New benchmark from SPEC promises to become influential

SPECwpc is likely to find wide use testing workstations.

By Kathleen Maher

There is no more contentious battle­field in the high-tech landscape than benchmarks. It was ever true for PCs and workstation and the fight has moved on to mobile, but what is everyone fighting over? Bragging rights mostly. Performance at gaming or on a particular game, supposedly, though in most cases no sentient human can tell the difference without the aid of a benchmark. In almost all cases it can be difficult to tell what components in the device are having the most influence. The problem for workstations can be a little more straightforward than general-purpose computers or mobile simply because workstation users often have very specific requirements. They need to know how well a particular machine can handle certain tasks and particular ap­plications. So, SPEC (Standards Perfor­mance Evaluation Corporation), a non-profit industry organization, was formed so hardware OEMs, graphics compa­nies, software companies, and customers could characterize and compare perfor­mance on a level playing field.

SPECwpc’s user interface, sample screen, and results in HTML. (Source: SPEC)
SPECwpc’s user interface, sample screen, and results in HTML. (Source: SPEC)

Introducing SPECwpc

Now, to kick off 2014, SPEC has in­troduced two new benchmarks. One, SPECviewperf 12, is a logical evolution­ary step from SPECviewperf 11 (and all the previous versions). The other, SPECwpc, is designed to evaluate the ability of workstations in the most pop­ular, professional-computing verticals. Jon Peddie Research is going to be us­ing these benchmarks in its evaluation of workstations for its Workstation Report, and in fact, Alex Herrera has already put several machines through their paces. You can see some of his results in this hardware review published at GfxSpeak and in TechWatch.

Over the past couple of years, JPR has been happy to work with the SPEC group to discuss ways to encourage the use of their benchmarks. While in the past SPEC/GWPG (graphics and work­station performance group) benchmarks have focused on just graphics function­ality (SPECviewperf) or specific applica­tions that required licenses (SPECapc), SPECwpc’s whole-system testing gives a clearer idea of how the fully configured system—including graphics, memory, OS, I/O, and CPU—will perform for a wide range of applications. And it does not require licensed applications in or­der to run.

It’s got a clean, easy run-time interface, and generates the same auto-extraction of configuration as Viewperf 12. Results come in simple, organized, easy-to-process HTML and XML. SPEC even pro­vides a converter to translate to XLS.

SPEC says SPECwpc is the “first bench­mark to measure all key aspects of work­station performance based on diverse professional applications.” It’s designed to be comprehensive and, as such, com­prises six separate suites, one per each of six verticals, including Media and Enter­tainment, Product Development, Energy, Life Sciences, Financial Services, and General Operations. Each suite includes anywhere from five to nine workloads, relevant to those specific spaces.

The chart below lists the tests included in SPECwpc and high­lights the emphasis of the test. Primarily, testing looks at CPU performance. Most applications lean heavier on the CPU than the GPU, but there is strong graphics representation in the viewsets brought over from SPECviewperf 12. These viewsets represent the graphics pipelines for Autodesk Maya, Dassault Systèmes Catia, Siemens NX, Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks, Autodesk Show­case, and two new test suites based on energy and medical applications.

SPECwpc members—AMD, Dell, Fu­jitsu, HP, Intel, Lenovo, NEC, and Nvid­ia—have enthusiastically participated in the work of SPEC to help their custom­ers understand differentiation between system configurations and to appreciate the value of a workstation over an en­thusiast PC. For instance, in the latest round of testing, Herrera was able to see where a solid-state hard drive made a significant contribution and to gauge price performance trade-offs. Over the very chaotic past two years in the com­puter industry, workstation sales have remained consistent while PC sales have wildly fluctuated as customers experi­ment with new form factors.

SPECwpc offers a suite of tests that cover the major applications for workstations and also general performance. (Thanks to Tom Fisher for compiling this chart.)
SPECwpc offers a suite of tests that cover the major applications for workstations and also general performance. (Thanks to Tom Fisher for compiling this chart.)

When it comes to workstations, typi­cal customers already know they want a workstation-class product, and they’re just trying to understand where to put their money as far as performance goes. As time goes by, SPECwpc will build up more data because more people are going to be able to perform these tests across applications, which will help companies, IT managers, and individual customers make choices and spot trends. It’s also going to help OEMs build ma­chines that meet the demands of their customers. That’s why the participants in SPEC have contributed their work so tirelessly and generously. SPECwpc V1.0 is available under a two-tiered pricing structure. It is free for non-commercial users and $5,000 for commercial enti­ties. SPEC defines commercial entities as organizations using the benchmarks for the purpose of marketing, develop­ing, testing, consulting for and/or selling computers, computer services, graphics devices, drivers, or other systems in the computer marketplace.

There’s an interesting collateral benefit that’s liable to happen, too. Right now the loud and contentious marketing around products used for gaming has contributed to some confusion about where to truly get the most bang for the buck. The SPECwpc benchmarks are more straightforward. We expect to see the hard-core benchmarkers try out SPECwpc as well as their usual menu of game and productivity benchmarks, and as a result, we’ll see more nuanced results about the different machines out there. A larger pool of information around benchmarks can only add to the understanding about the interplay of CPU, GPU, types of memory, I/O, hard drive, etc. Testing results are available at the SPEC website: