Raptor Engineering has introduced a cost-reduced, single-CPU version of the Talos II Secure Workstation. The Talos II series of computers are powered by IBM’s POWER9 CPUs, the first POWER-based workstation since the discontinuation of IBM’s IntelliStation line in January 2009. In addition to utilizing a non-Intel processor, the Talos mainboard features completely blob-free firmware, making it completely customizable and possible to secure by the end user.

The Talos II Lite Bare Chassis kit includes a mainboard, EATX chassis with 500W ATX power supply, a heatsink/fan assembly, and a recovery DVD. By default, the board is equipped with:

  • 8 DDR4 ECC RAM slots
  • 1 PCIe 4.0 x16 slots
  • 1 PCIe 4.0 x8 slots
  • 2 Broadcom Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • 4 USB 3.0 ports (two external, two on an internal header)
  • 1 USB 2.0 port
  • 2 RS-232 ports (one external, one internal header)
  • 1 ASpeed BMC with OpenBMC
  • 1 VGA video port

This kit costs $1399, with processors sold separately. Four options are available: 4-core for $375, 8-core for $595, 18-core for $1375, and 22-core for $2575. For mass storage needs, a proprietary Microsemi SAS 3.0 controller can be added onboard for an additional $300, though Raptor recommends the use of NVMe-connected SSDs for desktop use. Raptor Engineering’s Timothy Pearson indicated in a forum post on Phoronix that a bare mainboard version (sans case and PSU) is launching “in the next couple of weeks” for users who wish to use their own case.

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For comparison, the dual-socket Talos II Secure Workstation starts at $4925, which includes a single 4-core CPU, as well as redundant 1400W power supplies. The Talos II Lite offers significant savings for people who have a use for POWER, but don’t need as much power as the dual-socket version provides, bringing it more in line with the price points of Xeon-powered performance desktops. The Talos II Lite is expected to ship in July 2018.

What is the benefit of using POWER processors?

In contrast to the 1980s and 1990s, which had a diverse field of processor architectures, the current landscape of computing consists primarily of Intel/AMD (x86-64) for laptop, workstation, and servers. ARM is the incumbent in mobile devices, and has found a new use case particularly in microservers, such as Cavium’s ThunderX2, which is positioned as a high performance, power-efficient ARM server. Similarly, Microsoft and Qualcomm are collaborating on ARM-powered, LTE-capable Windows notebooks, and Apple is reportedly planning to transition the Mac to ARM by 2020.

Similarly, issues like Meltdown and Spectre, as well as a high-profile vulnerability in Intel AMT–which allowed hackers to take control of computers even as they were powered off–make the prospect of a system with open, auditable firmware more compelling.

The big takeaways for tech leaders:

  • Talos is offering a single-CPU version of their Talos 2 POWER9 desktop system.
  • With an entry level, quad-core CPU, the bundle is $1775, which is $3150 cheaper than the dual-CPU version introduced last year.

Disclosure: James Sanders is an associate member of the OpenPOWER Foundation.