There are enough external power connections not only to support these cards, but potentially even two cards, though adding two full-length cards isn’t possible due to space restrictions. On the low end, nVidia’s NVS 290 2D card is supported.

Of course, the system shipped with Solaris 10 x86, and I proceeded to try a bevy of supported and unsupported operating systems. I had a few issues with most of them, generally revolving around the NIC drivers. For every OS except for Ubuntu 7.10, you’ll need to pull down specific NIC drivers, even though the adapter is in the e1000 family. Once all of the drivers were installed, Vista Ultimate ran like a champ in full Aero with all the bells and whistles, as did Ubuntu 7.10, Fedora 7, and RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux), though RHEL 4 U5 seemed to take exception to the SATA hardware and initially acted sluggish at times. Kernel updates handled these problems, however.

On the display side, the nVidia FX1700 proved surprisingly responsive, and when matched with Sun’s stellar 24-inch LCD display, breathtaking with any OS.

The speed zone

I ran several benchmarks on the Ultra 24 and compared them to a similarly configured dual-CPU dual-core Opteron 2218 system. This wasn’t exactly an apples-to-apples test since inherent design differences between uni-processor and multi-processor systems can cause variations in results, but at least it was four cores against four cores. The 2218s aren’t the current generation, and they are clocked at 2.6GHz, but still, the performance difference on common workstation tasks was significant.

Using sound processing as a focus, I worked with an 838MB uncompressed WAV file, using the LAME MP3 encoding engine to work it into a 320Kbps MP3. The Opteron box took 5 minutes 17 seconds and the Ultra 24 completed the task in 3 minutes 46 seconds, more than a full minute faster. I then compressed the WAV file with bzip2, timing the results. Again, the Ultra 24’s Core 2 Extreme CPU took the lead, churning through the file in 2 minutes 24 seconds, versus the Opteron’s 4 minutes 7 seconds. On the reverse side, it took the Ultra 24 just 1 minute 4 seconds to uncompress the same file; the Opteron again took second place at 2 minutes 58 seconds, almost two minutes slower. It’s a safe bet that even with a single CPU in the Ultra 24, this system holds its own. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any AMD Barcelona-based systems in the lab to compare, but it would definitely be an interesting test to run.

At first blush, I figured the Ultra 24 to be just another small, workstation-class system that would be good for those who need a little extra horsepower from time to time, but aren’t running high-end apps that need a full-blown workstation. After putting it through its paces, I’m thinking that it just might fit both bills. Don’t let the size and single-CPU nature of the Ultra 24 fool you -- there’s a lot of power in that little box.

OUR VERDICT

At first blush, I figured the Ultra 24 to be just another small, workstation-class system that would be good for those who need a little extra horsepower from time to time, but aren’t running high-end apps that need a full-blown workstation. After putting it through its paces, I’m thinking that it just might fit both bills. Don’t let the size and single-CPU nature of the Ultra 24 fool you -- there’s a lot of power in that little box.