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What workstations should we get?

Don Gilbert gilbertd at sunflower.bio.indiana.edu
Wed Sep 18 11:23:12 EST 1991

In article <1991Sep17.184210.5568 at sun1.ruf.uni-freiburg.de> meinhof at sun1.ruf.uni-freiburg.de (Carl-Georg Meinhof) writes:
>Our department of molecular genetics plans to buy 7 workstations
>together with one server. We thought about buying SUN
>SPARCstations because we were under the impression that these
>machines are the most widespread in the field. In terms of
>compatibility this is a very important argument because we will
>depent largely on software which is freely available. 
>Now it seems that SUN is lagging behind in its technology while
>other systems (IBM's RS6000, HP, NEXT) offer more bang for the
>buck. Is there as much software for molecular biologists
>developed for these machines as for SPARCstations? How much do
>they differ in terms of source code compatibility? Is it a big
>disadvantage that SUN is not part of OSF? 

This question won't have a simple answer -- and there are many
personal opinions.  Let me share my views.  Over the last 12 
months I've gone from a unix(workstation) novice to an advocate,
installer and administrator.  I beleive that Silicon Graphics and
Sun are the two major players for molecular biologists to consider,
with DEC and IBM coming in as a third group.  NeXT doesn't yet
have enough bang-for-buck power (they use a 68040, may as well
buy a Mac). The current HP is fast, but from what I've heard
their Unix variant is weird.

Silicon Graphics is well known for 3D modelling.  If you need 
molecular modelling, almost all of the important software runs
mainly on Silicon Graphics.  I was very pleasantly surprised to
find also that SGI also has a very nice graphics user interface,
and has come closest to putting a nice human interface on top of
Unix as any I've seen except NeXT.  Their Unix is also mainstream
without weird quirks.  The new SG Iris model Indigo is one to
look at closely.  Priced at about $10K list (US), it is quite
fast and up to date in technology for a personal workstation.

Sun is still premier in terms of wide use, including among molecular
biology.  You can commonly get Sparc binaries now for molecular
biology software, and sometimes only Sparc binaries.  
The current Sparcstations match the current SG Irises
in price/performance.  I'd say Sun gives you better connectivity
and a larger software/user group, while SGI gives you 3D graphics
and better user interface.  Suns also tend to use more generic
parts (SCSI disks, SIMM memory) where SGI tends to be a bit
more proprietary (SGI uses standard SCSI disks, but requires
special SIMM memory at higher prices, and some Unix OS parts are
extra, e.g. Network File System).

I found both of these relatively easy to set up, most software I
want to put on them installed relatively easily, with Sun beating
Iris in that area (e.g., CAP software, GDE sequence editor, some
other public software tools are either only available on Sun or
work better on Sun).  GCG sequence analysis software works about
the same on a Sun Sparcstation 2 and an SGI Iris model 30.

My personal recommendation is to lean toward Silicon Graphics Iris
and Indigo models.  The human interface and 3D graphics are a big
plus for my people.

Don Gilbert                                     gilbert at bio.indiana.edu
biocomputing office, biology dept., indiana univ., bloomington, in 47405
Domain: curtiss at umiacs.umd.edu		     Phillip Curtiss
  UUCP:	uunet!mimsy!curtiss		UMIACS - Univ. of Maryland
 Phone:	+1-301-405-6710			  College Park, Md 20742

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