Windows makes a mark in server ranking

A $4.6 million NEC server using Windows grabs high marks in a performance ranking traditionally dominated by machines running Unix.

Stephen Shankland
Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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3 min read
A $4.6 million NEC server using Microsoft Windows has grabbed high marks in a closely watched performance ranking traditionally dominated by machines running the Unix operating system.

The fifth-place ranking on the Transaction Performance Council's TPC-C speed test is an important step in Microsoft's years-long struggle to have its software used not only on PCs and low-end networked "server" computers, but also on high-end machines. Such servers often handle vital corporate computing tasks, such as tracking inventory or managing bank accounts.

Expensive, high-end servers typically come with higher profit margins and often include sales of services and software. But these servers, sold by companies such as Sun Microsystems, IBM and Hewlett-Packard, usually run the Unix operating system, not Windows.

NEC dented that Unix dominance with its $4.6 million TX7/i9510 system using 32 of Intel's new Itanium 2 processors. While the price tag might sound steep, it's a bargain compared with the top-ranked Fujitsu PrimePower 2000 server. This gargantuan Unix server comes with 128 processors and a $12 million price tag--and a 50 percent better score than the NEC machine.

The NEC system is available running Linux or HP-UX, HP's version of Unix. The version running Windows .Net Server 2003 Datacenter Edition will be available by Dec. 31, NEC said.

NEC demonstrated the 32-processor server Monday at the Intel Developer Forum in San Jose, Calif., but using a system powered by the next-generation "Madison" processors Intel plans to release in 2003. The Madison models are similar to their Itanium 2 "McKinley" predecessors, but will run at a higher clock speed and incorporate more high-speed "cache" memory for better overall performance.

The similarity of Itanium 2, Madison and their successor code-named "Montecito" means that servers can be upgraded with the new processors for higher performance. Unisys demonstrated just that at the Intel show.

The TPC-C test gauges server performance by simulating numerous people placing orders and performing other inventory transactions that take place on a database server.

Though Microsoft has done well on "clustered" TPC-C tests that spread a database across several servers, that configuration is rarely used in the real world, and the "non-clustered" result is more closely monitored. In this category, Unix servers have long dominated.

The NEC system posted a TPC-C score of 309,000.

The result nearly doubles the previous top score for a non-clustered Windows server, a Unisys ES7000 server with 32 Intel Xeon processors. The Unisys server scored 165,000. Third place among Windows servers went to IBM, an x440 with eight Intel Xeon processors. It scored 92,000.

Though Intel and Microsoft have been climbing up in the rankings, the Unix server sellers aren't standing still. HP posted the second-highest score, 423,000, in August, using its 64-processor Superdome Unix server. It's the highest score using database software.

Sun has declined to participate in the TPC-C benchmark battle, calling the speed measurement obsolete and encouraging would-be customers to try its actual software instead looking at a generic benchmark. Analysts say Sun may be simply reluctant to spend the millions of dollars necessary to participate, especially if the company can't guarantee a good score.