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Sun Microsystems has been long known for high-performance workstations built around UltraSparc processors and, more recently, Advanced Micro Devices processors. But with the introduction of the Ultra 24 Workstation, the company is showing a commitment to Intel’s high-performance processors.

Does this mean that Sun will eschew AMD and UltraSparc? Hardly! But now Sun resellers have another option when it comes to high-performance workstations.

The Ultra 24 is all about performance. I reviewed a top-of-the-line configuration sporting an Intel Core 2 Extreme CPU (Q6850), 8GB of DDR2 RAM, an Nvidia Quadro FX5600 graphics card, a DVD R/W drive and a pair of 250GB SATA (Serial ATA) hard drives. That configuration has a sticker price of $6,232—a big chunk of change for a PC—but a fair price for one of the fastest workstations that can be had today.

Of course, models with lower-end components are available for those trying to keep costs down. An entry-level unit configured with a Core 2 Duo E4400 2.0GHz CPU, 512MB of memory, a 250GB SATA HDD, an Nvidia NVS290 graphics card and a DVD-ROM will retail for $995.

All Ultra 24 Workstations come standard with a 10/100/1000 BaseT Ethernet port, two 1394 Firewire ports, high-definition audio, six USB 2.0 ports, two full-length PCI slots, four PCI-Express slots and a Solaris license. Solaris 10 and Sun development tools are preinstalled on each system.

Read more here about how Sun has rounded out its Intel offerings with the Ultra 24.

Users will be impressed by the construction of the machine. High-quality materials are used, including a heavy-duty steel case. The machine runs surprisingly quietly, even though high-speed and high-performance fans are installed. On bootup, when all of the fans are active, the unit sounds as loud as a vacuum cleaner, but quickly quiets down once all of the cooling fans are idled.

The system was tested using Solaris 10, Ubuntu 7.10 and Windows Vista Enterprise. Under this configuration I found performance to be without equal, scoring an overall rating of 1,269 on Passmark’s PerformanceTest 6.1 while running Windows Vista Enterprise.

Although no benchmarks were performed with Solaris and Ubuntu, it was clear that the system offers such a high level of performance that any user should be satisfied. It is worth noting that Windows Vista Enterprise (32-bit) only supports a maximum of 4GB of RAM, so for those looking to use that OS, it may be well worthwhile to save some money and order 4GB of RAM and not 8GB.

During testing, energy usage peaked at 269 watts; the system used 155 watts at idle.

For comparison, an older whitebox workstation equipped with an Intel Core 2 Quad 2.66GHz CPU, 4GB of DDR2 RAM and an Nvidia Geoforce 7950GT graphics card was tested and scored a maximum overall rating of 1,053 with Passmark. That system used 244 watts while under load and used 140 watts while idle.

Sun undoubtedly has a winner with the Ultra 24 series of workstations, and other vendors will be hard-pressed to outperform it. What’s more, the Ultra 24 proves that quality is still a valuable asset when it comes to workstations. The unit is built like a tank, yet offers toolless access to components. The company has successfully balanced quality with ease of service, while still offering unquestionable performance.