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Will Mindcraft II Be Better?

Apr 27, 1999, 23:56 (56 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Dave Whitinger)

By Dave Whitinger and Dwight Johnson

The Mindcraft affair is riddled with suspicious details: NT versus Linux performance test sponsored by Microsoft and run from a Microsoft lab in Redmond, Linux community members not allowed to contribute, and so on.

While the press has been skeptical to accept these tests as accurate, now Mindcraft is conducting a re-test. They apparently hope to gain more credibility by testing this time around with the assistance of leading members from the Linux community. Linus Torvalds, Alan Cox and Jeremy Allison, among others, have all been solicited by Mindcraft.

But Linus Torvalds told Linux Today that nobody in the Linux community is really working on the Mindcraft test per se, because Mindcraft hasn't allowed them access to the test site.

Quite frankly nobody in the Linux community is really working on the mindcraft thing per se -- because mindcraft doesn't allow us access to the test site. So there's really little point. -- Linus Torvalds
Linus concedes that they have given Mindcraft some hints about different things to try, but the opaqueness of what they are testing basically means that it's not worth their time to try to second guess what the problem is.

Linus told Linux Today that his impression was that "Mindcraft" is really only one person (maybe two), and that they don't even have a testing laboratory: everything points to the fact that Mindcraft ran the test at the Microsoft performance lab.

All the e-mails from Mindcraft people (Bruce Weiner and an e-mail alias that goes by the name of "will", who seems to be just another account of Bruce Weiner's) have IP addresses inside of Microsoft. If you look up the original newgroup posting that they refer to in the original test paper, you find that it was posted through a site with IP address 131.107.3.71. If you actually look up that address, you see that it is "tide71.microsoft.com".

Linus suggests, if you've been in e-mail contact with Mindcraft, just for fun look into the extended header information in the e-mails.

Jeremy Allison, also contacted by Mindcraft, provides Linux Today readers additional insights:

Mindcraft was contacted by a journalist after their original white paper. The journalist, who has interviewed Linus in the past, suggested to Mindcraft that they contact Linus for tuning advice. They did so, and Linus pulled Alan Cox, Dave Miller on the kernel side, myself on the Samba side (and I pulled Andrew in) and someone on the Apache side (sorry, not sure who) into the e-mail discussions in order to help.

One of our early concerns was that one of us would be present on site to help advise on the Linux box and to be a Linux community representative in the tests.

Mindcraft was unable to allow this, claiming "other tests under NDA" in their lab prohibited others being on site.

I personally believe (NOTE: *My opinion only* !) that this is because the lab Mindcraft is using is actually situated on the Microsoft campus, in which case I can well believe there are NDA issues with a Linux representitive being there.

(Evidence to support this supposition is located here. -lt ed)

We tried to advise Mindcraft as best as we could under the circumstances (via e-mail and phone calls) how to get the best performance on their machine using Samba and Linux.

Unfortunately, Mindcraft was not able to get credible results on their re-test. Note, I'm defining credible here as "within the same range as the numbers obtained by PC Week, which are close to numbers otained in a benchmark run on an SGI Intel-cpu Linux server in my lab here at SGI" (see this story for the numbers obtained by PC Week using Samba and Linux 2.2).

The PC Week numbers were run in their magazine lab, and I obviously believe my own numbers :-). As an example, I can say that running NT on the same SGI Intel-cpu hardware that we ran Linux on, and applying the same tuning to NT that Mindcraft did, we get nearly identical results from the NT server to the ones published by Mindcraft.

The essense of scientific testing is *repeatability* of the experiment, and I can confirm that we have reproduced Mindcraft's NT server numbers here in our lab. It is a shame that they cannot reproduce the PC Week Linux numbers in theirs.

Without access to the machine there is no way to know exactly why Mindcraft is getting lower results, and there the re-run sits at the moment.

I'm sure if Mindcraft can re-run their benchmark in an open lab setting allowing full access by the Linux people involved then I think we will have a much fairer result.

Note that this doesn't mean Linux will neccessarily win, (it doesn't when serving Win95 clients here in my lab, although it does when serving NT clients), but that we will have a fairer comparison.

It seems very unlikely from all of this that the Mindcraft re-test will be any more credible than the last.

Update (May 4th): Mindcraft has published a rebuttal to this article.