It was a huge surprise to everyone when IBM announced that they would be pouring obscene amounts of money — over $1 billion dollars — into Linux. Much to the dismay of their competitors, IBM has committed to making every one of their servers, PCs, and software products compatible with Linux. The rest of the industry is only now scrambling to catch up with what Big Blue has done, and many more companies are touting their own Linux development efforts and product compatibility.
The Intellistation represents the latest in IBM PC workstation technology. What impresses us most about this machine is not how innovative it is but how innovative it isn’t. The Intellistation is everything that you wouldn’t expect a classic IBM product to be — a totally hassle-free, non-proprietary, off-the-shelf generic PC that’s extremely well supported.
Yes, we’re talking about the very same company that introduced the PS/2, OS/2, Micro Channel Architecture (MCA), The PowerPC, and Token-Ring. However, this is not your father’s IBM PC. IBM shipped us a mid-range Intellistation E Pro, sporting a 1 GHz Pentium III with Award BIOS, Via Apollo Pro chipset, 256 MB of PC 133 SDRAM, onboard Intel networking, onboard VIA technologies 16-bit sound, nVidia 32 MB GeForce2 MX video, ATAPI 48x CD-ROM, onboard Adaptec 7892 dual-channel Ultra 160 SCSI, and a 9.1 GB IBM Ultrastar 10 K SCSI drive, pre-loaded with Red Hat Linux 7.
We installed Red Hat 6.2, Red Hat 7.0, Caldera OpenDesktop 2.4, Mandrake 7.2 and SuSE 7.0 on this machine, all without incident. Frankly, we were hoping something would go awry and that there would be some surprise to report; shockingly, nothing went wrong. There’s not a heck of a lot to say. Besides its black, Darth-Vaderesque exterior, it’s a totally standard machine that’s extremely well engineered, and we didn’t find a single Linux distribution that didn’t run on it properly.
There are no unpleasant surprises, and it performs extremely well when compared with similarly configured machines from competitors. The onboard nVidia GeForce2 MX graphics processor is the king of the world for business-quality 3D graphics on any OS platform — let alone Linux — and nobody will deny that nVidia’s Linux drivers for XFree86 4.x are the best-implemented of any chip vendor, open source or not. The Adaptec onboard Ultra160 SCSI adapter is as kernel-standard as you can get, and the UltraStar disk unit delivers lightning-fast disk I/O.
You could even say that the Intellistation is less proprietary and quirky than many of its competitors, given Compaq’s and Hewlett-Packard’s propensity to release desktop machines with their own, non-standard chipsets and BIOSes. The Intellistation is one of the very few desktop machines to be Red Hat 7 Certified out of the box. Additionally, IBM offers special 24-hour Linux support lines.
To paraphrase a cliché that’s truer than ever, if you need to run Linux workstations in your shop — for software development, media creation, engineering, number-crunching, Web development, or system administration — you’re not going to get fired for buying IBM Intellistations.