The Differences Between Similar Technologies

Frequently on computer message forums, people ask what the difference between two similar products or services is. The official answers can be difficult to find at times, buried deep in technical documents and white papers. As a result, occasionally wrong or incomplete replies are given on some forums (our forums on The Jem Report are well-moderated and you can always rely on the information you find on them). So in accordance with demand, here’s an in-depth explanation of the five most asked comparisons.

Windows XP Home and Windows XP Pro: This is by far the most commonly asked comparison question. According to Microsoft, Windows XP Professional has the following features which XP Home does not: ability to access a domain-based LAN; the Remote Desktop virtual network connection feature (although you can easily install and use third party VNC software); a “roll back” feature for your registry and configuration files, which allows you to restore the system to a previous state if it suddenly goes awry; EFS file encryption; IIS, which allows you to host your own website or FTP site; multithreading support (support for multiple CPUs); and support for multiple languages.

The differences between Windows XP Pro and Windows 2000 Pro are as follows: XP Pro requires product activation; XP Pro has the ability to restore the system to a previous state if something goes wrong; XP Pro has the Remote Desktop feature; XP Pro has support for Intel’s Hyper-Threading Technology; XP Pro has a wider range of hardware and software compatibility. There are other, less important differences, but these are the key points that should be considered when choosing a Windows OS. It should be noted that Windows 2000 is a much more reliable, stable, and efficient operating system than Windows XP Professional. Choosing between the two for a business environment can be difficult; if you don’t need what Windows XP Professional offers, then I would suggest Windows 2000.

BSD and Linux: First of all, both of these kinds of operating systems should be referred to by their distribution or project name. The term “BSD” actually refers to Berkeley Software Distribution and it is in reference to an OS that is no longer being developed. BSD is now developed through separate projects, which go by the names FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and NetBSD. There are other forms of BSD, but these are the three main projects at the time of this writing. From here on in we’ll refer to the modern BSD projects as *BSD, and the original BSD as plain old BSD. BSD is a kind of Unix, although it is not directly derivative of UNIX System V (meaning it contains no proprietary SVR4 UNIX code), which is what most people refer to as the true Unix. UNIX is a trademark; it is also the name of an operating system and of a family of operating systems. So BSD is a kind of Unix, meaning it looks and acts much like the real Unix, but it doess not contain UNIX code nor is it a trademarked Unix. I know that’s a little convoluted, but there aren’t any easy ways of explaining it. Linux should be referred to as GNU/Linux because it is a combination of the GNU operating system and the Linux kernel. The two together form what most people refer to as Linux. GNU/Linux has over one hundred different distribution varieties and many of them are quite different in how they are set up and managed, although all are fully interoperable. GNU stands for GNU’s Not Unix, and it was invented by Richard Stallman and his band of merry programmers in the mid-80s. The Linux kernel was written in 1991 by Linus Torvalds and is currently maintained by him and a handful of other developers who manage the thousands of programmers around the world who contribute to the development of Linux.

So what’s the difference between *BSD and GNU/Linux? At a glance they may look the same because they’re both in the Unix family, but they’re actually quite different. GNU/Linux has a wider variety of software natively written for it and the Linux kernel includes support for more hardware than the *BSD kernels do. NetBSD supports an amazing amount of unusual hardware platforms and it can run on nearly any electronic device that requires operating system software to function. *BSD offers Linux binary compatibility, which allows you to install most GNU/Linux software on a *BSD machine without any trouble. The *BSD kernels have been around longer and are more fully developed, meaning that in general a properly configured *BSD system will run noticeably faster than a comparable GNU/Linux system (while I have no hard data to support this claim, I can say for a fact that there is a very noticable difference in performance between FreeBSD and Gentoo Linux under the same conditions). On the other hand, the *BSDs are very difficult to configure and set up and you have to mind the disappointingly short peripheral hardware list (high-end video and sound cards won’t live up to their potential on a *BSD system). GNU/Linux grows more rapidly and as a result it advances more quickly. It’s also far more popular as a desktop operating system than *BSD is. But when it comes to web servers, *BSD (in particular, FreeBSD and OpenBSD) enjoys more popularity; a significant portion of the World Wide Web is running on *BSD operating systems, including the server that this very article is hosted on.

So the basic differences are as follows: *BSD and GNU/Linux use different kernels, and the *BSD kernel is more mature and in general a bit faster than the Linux kernel; *BSD does not natively support much software without compatibility layers whereas Linux has a bonanza of software written for it; *BSD uses the BSD License and GNU/Linux uses the GNU General Public License, although both are considered Free Software; GNU/Linux supports much more mainstream PC hardware, but *BSD can more easily be ported to a wider variety of system architectures.

Pentium4 and Xeon: Put simply, the Pentium4 is a desktop processor and the Xeon is a workstation/server processor. The Xeon was introduced in the Pentium3 era, offering built-in error correction and larger L2 cache sizes. With the introduction of the socket423 Pentium4 processor, Intel shifted all of their multi-CPU efforts to the Xeon and Itanium lines. The Itanium processor is not widely supported; it’s expensive, very few manufacturers make Itanium-capable motherboards, and software support is very limited. Modern Pentium4 processors have an 800mhz frontside bus, 512k L2 cache, and Hyper-Threading Technology. Celeron processors have a 400mhz frontside bus, 128k L2 cache, and no HT support. The original Pentium4 was the Willamette core; it started out on the socket423 design, but then moved to the newer socket478 design that the modern Pentium4s are based on. Willamette had 256k L2 cache, a 400mhz frontside bus, and no HT support. Modern Xeon CPUs have a 533mhz frontside bus, either 512k or 1MB L2 cache (the Xeon MP has an extra third level (L3) of cache memory, but only has a 400mhz frontside bus and has limited motherboard support), Hyper-Threading support and support for dual-processor architectures. The Xeon also has built-in error correction and an enhanced floating-point unit, which allows for more processing power in CPU-intensive applications, specifically those dealing with multimedia.

Palomino, Thoroughbred and Barton (the AMD cores): The Palomino core was the original Athlon XP technology and is sometimes referred to as Model 6 of the Athlon series. The Palomino core was used for the Athlon XP1500 through the XP2100. It had 256k L2 cache, a 266mhz frontside bus, and .18 micron technology. The Thoroughbred core (also called the Athlon Model 8) started at the XP2200, but later on it was made retroactive to the XP2100, XP2000, XP1800, XP1700, and XP1600. The XP2400 and XP2600 were added above the XP2200. These CPUs all have 256k L2 cache, a 266mhz frontside bus, and .13 micron technology. A later revision of the Model 8 Thoroughbred brought two more processors using a 333mhz frontside bus: the XP2600 and the XP2700. The 266FSB XP2600 is not very common on the market and although AMD processors are performance rated, most people prefer the CPU with the faster frontside bus. The 266FSB XP2600 runs at a frequency of 2133mhz, and the 333FSB XP2600 runs at a frequency of 2087mhz — both get the same performance according to AMD’s mysterious benchmarking system. The Barton core (Athlon Model 10) starts at the XP2500 and jumps up to the XP2800 and then the XP3000 (technically there is also a Barton core XP2600 at a frequency of 1917mhz, but it is all but invisible on the market). All three have 512k L2 cache, a 333mhz frontside bus, and .13 micron technology. The XP3200 has a 400mhz frontside bus but is otherwise the same as the other Barton core processors.

Athlon XP and Athlon MP: This is much like the Pentium4 and Xeon confusion; the Athlon XP is a desktop processor and the MP is designed for multi-CPU motherboards. The MP has no other extra features other than error correction and integrated multithreading support. The MP Model 6 processors were: MP1500, MP1600, MP1800, MP1900, and MP2100. All had 256k L2 cache, a 266mhz frontside bus, and .18 micron technology. The Model 8 only saw two processors: the MP2000 and the MP2200. Model 8 offered 256k L2 cache, a 266mhz frontside bus, and .13 micron technology. The latest MP is Model 10, which has 512k L2 cache, a 266mhz frontside bus, and .13 micron technology. As of this writing the only Athlon MP Model 10 processor that has been designed is the MP2800.

Understanding the differences between similar terms and specifications is critical. It’s very important that you understand what you need and what you’re buying before you buy it. We’ll cover more oft-confused terms in the next article. Until then, if you have any questions about computers, visit our forums by clicking the Forums link to your left.

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Copyright 2003 Jem Matzan. Verbatim copying and redistribution of this entire article are permitted without royalty in any medium provided this notice is preserved.

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