[R] optimal windows R machine

Tim Churches tchur at optushome.com.au
Thu Oct 18 00:24:30 CEST 2001

Mark Myatt wrote:
> Bob Porter <rjporter at mindspring.com> writes:
> >I have the happy task of purchasing a new windows desktop PC.  I have a
> >limited but not unreasonable budget and access to discounts and so forth.
> > What would be folks' suggestions of priorities and requirements be if I
> >will
> > use the machine for a lot of C and R based data analysis with large files,
> > computationally intensive, a lot of graphic display but not 3D animation.
> >I
> >am proposing 1GB AMD processor,  1 GB RAM, 40GB drive, hi-speed CDRW, 64MEG
> >video, Win  XP home edition.  Thoughts?  I will upgrade software also:
> >Suggestions of C compiler package? Other "must have" packages compatible
> >with R?
> With the processor and memory thing should fly along. The video is a bit
> over specified as most 64MB cards will be optimised for 3D graphics at
> high colour depths. It will work OK but you might be better off going
> for a cheaper graphics card and spending the savings on a better quality
> monitor / keyboard / mouse. I have no experience with Windows XP. I
> would consider one of the Linux distributions with a small and light
> windows manager as I imagine XP will be quite an overhead.

R keeps all its data in memory. Pentium 4 processors combined with RDRAM
memory provides a much higher CPU-to-memory bandwidth than any other
CPU/memory combination - at least twice as fast as any AMD/DDR memory
configuration, although the latency of the Pentium 4 memory access is
higher. What does this mean? If your work involves iterative access to
large R data objects (large meaning many tens or hundreds of megabytes),
then a Pentium 4 with RDRAM offers some theoretical advantages. I
haven't done any benchmarking with R, but this seems to apply to large
Numerical Python arrays (held in memory like R data). Computationally
(as opposed to memory access), a 1.8 GHz Pentium 4 seems to be on par
with a 1.4 GHz AMD. The 2 GHz Pentium 4 probably takes the cake for
outright speed at the moment, at quite a price premium. So my
recommendation is, if you can afford it, a 1.8 GHz Pentium 4 with 1
gigabyte of RDRAM memory. Note that none of this applies to Pentium 4
machines which use cheaper SDRAM memory - most of the memory bandwidth
advantage is lost when using SDRAM. 

Having said all this, you really need to be doing a lot of iterative
processing of large data objects for any of this to matter. Otherwise,
save your pennies and go for what you have described.

And why not set up you machine to at least dual boot into Linux as an
alternative to Windows XP? 

Tim Churches
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