Thinking of grabbing a POWER server

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Thinking of grabbing a POWER server

Unread postby Raion-Fox » Mon Jul 21, 2014 8:17 pm

So my Core2Duo FreeBSD box burned itself up this morning ( I have horrible luck with x86 hardware )

I posted a thread on a developer site requesting suggestions of alternatives to the x86 garbage running rampant.

After wading through accusations of computer abuse, x86 and Windows fanboyism and generally unhelpful responses, I got one possible solution: An IBM POWER server with a video card thrown in.

Which brings me to the question I will ask here - can someone tell me if this is viable? If so, what models should I look for secondhand? I'm not going for any old Apple hardware, since I just got away from that for good. I'd rather not go POWER out of all RISCS but between it, ARM and Loongson, it seems pretty clear who's the best here.
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Re: Thinking of grabbing a POWER server

Unread postby tingo » Tue Jul 22, 2014 5:47 am

IBM POWER support in FreeBSD is at best tier-2 platform: http://www.freebsd.org/platforms/ppc.html
Expect a bit / a lot of work to get it working.
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Re: Thinking of grabbing a POWER server

Unread postby jimmer » Tue Jul 22, 2014 6:07 am

Erhmmm... you're thinking of grabbing a POWER box to explicitly run FreeBSD... or do you just need a box to run some service or to function as a daily driver workstation?

If to run FreeBSD... perhaps a recent-ish SPARC box? On the other hand, you could just also admit that desktop hardware is x86. Over. Out. Done. Dusted. Buy yourself some new x86 junk, restore your backups and immediately start putting pennies into the when-shit-happens-again fund.

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Re: Thinking of grabbing a POWER server

Unread postby Adrenaline » Tue Jul 22, 2014 6:12 am

jimmer wrote:Erhmmm... you're thinking of grabbing a POWER box to explicitly run FreeBSD... or do you just need a box to run some service or to function as a daily driver workstation?

If to run FreeBSD... perhaps a recent-ish SPARC box? On the other hand, you could just also admit that desktop hardware is x86. Over. Out. Done. Dusted. Buy yourself some new x86 junk, restore your backups and immediately start putting pennies into the when-shit-happens-again fund.


I agree, while x86 is far from perfect, it does (like everything) fulfill a purpose.
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Re: Thinking of grabbing a POWER server

Unread postby Raion-Fox » Tue Jul 22, 2014 6:30 am

Not necessarily to run FreeBSD, another BSD is also totally acceptable here. I hadn't really thought of SPARC though... does anyone here have firsthand experience with a box that would be usable as a daily driver? I used FreeBSD on a PowerMac G5, which I ditched due to lack of upgradeability, heat output and just the fact that I despise Apple. And my SPARC experience is minimal at best, but my Ultra 5 was a huge disappointment in the performance department so hence why its not listed in my lineup anymore.

I'm done with x86 hardware dying and costing me $300, $400+ to replace. This box lasted a scant three weeks of being on 24/7, that is just pitiful. I'm not willing to continue to play Intel and AMD's games of planned obsolescence either.
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Re: Thinking of grabbing a POWER server

Unread postby ClassicHasClass » Tue Jul 22, 2014 6:50 am

I sympathize greatly, and I know the desire to run a RISC workstation, but I would strongly recommend against this. First, POWER:

- IBM boxes run two things well: AIX and Linux (and then really only RHEL, though CRUX PPC should be okay). The *BSDs on ofppc have issues and don't support all the hardware. AIX has not been a good workstation OS since 5L, and not arguably even then. And then you still have to deal with endian problems in the huge body of Linux software written as if only one architecture exists, though this is coming to an end with ppc64le and POWER8.
- IBM POWER hardware runs hot and heavy. This 2-way 4.2GHz POWER6, throttled down, still draws around 300W and it will heat a room just as well as the G5. In fact, it's worse than the G5, because there's no liquid cooling, and even with the baffle on a deskside unit it's loud. The newest POWER7 machines are better, but good luck trying to find one at a reasonable price from a reseller, and you can forget buying from IBM directly. My POWER6, which is 2008-era, would still sell for several thousand in 2014 (I bought it for $10K in 2010). When it blew its system backplane, it was $1700 to fix and a whole lot of cussing at IBM's CUoD hardware lockout (see my thread on why IBM sucks).

It's a fast number cruncher and I love AIX jackboots, which is why I have it. But it would be horrible as a workstation.

I don't know much about modern SPARC hardware, but I can't imagine the situation with SPARC boxes and Solaris is substantially different.

As much as it pains me to say it, the last great, useable, powerful RISC workstation was the quad G5. :( And then, only in OS X. I really wish there were a better option too.
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Re: Thinking of grabbing a POWER server

Unread postby jimmer » Tue Jul 22, 2014 6:53 am

TeamBlackFox wrote:I hadn't really thought of SPARC though... does anyone here have firsthand experience with a box that would be usable as a daily driver? [...] but my Ultra 5 was a huge disappointment in the performance department so hence why its not listed in my lineup anymore.


I dont have experience with recent SPARC hardware but 25 years ago I lurved my old SPARC stuff: SS2, SS20, IPX. My experience aside, it's clear that your RISC options are limited to SPARC, POWER or PA-RISC. You asked for something else than POWER, I gave you SPARC :)

TeamBlackFox wrote:I'm done with x86 hardware dying and costing me $300, $400+ to replace. This box lasted a scant three weeks of being on 24/7, that is just pitiful. I'm not willing to continue to play Intel and AMD's games of planned obsolescence either.


Interesting, my experience have been quite the opposite. My AMD Athlon II X4 620 cpu with stock cooler on an ASUS 760G-based motherboard in a no-name pee-cee case 24/7 has been running trouble-free for almost 5 years. I bought it because it was the first sub-100-units-of-money-quad-core CPU, and I figured that four cores at 2.6GHz would last me at least 5 years. They have and to be honest for my needs it's still fine.

Nonetheless, I've been eyeing the Dell XPS 1810/1820 or considering having a go at casemodding a fanboi 'modern' SGI Workstation. But I digress.
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Re: Thinking of grabbing a POWER server

Unread postby Trippynet » Tue Jul 22, 2014 7:20 am

TeamBlackFox wrote:I'm done with x86 hardware dying and costing me $300, $400+ to replace. This box lasted a scant three weeks of being on 24/7, that is just pitiful. I'm not willing to continue to play Intel and AMD's games of planned obsolescence either.


Bear in mind that this is more down to bad luck and the quality of individual components than anything else. There's a huge gulf of reliability between the good and bad bits. We have dozens of servers where I work that are x86 and have been running for 6+ years 24/7 without a single hiccup. A lot of it depends on the level of kit you buy. Get a half-decent PSU, motherboard and RAM and you should have many years of reliable service. Buy a crap board or a cheapo PSU and you're far more likely to have issues.

Basically, it's the individual components themselves, not the architecture itself which is the problem.

By the way, another option is a PowerPC based Mac of course if you're wanting to avoid the x86 world of things - assuming you're not requiring new kit of course!
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Re: Thinking of grabbing a POWER server

Unread postby Raion-Fox » Tue Jul 22, 2014 7:37 am

Not getting a PowerPC Mac. As I sold the last of my Apple kit to ClassicHasClass I'm sworn off Apple indefinitely. I need something newer than that, that runs cooler, and is of better quality.

I always have my SparcStation 20, but hell if I'm running that for my main workstation - Mima is faster than that slug.

Classic, I do see your point. I'll have to look at SPARC or ARM gear then, and if I can't find anything there, I guess fuck it, I won't have a modern workstation and I'll stick to SGIs.

Keep in mind folks I do work for Dell, and I have to help maintain about 40k servers in a data center outside of DC. I replace more CPUs and motherboards next to hard disk drives than any other parts. These are Xeon and Opteron servers so they're supposed to be the best of the best, but I'll tell you that the build quality isn't any better - it takes a 6-man crew, including myself, to barely keep the 99% uptime SLA we have with our customer and its all because Dell/Intel/AMD send us so much bum hardware its not even funny. Out of an order of 10 motherboards, we have roughly 1-2 in that batch that will not work. CPUs tend to not be DOA, but I swear we burn through CPUs as our third or fourth most common part to replace.
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Re: Thinking of grabbing a POWER server

Unread postby Kira » Tue Jul 22, 2014 10:48 am

TeamBlackFox wrote:Not getting a PowerPC Mac. As I sold the last of my Apple kit to ClassicHasClass I'm sworn off Apple indefinitely. I need something newer than that, that runs cooler, and is of better quality.

I always have my SparcStation 20, but hell if I'm running that for my main workstation - Mima is faster than that slug.

Classic, I do see your point. I'll have to look at SPARC or ARM gear then, and if I can't find anything there, I guess fuck it, I won't have a modern workstation and I'll stick to SGIs.

Keep in mind folks I do work for Dell, and I have to help maintain about 40k servers in a data center outside of DC. I replace more CPUs and motherboards next to hard disk drives than any other parts. These are Xeon and Opteron servers so they're supposed to be the best of the best, but I'll tell you that the build quality isn't any better - it takes a 6-man crew, including myself, to barely keep the 99% uptime SLA we have with our customer and its all because Dell/Intel/AMD send us so much bum hardware its not even funny. Out of an order of 10 motherboards, we have roughly 1-2 in that batch that will not work. CPUs tend to not be DOA, but I swear we burn through CPUs as our third or fourth most common part to replace.


Modern Oracle SPARC kit is expensive and underpowered (generally worse than midrange to high-end Xeons.) The situation with the pre-Niagara stuff was worse - the Ultra 45 (last of the SPARC workstations) was substantially worse on performance than the contemporary Opteron-based Sun Ultra 40.

Nvidia provides some degree of GPU drivers now for Linux/PPC if you ask nicely. It's likely for little-endian only, which means Ubuntu and SLES (for whatever reason, RHEL 7 is still big-endian.) Power7 machines are decent on power consumption and can be had (entry-level) for about US$2k for second-hand blades - assuming you have a chassis. Rack machines are, and will continue being, more expensive - often moreso than the chassis and blades combined. i don't understand why, but there it is.

For a desktop, x86 is likely still the best option available - it has a large existing base of software and driver support, and performance is excellent.

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Re: Thinking of grabbing a POWER server

Unread postby Raion-Fox » Tue Jul 22, 2014 10:50 am

Yeah Kira after my experiences with it I'll be getting a Sun Blade 2500. I'm less concerned with power and more concerned with reliability really. x86 is obsolete and poor quality at this point.
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Re: Thinking of grabbing a POWER server

Unread postby Kira » Tue Jul 22, 2014 10:55 am

TeamBlackFox wrote:x86 is obsolete


Based on what? Relative to what?

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Re: Thinking of grabbing a POWER server

Unread postby Raion-Fox » Tue Jul 22, 2014 11:17 am

Its been obsolete since the 386 - its dedication to backwards compatibility has held innovation in the software side of things back, and it is still designed around the same architecture which points to days where memory was expensive, and having everything done on the CPU was ideal. Look around today, its the only CISC architecture still actively developed, unless you somehow count Itanium, and that isn't nicknamed Itanic for anything other than its massive failure in the marketplace. ARM, MIPS and other RISC architectures have long overtaken the mobile market, and even today, if you compare the same class of Intel CPU to ARM and MIPS equivalents, the x86 produces about the same amount of output within a margin of 5%, but it consumes 30-40% more power and costs significantly more. Plus, x86-native architectures all seem to blow don't they?

DOS, WIndows and GNU/Linux were first designed on the x86 ISA, and they all share a common trait - they're horribly engineered masses of conflicting ideals held together with duct tape. Can't necessarily blame it on the CPU, but its funny to me nonetheless.

Anyways back to topic. I'm either going to find a RISC workstation to work with, or pretty soon the only modern workstation I'll be using is at work!
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Re: Thinking of grabbing a POWER server

Unread postby Kira » Tue Jul 22, 2014 11:38 am

Oh boy.

TeamBlackFox wrote:Its been obsolete since the 386 - its dedication to backwards compatibility has held innovation in the software side of things back, and it is still designed around the same architecture which points to days where memory was expensive, and having everything done on the CPU was ideal.
Like what features?

Look around today, its the only CISC architecture still actively developed, unless you somehow count Itanium, and that isn't nicknamed Itanic for anything other than its massive failure in the marketplace.


The various mainframe architectures will be surprised to hear this - as will the Renesas RX, the 8051, etc. Additionally, Itanium was (if anything) hyper-RISC - rigidly fixed-length, rigidly load-store, and in-order, with a lot of internal machine state exposed. The fact that you think it was CISC speaks volumes about your familiarity with the platform. And by the way, Itanium was outselling SPARC for quite a while. "Massive failure" indeed.

ARM, MIPS and other RISC architectures have long overtaken the mobile market, and even today, if you compare the same class of Intel CPU to ARM and MIPS equivalents, the x86 produces about the same amount of output within a margin of 5%, but it consumes 30-40% more power and costs significantly more.


ARM, MIPS, et al have absorbed their share of CISC-isms and are no longer RISC in the original sense of the word; for instance, both ARM and MIPS have variable-length extensions (Thumb/Thumb2 and MIPS16 respectively.) x86 being less efficient is essentially a myth at this point - see this for an example of in-depth analysis with a proper test bench.

Plus, x86-native architectures all seem to blow don't they?


And yet 2.8GHz, 15-core Xeon outperforms[1][2] a 16-core 3.7GHz SPARC64 - quite likely at substantially lower power, given that SPARC64 chips have historically been hanging out up around 200W. Funny, that.

Now let's talk about obsolescence. Oracle SPARC has no SIMD past VIS (64-bit SIMD - MMX-class.) It has an encoding that limits it to 32 GPRs without extremely nasty tricks like those introduced by Fujitsu in HPC-ACE. It has register windows, which significantly increase the complexity of modern register rename in out-of-order designs. And you're calling x86 obsolete?

The moral of the story here is that ISA is basically irrelevant unless it exposes interesting microarchitectural functionality - like explicit support for multithreading, speculation, or instruction parallelism. ISA is like what style of columns you put on the porch of your house - it may influence the way the house is built, but ultimately it's not what makes the house solid or not.

[1] http://spec.org/cpu2006/results/res2014 ... 29190.html vs http://spec.org/cpu2006/results/res2014 ... 28687.html
[2] http://www.tpc.org/tpch/results/tpch_re ... =114041601 vs http://www.tpc.org/tpch/results/tpch_re ... =114020603

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Re: Thinking of grabbing a POWER server

Unread postby Raion-Fox » Tue Jul 22, 2014 12:53 pm

You went over my head there to be honest - I stay out of low level talk because I honestly was never formally educated in it.

You're correct on most of your points - I see that I should have qualified my statements to narrow my scope:

x86_64 is the only CISC architecture in use and actively developed within the realm of the consumer market that I can actually reach with my relatively modest income. 68k has been halted since the mid 1990s, VAX is no longer developed etc.

I'm not even going for SPARC specifically either, but I do want to make the point that I've have had a total of 8 x86 based computers, and all but two failed within a year. One of them that survived was a Pentium 4, and while it survived, it struggled with everything I threw at it moreorless. The other was a MacBook Pro Retina, which kept kernel panicking and because BSD didn't run stable on it, I sold it off for $1000, less than 2 years into ownership. All other machines I owned under the x86 ISA failed within 6 months of continued, 24/7 usage in one way or another, including one in a rack fire that also consumed two XServe G4s I had in the cage and *nearly* consumed some hardware I had rented.

After this desktop I had melted itself and warped the motherboard, I'm fucking done. Never had a SINGLE failure from a RISC based device of any kind. Thats why I started this thread, to see if a POWER server was viable. Then I was looking at the late model Sun Ultras and the Sun Blades, but now I'm just considering screwing it all and staying within the scope of retro RISC and 68k computers.
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