K6 test units prove average in lab test

Government computer buyers always confront a dilemma: power or price?


Systems with the K6 processor from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif.,
are a bargain pricewise but not necessarily powerwise.


Other considerations for administrators buying network clients are expandability and
ease of access.


The GCN Lab examined three systems built on the 300-MHz K6 and one with a preproduction
333-MHz K6-2. The lab found almost no differences between the two generations of
processors. Overall, AMD’s K6 performed on a level with Intel Corp.’s 233-MHz
Pentium MMX.


Last summer, the lab looked at a 166-MHz K6 [GCN, June 30, 1997, Page 1]. One year and 134 MHz later, the K6-300 has jumped up about 42
percent in GCNdex32TM benchmark math scores. Generally, however, the K6 scored far behind
the 266-MHz Pentium IIs the lab has tested and was almost equal with the 233-MHz Pentium
MMX.


AMD has added to the 333-MHz K6-2 almost two dozen new MMX-style instructions, known as
3DNow, to improve 3-D rendering by the graphics accelerator. But calls to the new
instruction set require DirectX 6.0 or OpenGL 1.2 graphics drivers, which are not yet
available. The current versions are DirectX 5.0 and OpenGL 1.1.


For the K6-2, AMD also emulated Intel by pumping up the motherboard bus from 66 MHz to
100 MHz. Even so, the 333-MHz CPU performed about the same as the 300-MHz version.


On current OpenGL rendering applications, the K6-2 system produced full-screen XGA at
about seven frames per second. In contrast, the lab has examined Pentium II systems that
could draw up to 30 frames per second, although a few were slower than that.


The K6 earned better GCNdex32 video benchmark scores overall than the Pentium MMX. That
is because the K6 has Accelerated Graphics Port accelerators, whereas the Pentium MMX
predates the new video ports [GCN, Oct. 20, 1997, Page 24].


The K6 test units’ value was impressive. None cost more than $1,700, including
monitor. A similarly configured 266-MHz Pentium II OptiPlex G1 from Dell Computer Corp.
costs about $1,800, and performance is considerably better.


None of the test systems received a Reviewer’s Choice designation, because each
exhibited an important flaw.


The Everex Systems Inc. Tempo K was the only K6 system with preinstalled Microsoft
Windows NT Workstation 4.0. NT ran fine on the K6, but the chassis was from an older
hardware generation and had no mouse port. The mouse occupied the only available nine-pin
serial port. The keyboard port was the larger five-pin size, not a standard PS/2 port.


A thumbscrew and two latches opened up the interior, which was cluttered with ribbon
cables and wires. Only one PCI slot of three was vacant.


Both dual in-line memory module slots were occupied; four single in-line memory module
slots were open. Accessing this memory space would require some unplugging because the
ribbon cables blocked access.


Three of the six bays were open, but once again, cables and wires got in the way.


The Everex’s Viper V330 graphics accelerator from Diamond Multimedia Systems Inc.
zoomed past the other K6 units, scoring a respectable 15.83 on the GCNdex.


That was far behind most Pentium II systems but far ahead of other K6s.


The 6G Medalist hard drive from Seagate Technology Inc. performed on par or better,
especially in small-file access. And the CD-ROM drive turned in a 26X rating—not bad
for a 32X drive.


The Polywell Computers Inc. Poly K6-300 came with a 17-inch Sampo AlphaScan monitor
that could not fill its screen edge to edge at XGA or higher resolutions. The
monitor’s controls could adjust it to almost fill the screen, but the saved settings
never reloaded properly after rebooting.


The chassis was up-to-date and spacious, although access required removing at least
three screws. Inside, cables and wires were bundled out of the way.


Two of the three PCI slots were open plus one shared PCI/ISA slot. One of two ISA slots
was available.


Polywell had populated two of the three DIMM slots to supply 128M RAM. As an
alternative, four SIMM slots were available. As in the Everex, three bays out of six
remained open.


The Polywell performed better on math benchmarks than the other two 300-MHz K6 units in
this review.


In fact, it scored better than the 333-MHz K6-2 in everything but hard-drive access.


Priced at $1,249, the Poly K6-300 would have received GCN’s Bang for the Buck
designation had the monitor worked properly.


Diamond Flower Electric Instrument Co.’s Landmarq turned out to be a solid system,
although it received some of the lowest benchmarks in this review.


DFI included a Genesys Logic System Health Monitor, which displayed the CPU
temperature, voltage and fan speed. If any item exceeded safe parameters, the monitor
notified the user.


Access was via a side panel and required removing two standard screws. The interior was
better organized than that of the Everex but less well than the Polywell’s.


DFI’s minitower also had better expandability. Two PCI slots of three remained
available plus one shared PCI/ISA slot and one of two ISA slots.


Also open were one of two DIMM slots, both SIMM slots and five of eight bays. The DFI
had a lot of space for additional internal devices, but the interior organization would
hamper the bay additions.


AMD built the Insight system for us to take a look at the K6-2. As mentioned above, its
performance about equaled that of the average 300-MHz K6.


For some reason, on every boot the system noted a drive error and instructed us to
“Press F1 to resume.” Pressing F1 caused normal booting. The presence of a
removable SCSI hard drive might explain the boot problem.


With no PCI slots available and only two of the five bays free, the Insight system was
pretty much filled up.  

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