In a Nutshell
- Screamingly-fast performance for those looking to get the most for their dollar
- Totally PC-buzzword-compliant with everything you’d expect from a performance workstation
- Default minitower case is too small and shoddily built
- Hardware is not friendly to installing current Linux distributions
Hard Drive Space
- DualHead Matrox G450 video card
- Creative SoundBlaster 128
- 52x CD-ROM
The AMD Athlon, with its accompanying AMD 760 chipset, is arguably the world’s best-value business-quality PC platform. It’s gotten rave reviews and awards in industry journals and on PC hobbyist Web sites the world over.
Despite a whole host of awards and glowing reviews, the Athlon couldn’t be taken seriously in the high-performance workstation market until ASL Workstation’s recent release of the Marquis K121.
State of the Art
Based on Tyan’s Tiger S2460 dual processor mainboard, the unit can accommodate twin 1.2 GHz Athlon Thunderbird processors, each with 256 K of onboard cache. In addition, the K121 also sports the AMD 760 MP 266 MHz DDR (Dual Data Rate) SDRAM chipset, allowing up to 3 GB of PC 2100 DDR SDRAM to be installed. The mainboard also supports ATA-100 IDE disk devices.
Our test unit was shipped to us with 512 MB of RAM, Adaptec’s 29160 LVD Ultra160 SCSI controller, an 18 GB IBM UltraStar LVD U160 SCSI drive, 52x CD-ROM, and a Creative SoundBlaster PCI 128 sound board. For video, ASL shipped us the DualHead Matrox G450 that supports up to two monitors. While the G450 has a perfectly good reputation as a 2D accelerator chip for CAD applications and delivers good XFree86 4.x performance, if you’re looking to use this box for 3D modeling, we’d strongly suggest going with the 64 MB nVidia GeForce 3 instead.
While ASL is clearly using top-quality components inside their PCs, unfortunately, the same can’t be said about their cases. Our unit was rattled during shipping, and we had to open up the case to reconnect the internal power switch, which had popped off the plastic minitower case. For a $2,000 computer, we expected better than a plastic faceplate and aluminum case. ASL also offers a 4U rackmount enclosure for about $100 more if you’re looking to make this machine a server.
Our unit was preloaded with Red Hat 7.1, although ASL installed a different kernel from the default 2.4.2. Instead, we found ourselves running a 2.4.5-ac development kernel to support the newer ATA-100 AMD chipset. Overall performance was as expected — blindingly fast disk and video and serious number crunching performance with programs like SETI@home and distributed.net. One can definitely see this as a good development server for e-commerce applications running on PHP.
Like fast Italian sports cars, or any other bleeding high-performance hardware, the Marquis K121 is not without its quirks. Being a first revision SMP Athlon chipset, we encountered some stability issues with the 2.4.x Linux kernel; we also had some difficulty installing various Linux distros on the machine. In most cases, the bootup CD would freeze after the LILO or GRUB bootloader attempted to bootstrap. After a lot of coaxing of the CMOS settings, and making special bootup floppies instead of using the CD loader, we were able to get SuSE 7.2 installed.
The Bottom Line
We expect some of these issues to be resolved in AMD’s next revision of the 760 chipset, with newer Tyan BIOS revisions and the introduction of Linux distributions based on later 2.4.x kernels with better AMD 760MP support. In the meantime, we think the K121 is a good first offering, though a little rough around the edges. But that’s the price you pay for being the first on the block with your own dual-processor Athlon.
Linux Magazine /
December 2001 / REVIEWS
ASL’s Marquis Holds Its Own