Sun Java W2100z
Issue: Volume: 28 Issue: 1 (Jan 2005)

Sun Java W2100z

Sun Microsystems invented the desktop graphics workstation, and built its first fortune in the 1980s with Unix-based graphics workstations. Its latest release, the Sun Java Workstation W2100z, takes advantage of AMD’s 64-bit Opteron processors and superior graphics from Nvidia to produce a capable system with strong software support.

The workstation itself is housed in an attractive midsize tower case with plenty of ventilation. The front offers two bays for CD or DVD drives, as well as a panel with audio, USB, and FireWire ports. On the back of the case are standard serial and parallel connectors, along with those for USB, FireWire, and Gigabit Ethernet. Interest-ingly, this workstation doesn’t offer PS2 connectors for the keyboard or mouse- everything is connected via USB.

The new Sun Java Workstation W2100z is well suited to applications involving large amounts of data.

The W2100z might win the award for the largest number of operating systems supported. The review unit came configured with four operating systems-Sun’s Solaris, two versions of Linux, and Windows XP. It’s nice to know that Sun offers such a wide array of software options.

The case pops open by removing the side with two thumbscrews. The internal components are nicely arranged, and nearly everything can be serviced without tools. The case supports two internal hard drives even though it looks as if there are five slots. I’m assuming the extra slots are kept open because of heat considerations, but it does not allow enough drives for a true RAID. (Sun reports that it now supports four 146GB hard drives.) Hard drives can be connected to the motherboard as SCSI only, limiting the system to more expensive drives unless a SATA or IDE card is added. The review unit came configured with a fast 10,000 RPM 73GB Ultra320 SCSI drive.

The motherboard is unique in that it can be upgraded using Sun components. The motherboard in the review system held dual 2.4GHz Opteron processors. AMD’s 64-bit Opteron processors can address much more memory than 32-bit processors. This machine came with 4GB of PC3200 RAM, although it can accommodate up to 16GB, which should be more than enough for any current application.

The motherboard sports a robust PCI implementation, containing five separate PCI-X slots on four independent PCI buses. This feature infuses the machine with a large amount of bandwidth. It also makes it ideal for use as a server and applications such as high-end editing and any other task that involves moving considerable data. I definitely can see the W2100z configured as a media server with an extra Gigabit Ethernet card and an external RAID array.

An AGP 8X slot containing a high-end Nvidia Quadro FX3000 board handles the graphics chores. I was hoping to see PCI Express in this workstation, but the technology is still fairly new. Sun has promised that its next-generation workstations will support this critical new graphics technology.

The W2100z boots fairly quickly. During the process, the system fan went into overdrive for 30 seconds, sounding like a jet engine. I’m sure it was just a system test. Once up and running, the system was quiet.

For consistency with my other evaluations, performance testing took place on the Windows platform. (Although the system booted by default to the Windows OS, Sun reports that it does not support Windows at this time. It is WHQL certified.) The numbers came in as expected for a dual-Opteron system. The CPU integer speed was slightly faster than expected at 22021 MIPS, with floating point at 9863 MFLOPS. Opteron-based offerings are well known for exceptional memory bandwidth, and this one was no exception, with a blazing speed of 11076MB/sec. The SCSI drive turned in a respectable 59MB/sec.

Graphics performance was fairly fast, thanks to the high-end Nvidia card. View-perf 8.01 tests came in at 23.29 for 3ds max, 27.55 for Maya, and 26.29 for Pro/E. These numbers are very good, but slightly below the top speeds for some of the newer PCI Express cards. Although the differences between AGP and PCI Express cards are negligible now, that gap will widen as next-generation PCI Express cards begin to utilize the full power of the new interface.

Of course, a machine is nothing unless it can run applications. I loaded 3ds max 7 and animated a few scenes with no compatibility problems. I also ran Mental Ray renders, and the speeds were quite fast.

Overall, I really like the W2100z. It’s more expensive than other systems, but Sun offers volume discounting. Graphics performance was great, while maintaining the fast band width of a server. This machine would be great for applications that require moving a lot of data, graphic or otherwise.

George Maestri is president of Rubberbug, a Los Angeles-based animation studio specializing in character animation.

Sun Microsystems
Price: $8695 (as configured)
Minimum System Requirements: Not applicable