What workstations should we get?

Peter Kocks kocks at jessica.stanford.edu
Mon Sep 23 12:36:04 EST 1991

In article <1991Sep17.184210.5568 at sun1.ruf.uni-freiburg.de> meinhof at sun1.ruf.uni-freiburg.de (Carl-Georg Meinhof) writes:
>Dear Netters,
>             the problem we have and most probably share with
>others is to decide what workstations we should buy.

Many people refer to bang-for-buck arguments when thinking of buying a
workstation.  I think this is wrong.  The correct way to think about
buying a workstation is pixels-for-buck or stations-for-buck.  For
example, a nice Silicon Graphics machine (not the Indigo) costs as
much as about 4 monochrome NeXT machines.  If you are going to have a
group of people needing access to the workstation, one (albeit very
nice) workstation is not enough.  I have found that most of my time is
spent coding on a workstation, not actually running jobs.  A 20%
difference in the speed of the CPU is nothing compared to getting
another nice screen.  In sum, buy as many workstations as you can afford.

I have worked with NeXTs, SUNs, DECstations, and SGIs.  For molecular
graphics etc, the SGI is the winner by far.  BUT  they are expensive.
I would be a bit cautious about the Indigo.  It does not have the nice
graphics board that has made SGI famous.  SUNs and DECstations are
basically the same IMHO.  I would get X11R4 or X11R5 on both, so the
user interface is essentially the same.  DECs ultrix had some problems
in the past, but things seem to be working now.  When OSF comes out
ultrix will have shared libraries (a big win).  SUNs are o.k., but
most of there success is do to having been first on the market with
reasonable workstations.  SUNs have the reputation of being the
standard workstation, but I think this is laughable.  The SUN os (when
you get it out of the box) does not come with a *standard* ANSI c
compiler.  That means, if you want your c code to work on the SUN you
must either re-write it in old style c or get another c compiler like
gcc.  Now, my SUN folks would say "Big deal, so I have to go get gcc,
at least its available".  But every time you get have to go out and
get software from the public domain, it means another 1/2 day is
wasted.  Time is money...it really is.  

Both DEC and SUN have the problem that you will have to spend a lot of
time setting up the machine the way you want.  SGI is a bit better.
The best is NeXT.  When you buy a NeXT all the software is installed
the way most people want it.  I.e. you type "emacs" and emacs appears.

The NeXT is the odd ball out.  While it is the least standard, it
offers many things not avaibable on other systems.  For example,

Mathematica (with the notebook interface)
FrameMaker (also available on Motif)
WingZ (Motif ?)
Word Perfect
TeX  (installed, i.e. no need to go and spend a day installing it).
Window based debuggers for gcc (much better than xdbx IMHO).

As for speed I have found the NeXT with 68040 to be faster that the
orginal SPARC (25 MHz, not the new 40 MHz SPARC).  It is certainly
faster than the DEC3100, but not as fast as the DEC5100.  If you want
an X terminal on the NeXT, it is possible.  However, it will not be
nearly as good as on an SGI, SUN, or DEC.  If you have a great need
for specific public domain programs that use X11, then you should not
get a NeXT. 
Unfortunately, there is no clear choice.  I personally like the NeXT
because of the nice Mathematica interface (I love Mathematica).   SGI
probably has the easiest to learn graphics system.  SUN and DEC
machines can be economical (bang-for-buck) but will be more trouble
than they are worth.

Peter Kocks
Dept of Chemistry

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