August 2006


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Michael Kenny <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Technology Discussion at UVM <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 10 Aug 2006 15:17:34 -0400
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I have a colleague in my department who is running a series of 
regressions in SAS on a Dell desktop PC. On her somewhat-old 2.4 Ghz 
Pentium 4 these analyses take about 24 hours each to complete. When the 
system had 512 MB of RAM, system diagnostics suggested that the speed 
was limited by a lack of RAM, but now that I have maxed the system out 
at 2 GB, CPU limitations are indicated in the Windows XP Performance 
Monitor. Since this person is about due for a new computer anyway, we 
have decided to look at scientific workstations instead of standard 
desktop systems.

I am hoping that someone on the list has some experience with 
mathematical analysis on the PC and can provide suggestions on the best 
price/performance ratio for  this type of work. Behind the scenes, these 
regressions would be matrix algebra on chunks of a dataset on the order 
of 1 MB in size.

I've looked at a lot of configurations on the Dell website ranging from 
a dual-core P4 to a fire-breathing system with a pair of dual-core Xeons 
and all the bells. It would be easy to spend $7-8k and solve our 
problems, but we'd like to be a little more efficient. This is the 
latest version, coming in at about $3000 with a nice monitor. Any comments?
Dell Precision Workstation 390
Intel Core®2 Duo E6600 2.40GHz/1066MHz/4MB L2/Dual-core/VT,
Reason: Core 2 Duo performance numbers overall are impressive although 
weighted towards multimedia.   This is a mid-range version selected for 
price/performance and the 4MB cache. The 5100-series Xeon is a tempting 
alternative although expensive.

OS: Genuine Windows® XP Professional, SP2 with Media
Reason: SAS 9.1.3 is only licensed for Windows and  does not yet run 
under a 64-bit OS.
Memory    4GB, 667MHz, DDR2 SDRAM Memory, ECC (4 DIMMS)   
Reason: Maximum amount of RAM available under Windows XP.

Hard Drive Configuration C5 All SATA drives, RAID 1, 2 drive total 
Drives: 80GB SATA, 10K RPM Hard Drive with 16MB DataBurst Cache
RAID 1 is selected for data integrity. I'd do RAID 0 for access speed 
and store the data on a file server, but I've been overridden.
The 10 k SATA drives are a mid-range alternative between the standard 
7200 rpm SATA drives and the faster but expensive SAS drives (no 
relation to the software!)

SAS performance tuning documents suggest that the I/O system is 
generally the bottleneck for SAS programs in practice, although that's 
the one thing that has never limited the particular project that we are 
dealing with here.
Thanks for taking the time to read this!

Mike Kenny
Medical Biostatistics