Intel vs. RISC

I am in the process of starting to learn Unix. What is the major difference in the platforms/hardware? Would it be adventageous for me to start working with a cheap Sparc machine or should I just use my Intel machine to start learning? Any help would be appreciated.

if I may comment I would go for the cheap sparc. That's from my own exp.

I reccommend Intel architecture. You have a much wider range of inexpensive hardware and a wide range of supported drivers. Learning UNIX on Sparc offers no advantage over learning on Intel, IMHO. I have used many, many flavors and variants of UNIX over the years. What matters is what fits your budget and business model. Since you are just learning, your business model is 'easy to build, lots of users learning too, lots of documentation, lots of 'buzz, etc. Hence, my recommendation is Linux or a variant of BSD.

As Neo says, you got access to much wider area of hardware and that is where it will pull out of your pocket. If you got the cheap Sparc you learn about the Unix. Messing with hardware comes at the most expense you can get involved in and that is �time'. Once you know the system then it is much easier to mess with the hardware but to start messing with the hardware and then learn the system ..., that's up to you. I messed with the hardware plenty and I don't see any advantage in that. You'll find out that you want to mess with the hardware the least. That is my opinion. Thanks, gp

I also learned unix (linux) on a intel machines. I also have learned when i tried to configure freebsd on my machine that not all hardwware was supported in the kernel. A very easy os to learn is suse on a intel. suse also supportets a bit different processor and on there page you can see which hardware they support. ( is there home page. if you have a fast internet connection you can download a free version somewhere. you can find here somewhere the evalutions cd's (difference is that you have no support and less software on the cd and so you have to change the installation medium for cd to ftp if you want to download al the software). If you don't know anything about unix/linux/bsd buy a version with book.

I actually had my first UNIX experience on HP-UX back in the mid 1980s. Would have been great to have very reliable free UNIX on very powerful and inexpensive Intel architecture as we enjoy today. Back then, you could not build a powerful UNIX machine for a few hundred bucks or a super-powerful cluster for a few thousand.

Today, there are folks who take Linux and very inexpensive Intel processors and build parallel processing virtual-machines. Governments use similar architectures to do massively parallel processing. Researchers do the same.

UNIX is UNIX, BTW. Sun OS, HPUX, BSD, Linux, AIX, etc. are all about the same - multitasking via time-slicing kernels. Learn them all. Enjoy them all. For me, I can't afford a super HP or SPARC RISC processor. I'm just a lowly engineer with bills to pay :slight_smile: I tend to go with 'inexpensive' and 'agile' and 'extensible' and 'scaleable'. Intel works great in my basement. But, if someone gave me a shiny new SPARC or HPUX, I would be a happy camper too!!

If any businesses want to donate a new RISC processor (rack mount only please) we will put to good use! However, please no bigger than 4 rack units, thanks. Also, please include all network card and drives. I simply don't have spare cash to pay the high price for any vendor-specific hardware.

I appreciate everyone's feedback. I hope that this new jump is a good experience. I've been working on the Intel/MS platform for about 10 years now. I think it's time for a change. Hopefully, there won't be TOO much of a learning curve. Any book suggestions are welcome.

Thanks much,


You might try �Unix System Administration Handbook� 3rd addition from PH-PTR. It is an expensive book, $70, but includes Unix, Solaris, and Linux info. You might have to start with more then one book anyway, even this one does not have all or most. gp

Tonight I raced a Sun Ultra 10 workstation (300 Mhz Ultrasparc II) running Solaris 8 64 bit against a PIII 550 x86 box running RedHat 7. The Sun has 128 Mb RAM and a 4500 rpm IDE disk. The PC has 256 Mb EDO RAM and an ATA66 disk turning 7200 rpm. The test was uncompressing and extracting a 127 Mb .tar.gz file. The exact command ran on the PC was:

date > /tmp/pc_time ; zcat docs.tar.gz | gtar xvf - ; date >> /tmp/pc_time

and the timestamp file read:
Tue Apr 17 23:05:58 CDT 2001
Tue Apr 17 23:07:30 CDT 2001
PC - 1 minute 32 seconds!

The exact command ran on the Ultrasparc was:

date > /tmp/ultra_time ; gzcat docs.tar.gz | gtar xvf - ; date >> /tmp/ultra_time

Tue Apr 17 23:11:43 CDT 2001
Tue Apr 17 23:18:33 CDT 2001
Sun - 6 minutes, 50 seconds!

As some of you know, we hosted the original linux benchmarks many years ago (since retired). There was no doubt that Intel could be faster than RISC. Of course, benchmarks can be optimize to perform differently (compression, integer math, float math, etc.)

FYI: Here are the old archives, long since retired:

I have to admit. When we got the �Sun Ultra 5 Ultrasparc Driven� workstation, 400MHz, 20Gb drive, I asked my boss if should get Intel with Unix on it. But it is for the clients to show we have real �SPARK�. Since then I adjusted and now I somehow do not mind its slow performance. I am Java developer and so performance is very crucial to me. Not too many managers understand that. gp

Unfortunately, there are too many variables here for this to be very meaningful. If you could equip both machines with the same amount of RAM, and the same type of disks, the results might be more interesting.

The best (informal) benchmark that I have found is to run the <A HREF=""></A> client with the "-benchmark" flag. It has pretty low memory usage, making the amount of RAM largely irrelevant, and disk I/O is almost zero, so you basically just get a floating point/integer benchmark. (still highly unscientific, of course).

PIII, 1Ghz w/ RedHat 7.0: 2.8 million keys/sec.
HP 5 cpu K-class @ 200 Mhz w/ HP-UX 11.00: 2.1 million keys/sec
My old HP C110 workstation, running at 120Mhz w/ HP-UX 11.00: 205,000 keys/sec.
Original Pentium @ 133Mhz w/ Slackware: 189,000 keys/sec