Without a viable 64-bit Windows solution available today, enthusiasts and neophytes alike are looking to Linux for new opportunities. Is Linux mature enough to take advantage of the same technology released to the public only months ago? The answers are more complicated than many of us originally thought, particularly considering the competition.

To get a well-rounded breakdown of where Linux is going, and where it trumps (or fails against) Windows, we took the two largest 64-bit Linux distributions, their 32-bit counterparts, and the Windows XP 64-bit public beta for a test drive. The way that we are running the benchmark is slightly unique; we do not recompile or optimize benchmarks per hardware platform. Our goal is to see which out-of-the-box operating system performs the best with as much support as possible. Thus, we use RPMs and binaries packaged with or compiled for the specific operating system tested.

 Performance Test Configuration
Processor(s): Athlon 64 3500+ Socket 939 (2.2GHz, 512KB Cache)
RAM: 2 x 512MB Mushkin PC3500 Level II
Memory Timings: Default
Hard Drives Seagate 120GB 7200RPM IDE (8Mb buffer)
Video AGP & IDE Bus Master Drivers: Linux NVIDIA Core Logic: 1.0-275
Linux NVIDIA Graphics: 1.0-5332
Windows 64 bit Graphics: 57.30
Windows 64 bit Core Logic: 4.34a
Video Card(s): NVIDIA GeForceFX 5600SE 128MB
Operating System(s): SuSE 9.1 Professional (32/64 bit)
Fedora Core 2 (32/64 bit)
Windows XP SP1 (32/64* bit)
Motherboards: NVIDIA NForce3 250 Reference Board

*Windows XP SP1 64-bit is the February 2004 open beta release.

We attempted to keep our test configuration as close to CPU/Motherboard/Memory Windows test configuration as possible. The only major change that we adopted for this analysis include the change in processor, IDE rather than SATA hard drive, and the NVIDIA GeForceFX video card. We opted for an NVIDIA card over an ATI card for these benchmarks primarily because of 64-bit Linux driver support. We have a Linux video card roundup planned for the future; so, in that article, we can take a better look at where the particular differences lie in video processing.

A Quick Bit about the Operating Systems
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  • Gatak - Monday, July 12, 2004 - link

    Why do you not test Gentoo Linux. Sure, it needs to be compiled from scratch, but gives execptionally good performance.

    I realize it doesn't give a single equal platform to test over different hardware if you recompile all the time. However, you can make your installation to a A64 machine and then save the diskimage and use the same image on each machine you will use.

    Good attempt to a 64bit Linux test =). There aren't many out there!
  • sprockkets - Monday, July 12, 2004 - link

    I'm not sure how you are saying that you used RPMs for Lame that came with each distro. I use SuSE versions 8.1 - 9.1 and it has NEVER come with LAME by default. Neither is Mplayer bundled with SuSE 9.1, but I'm usually forced to use an RPM install of Mplayer since for some stupid reason it keeps complaining on configuring that I don't have the dev files of gtk installed, which I do. At least it would configure and install sometimes in SuSE 8.2.

    The only thing also I could at is with an Asue nForce 220 board SuSE worked ok with the drivers from nVidia installed by YaST in 8.2 (ver 9.0 would give me a nice blinking light on my monitor with the LiveEVAL cd), but with version 9.1 and the drivers for the 2.6 kernal, when I installed the drivers the whole computer would freeze seconds after just starting an 3d OpenGL screen saver. Couldn't kill X, only could hit the reset button.

    Could you say how you installed the nVidia drivers, at least for SuSE 9.1?
  • roostercrows - Monday, July 12, 2004 - link

    imo, linux needs a reality kick in the a**. there are millions of us that would like to use this "os" but over the last two years i have started and stopped repeatedly, it's just not ready for the masses of regular users. ie:
    # 2 "support fixes it USUALLY within a week or so". i agree, it's such a wasted opportunity for linux! just ask yourself what percentage of windows users are going to "recompile all of their source"?
  • OddTSi - Monday, July 12, 2004 - link

    You guys conclude that "encoding, database, and rendering tests" show a distinct advantage with Linux over Windows after running a couple of tests that used programs that are more optimized for Linux. Wow, I'm speechless.
  • jacob0401 - Monday, July 12, 2004 - link

    Error on page 5? the second graph shows 2 fedor core labels, i tihnk one whouls be suse.
  • KristopherKubicki - Monday, July 12, 2004 - link

    ViRGE: Ill get back to you on that answer when i can make a more informed decision as to why the numbers were different.

    jiulemoigt: I was not blasting linux. i simply wanted to run benchmarks that we could all replicate. I would love to do an "AT Optimized" linux review, but i have a feeling it would be outdated quickly with the volitility of the OS.

  • jiulemoigt - Monday, July 12, 2004 - link

    I'm confused by one thing that stands out more than anything else... I thought the whole point of Linux is you can recompile all of your source, yet the whole review blasts linux for not being perfect out of the box? I run both w2k and redhat (yes the expensive version) and most of the software works out of the box or support fixes it usually with in a week or so, but I have recompiled all and all source I had because you write an optimised complier once and use that on everything and makes things much more uniform. When I consider this takes less work that buildeing an image with all of the patches MS requires to function, is this not apples and oranges or at least bias toward windows? Yes I realize I'm not a normal user but how many hardcore gamers do NOT know how to install their own OS at least?
  • ViRGE - Monday, July 12, 2004 - link

    Kris, how(if at all) can you explain the differences in LAME performance between this set of benchmarks, and Anand's initial A64 benchmarks from the A64 launch(http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?... Anand's numbers show a 30%+ boost in performance in LAME, so why aren't we seeing any such boost here?
  • tribble - Monday, July 12, 2004 - link

    The nVidia graphics driver incompatibility with Fedora Core 2 has been fixed with the latest driver (1.0-6106) released on June 30. The Fedora Core 2 kernel uses a 4K stack size (as opposed to the usual 8K stack).

    From the release highlights of the latest driver:
    # Added support for 4k stack kernels.

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