1.5ghz, it was at least 30 percent faster than the top Pentium III available at that time. One of the companies announcing P4-based systems back then was IBM, which has had a long history of working closely with Intel. So it stands to reason that when Intel pushed out a 1.7ghz P4 in April of 2001, IBM was ready with a workstation that was based on this faster processor, the IntelliStation M Pro, model 6849 34U.

Crammed inside the review unit's black metal skin were 512mb of RAMBUS memory and an 18.2gb Cheetah4 hard disk spinning at 10,000 rpm. All four memory slots were used in this configuration, meaning either two or four memory chips would have had to be removed if an upgrade was desired. However, according to IBM, having all four slots full yields a bit more speed as opposed to reaching 512mb via two 256mb chips and leaving two slots empty. In any case, the maximum amount of memory is 2gb.

The review system's graphics were controlled by a Diamond Fire GL2 card with 64mb of memory, which was connected to the AGP 4X slot. There were also five PCI slots, one of which held a SCSI controller card that theoretically allowed a total of six internal devices to be connected. However, there was only physical space inside for one additional 5.25-inch device and two more 3.5-inch disks. There was plenty of room underneath the drive bays, but it was taken up by plastic supports needed to secure extra-long cards. There were also two IDE connectors, one occupied by the 48x speed CD-ROM. ATA hard disks will work on the IDE if both drive and cable are compatible.
The IntelliStation M Pro 6849 comes with a flat-panel display.




Three fans move air efficiently through the M Pro. However, the airflow system isn't as sophisticated as those found in the machines of competitors such as Hewlett Packard. The fans make the computer fairly noisy, albeit somewhat quieter than other IBM systems that I have tested in the past, (such as the Z Pro series).

The M Pro's chipset, which man ages traffic between the I/O system, drives, memory, graphics, and the processor, is the new Intel 850, which features a system bus at 400mhz. This is three times the speed of the 133mhz bus featured in most Pentium III systems. The new chipset also allows AGP 4X graphics controllers to access main memory at a rate twice that of previous AGP boards.

The most important element inside the unit, however, is the Pentium 4 processor. This chip promises to be great for 3D and other graphics users, not only because of its tremendous speed, but because of new functionality that makes streaming information from the Internet faster. This is due to 144 new instructions, primarily incorporated to accelerate both video and the encryption/decryption of data.

Compared to older IntelliStation M Pro models, this P4 unit has a slicker, re designed front face and is also less bulky-one and a half inches narrower and shorter, though a bit deeper. The CD is accessed through a cutout in a front door, which opens to reveal the floppy drive. If a second removable 5.25-inch drive, such a DVD player, is in stalled, it would al so be located be hind this removal door.
IBM's IntelliStation M Pro with the new P4 processor easily beat a dual-CPU Pentium III system as well as a 933MHz Pentium III-based computer in all six viewperf tests. (Note, however, that the viewperf 6.1.2 benchmark tests are not yet optimized to m




The outside of the computer has all the standard ports, including a SCSI III, for running fast external devices. Thanks to the enhanced 850 chipset, the two USB ports have double the bandwidth of current PIII systems, while the audio is capable of producing full surround sound. There is also a 10/100-baseT Ethernet port, two serial ports, one parallel port, and both mouse and keyboard connectors.

To test the unit, I ran the standard SPEC viewperf 6.1.2 benchmark developed by the Standard Performance Evaluation Corp's Graphics Performance Characterization Group (SPEC/GPC) and available at www.spec.org/gpc. As seen in "SPECviewperf 6.1.2 Test Results" above and in "formZ Test Results" on pg. 70, the P4 system reviewed was usually about two times faster than the other two systems I compared it to-a near top-of-the-line PIII system running at 933mhz and a machine with dual 1ghz PIII processors. Each computer was running Windows 2000 Professional with a similar speed hard disk, but these two Pentium III machines had a graphics card (the Elsa Gloria II) that was about 30 percent slower, while the single processor machine had only 256mb of memory.

In addition, I ran a few custom tests using autodessys's formZ, a dual-processor a ware, general 3D modeling program similar to Discreet's 3D Studio Viz. I ran two tests, one that taxed only the CPU and another that also worked the graphics system. The CPU-only test showed that a dual PIII-based system beat one P4 by almost 50 percent, while the P4 was only about 13 percent faster than the single processor Pentium III. Autodessys pointed to the fact that Windows has not yet been fully optimized for the P4, as is the case with most 3D applications to date.

On the other hand, the formZ test that worked both the CPU and graphics yielded numbers much in favor of the P4 system. Part of this was due to the faster graphics card inside. However, the enhanced chipset probably also contributed.
In a custom CPU test using autodessys's formZ program, two PIII processors proved faster than one P4, although the improved system bus in the P4, as well as the Diamond Fire GL card in the P4 review unit, helped earn the machine some much faster score




I also connected to www.cnn.com and joined a live press conference in order to test some of the streaming capabilities of the new P4. I didn't notice any improvement in quality, and the video feed, on average, took only a few seconds less to start running. I did notice that the audio seemed to skip less often and that connections to other Web sites that had streaming audio were more stable.

With an included 17-inch flat panel display and a three-year parts-and-labor warranty featuring a four-hour, around-the-clock response time, this IntelliStation is an excellent value at $3874. However, those users looking to take full advantage of the P4 processor's new options may want to wait a little while until applications designed to take full advantage of the P4 are released.




Joe Greco is a freelance writer specializing in freelance design. He can be reached at Joe3D@home.com.






Price as Reviewed: $3874
System configuration as Reviewed: 1.7GHz P4 processor; 18.2GB hard disk; 512MB of RAMBUS memory; Diamond Fire GL2 card with 64MB of memory; 48x CD-ROM drive; flat-panel monitor
IBM
www.ibm.com
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