No Cores For You!

No Cores For You!

Recently, I was curious about the cost of multi-core high performance workstations. I was looking for the latest and greatest at least eight cores, possibly more. With the growth of multi-core, I am always interested how many “SMP cores” you can get in a workstation. The task seemed simple enough.

I’m not going to mention any names, but the first Tier-1 web-site I visited looked like it was getting ready for Halloween. I’m not sure what the confusing layout had to do with workstations, but I eventually got to a somewhat normal looking page that had the word “workstation” on it. I then tried to find a workstation line that had plenty of cores. All I could do was guess that the most expensive workstations had more cores. After about 3 or 4 more pages I got to the “configure” section where I could pick my options. After a few more screens I just gave up. I was not sure what I was configuring nor could I figure out what it cost.

I then moved to a well known Tier-1 “design your own PC on the web” company. In the past, I found their web site useful. Not this time. Again, I had to wade through countless pages of “gobbley gook” to get to where I thought I should be. I then waded through page after page of extra stuff that I did not need (from mice to printer ink). It took forever to get an idea of what the whole thing cost. As before, I just quit. I was confused as to what I was actually buying.

In both cases I found it almost impossible to buy a workstation. I was working from some basic technical requirements (i.e. number of cores). In addition, I found it extremely difficult to specify and review the aspects of the machine. I will not buy a workstation from the two sites I mentioned, not because I don’t like their products (which are basically all the same on the inside), but because I can’t. In my experience is not possible to know or easily choose what you are buying.

I have seen other web sites morph into this kind of flashy, pop-up, used car sales lot. When it comes to commercial websites, there seems to be two approaches:

  1. Sites that provide detailed information with an option to purchase
  2. Site that try and sell you something as you browse/search for information

While the distinction may seem rather subtle, to me it is important. I hang out in the HPC (High Performance Computing) community. Like many of my colleagues, I approach things from scientific/engineering perspective, that is, technical specifications and data lead the way. When web sites make this information hard or impossible to find, I just walk away.

I did manage to find what I was looking for from a smaller company. They had a very clear process for sizing up workstations on their web site. I was able to configure a 12-core system in the time it took me to find the workstation page on the Tier-1 sites. If I chose to buy a workstation, this is where I am headed. I’ll bet I can also get someone on the phone within a matter of minutes who can answer questions.

I have decided to avoid the flash laden, pop-up, “can we talk”, deal of the minute, “click here”, “buy now” web sites. I just don’t have the time. On further consideration, it must take a lot of cores to produce all that noise.

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