Are Quad Desktops Really Necessary?

Arthur Cole

The new quad-core workstations are making their way to market, but there are growing concerns that they may not be the best solutions for the enterprise.


In the old days, selection of new workstations was easy: Subsequent generations were more powerful and offered greater features than the last, so each refresh cycle brought new capabilities to workers, boosting productivity. But those days may be over as the nature of enterprise applications and virtualization offer new ways of thinking.


Without doubt, the newest quad workstations continue the trend of more, better, faster. Dell's T5400 and T7400 are the first to sport the new Xeon 5400 Penryns. The systems offer 32 GB RAM, SATA or SAS drives, up to 5 TB of memory, plus the new Nvidia Quadro FX 5600 graphics card and dual PCIe Gen2 x16 slots.


Next month, HP is slated to bring out its Penryn-based models, the xw6600 and xw8600, which will contain a mix of Xeon 5400s and dual-core 5200s to provide up to eight cores. RAM can scale up to 128 GB with total storage of 5 TB, with dual PCIe Gen2 x16 slots as well.


With all that muscle under the hood, it's hard to understand why anyone would downplay them as enterprise solutions. But the fact is that very few enterprise applications are geared toward multi-threaded environments, and there are no strong indications that the development community views quads as a must-have platform -- they're still trying to push the boundaries of dual core at the moment. Maybe that will change in the future, but in the here and now, dual cores look like the safest bet for general-purpose enterprise functions.


Of course, there is the distinct possibility that the workstation-for-every-worker rule may have just about run its course anyway. Once virtual server and storage environments are in place, there will be strong incentive to extend that technology to the desktop. Virtual desktops would cost a fraction of the standard variety, and don't represent an idle resource while the employee is away at meetings. In a virtual environment, computing resources are provisioned, utilized and then returned to the central pool when the task is completed.


There's no question that quad-core workstations mark the next generation in terms of power and performance. The question many enterprise execs need to answer is whether they want that power on each desk or in the server room.

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