Workstations

Budget-Conscious Workstations (Cadalyst Labs Review)

1 Nov, 2008 By: Ron LaFon

Six 64-Bit Systems Deliver CAD power for less than $2,500.


Cadalyst presents its second workstation roundup of 2008, focusing on budget-conscious workstations for CAD. Little did we realize when we planned this comparative review earlier in the year just how relevant the topic would be at the time of publication. If tough times are falling on your workplace, we hope they are temporary. In the meantime, we offer the following options if a new workstation is a must but your budget is tight.

This month's workstation roundup represents some firsts for Cadalyst Labs and marks the beginning of some changes in how we will evaluate systems. This summer Cadalyst sent invitations to workstation vendors, announcing plans to evaluate economical 64-bit work-stations and, for the first time, test them under 64-bit versions of Microsoft Vista. Cadalyst received six work-stations from five vendors and put them through their paces.

Budget-Conscious Workstations Report Card
Budget-Conscious Workstations Report Card

Cadalyst Labs also is modifying its approach to reviewing workstations configured with overclocked processors. Details of this change are explained in the sidebar, "A Word — and an Update — about Overclocking." In the report card and the online feature table that accompany this article (www.cadalyst.com/1108workstation-table), we present all six budget-conscious workstations side-by-side, but note which models are overclocked.

A Word — and an Update — about Overclocking
A Word — and an Update — about Overclocking

Review Standards

When Cadalyst invited workstation developers to submit systems for this roundup, we requested systems priced at $2,500 or less, excluding monitors and speakers. The products we received range in price from $1,429 to $2,499.

Ultimately, vendors could configure submitted systems however they pleased, as long as they met the minimum requirements outlined in our roundup invitation. We requested systems with the fastest available single dual-core processor, whether Intel or AMD, and all vendors, at their option, submitted systems based on Intel Core 2 E8500 processors that are nominally rated at 3.16 GHz.

We required a 3D OpenGL graphics card with at least 64 MB of onboard RAM and supporting at least 1,280 x 1,024 resolution with 24/32-bit color. All submitted systems include NVIDIA graphics cards, ranging from the Quadro FX 570 to the faster but more expensive Quadro FX 3700. At our request, each system has a minimum 4 GB of system memory and at least 120 GB of total hard drive storage capacity, either in single or multiple drives. Submitted systems also had to have a CD-RW drive and a DVD-ROM drive, with combination drives being acceptable, as well as a network card and a wheel mouse.

Each system had to be preloaded with a 64-bit version of Vista with the latest service packs installed, though we did not specify the specific variant of the operating system. Performing accurate benchmark tests on Vista is difficult at best due to the extensive background processes that seem to be part and parcel of the operating system. I hope to refine the process as I conduct workstation reviews going forward.

After we decided to test with Vista, we had to choose whether to test with or without various components, such as the Aero interface. Ultimately, we opted in favor of performance and repeatability, turning off the Aero interface and Desktop Windows Manager (DWM) and running the systems from an account that had Administrator privileges. Although this is not an out-of-the-box Vista configuration, we believe most CAD and engineering users will be using this approach to maximize system performance. Indeed, some of the systems we received for evaluation were preconfigured in this manner.

Testing Procedures

For the past few months Cadalyst has been updating benchmark tests and procedures, and this roundup reflects some of those efforts. Many, if not most, CAD users have been feeling the limitations of the 3 GB of memory in 32-bit versions of Windows, so now seemed to be the time to move to 64-bit versions for testing. This capability gives applications access to greater stores of RAM and better memory management. Windows XP is no longer an available option on new workstations except as a downgrade, giving us yet another reason to move to 64-bit Vista for testing and evaluating hardware. All future Cadalyst Labs hardware testing will use 64-bit versions of Vista.

After I receive a workstation, I check it for the appropriate amount of RAM and specified hardware, then install the underlying application software and the benchmark tests. With this roundup, for the AutoCAD component of the tests, we moved to v5.1 of the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark running under AutoCAD 2009 with Service Pack 1. This new version of the Cadalyst benchmark test reflects the new 3D capabilities of AutoCAD and works with AutoCAD 2008 and later. (C2008 v5.0 is still available to test systems running older versions of AutoCAD.) If you want to test your own systems, download the benchmark from www.cadalyst.com/benchmark.

When interpreting the C2008 results, the C2008 total index score represents how many times faster a given workstation runs in comparison to a 1995 ALR Pentium Pro system. So if you see a C2008 total index score of 500, it really does mean that particular system is 500 times faster than the comparison system. Obviously, systems have become profoundly faster in the past 13 years!

OpenGL tests for AutoCAD are not an option on 64-bit Vista systems, so each set of three scores listed under the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark scores are as follows: The first number is the score with the native AutoCAD Direct3D driver, the second is the score with any accelerated AutoCAD driver available, and the final number is the sum of two concurrent sessions of AutoCAD 2009, with each running a separate copy of the C2008 benchmark. Cadalyst Labs uses this procedure to test multicore or multiprocessor systems given that AutoCAD is not optimized for multicore processors.

Because this procedure accomplishes approximately twice the amount of work in essentially the same amount of time required to run a single benchmark iteration, this workaround has been an effective means of evaluating multicore performance.

Next, I tested each workstation with Autodesk 3ds Max Design 2009 with Service Pack 1 installed. I ran into a problem with the new version of the SPECapc benchmark (www.spec.org) that works with 3ds Max Design 2009 under x64 Vista, so while that was being addressed I substituted the old standby MAXBench 4 benchmark, testing first with the native OpenGL drivers, the native Direct3D drivers, and finally with any available accelerated drivers.

NVIDIA has released performance drivers for the Quadro line of graphics cards for Windows XP and Vista. These drivers integrate the PowerDraft driver for AutoCAD and the MAXtreme driver for 3ds Max with the base Windows drivers. After installation, you'll be asked the first time you launch either application whether you want to install and use the associated performance. These drivers offer greatly improved performance for Quadro cards, and I use them whenever possible for testing.

For the final benchmark test, I ran the full SPECviewperf 10 benchmark suite and provide the results for each of the individual tests in the workstation details that follow as well as in the online feature table (www.cadalyst.com/1108workstation-table).

After performing all the benchmark tests, I then evaluated each workstation based benchmark results as well as several other criteria: meeting the minimum system configuration requirements, pricing, features, warranty, and documentation. Each factor is given a score on a scale of 1 to 10, and these scores are figured into the overall grade point average that determines the Cadalyst ratings. With this roundup, we've made the Cadalyst "Highly Recommended" rating a little more difficult to attain. For this and future reviews, any product with a final grade point average of 9.25 or higher will receive the Cadalyst "Highly Recommended" rating.

Cadalyst would like to thank Art Liddle for his work on the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark and Sean Kilbride of NVIDIA for his help with the SPECapc benchmark and all things pertaining to NVIDIA.

All the systems reviewed in this roundup are of consistently high quality, and all offer good expandability. You should be able to find a 64-bit Vista system that'll do the job without breaking the bank and that will serve you well in the coming years.

Xi MTower PCIe

@Xi Computer
800.432.0486
www.xicomputer.com
Price: $2,499


For this roundup, @Xi Computer submitted a version of its Xi MTower PCIe system based on an Intel Core 2 E8500 microprocessor. This processor has a native clock speed of 3.16 GHz but had been overclocked on this unit to 4.00 GHz. This clock rate is supported by the system's EVGA nFORCE 790i motherboard, which uses the NVIDIA 790i chipset and has a front-side bus speed of 1,600 MHz. Overclocking a processor in this way generates at lot of heat, so the MTower PCIe uses a beefy 700-W Cooler Master power supply with a liquid cooling mechanism. As one might expect, this combination produced high performance scores on the benchmark tests.

The MTower PCIe garnered an A+ grade for expandability.
The MTower PCIe garnered an A+ grade for expandability.

The Xi MTower PCIe system came with 4 GB of 1,333-MHz DDR3 RAM installed, out of a possible 8 GB when the board is fully populated, and included a Western Digital VelociRaptor SATA II 500-GB hard drive. A Lite-On 18 x 10 x 40 x 12 combination optical drive rounded out the system drives.

Housed in a compact black mid-size tower measuring 17.2" x 8" x 19.2" (H x W x D), the MTower PCIe was relatively quiet, thanks in part to the liquid cooling system. The system offered plenty of room for expansion, with a total of 10 drive bays, 10 USB 2.0 connectors, and 2 FireWire 1394 connectors, which, combined with the 700-W power supply, earned the Xi MTower PCIe an A+ grade for expandability. There are no USB or FireWire connectors on the front or top of the case; instead, two USB and one FireWire connections are rather oddly located at the bottom right of the front panel of the case, along with microphone and headset sockets.

Microsoft Vista Home Premium x64 with Service Pack 1 was preinstalled on the system, along with NVIDIA performance drivers v7.15.11.6996 (dated June 26, 2008) for the NVIDIA Quadro FX 3700 graphics card. The FX 3700 is a PCIe 2 graphics card with 512 MB of integrated DDR3 RAM on board — a speedy but relatively high-cost addition to a budget-minded system.

I put the Xi MTower PCIe system through its paces, starting with the new version of the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark running under the 64-bit version of AutoCAD 2009. With AutoCAD's native Direct3D drivers, the MTower PCIe produced C2008 total index score of 342. Using the NVIDIA Performance driver for AutoCAD, the system scored an even 500, the highest AutoCAD performance score to date. Also using the performance drivers, I then ran two concurrent sessions of AutoCAD, with each running a separate version of the C2008 benchmark. The combined C2008 total index score for the concurrent sessions was 765, completing in only 18 minutes.

Next up was the MAXBench 4 benchmark using the 64-bit version of Autodesk 3ds Max Design 2009. With 3ds Max's native OpenGL drivers, the MTower PCIe produced a combined average high/low score of 74.46. With 3ds Max's native Direct3D drivers, the combined average of the high/low scores was 120.32. Finally, the NVIDIA performance driver (MAXtreme) produced an averaged high/low score of 183.18.

For the final benchmark, I ran the full 64-bit version of SPECviewperf 10, which produced the following scores: 39.15 for 3dsmax-04, 50.08 for catia-02, 42.15 for ensight-03, 165.47 for maya-02, 47.62 for proe-04, 99.60 for sw-01, 25.69 for tcvis-01, and 27.53 for ugnx-01.

The Xi MTower PCIe system as configured is priced at $2,499 and comes with a three-year warranty for parts and labor, with one year of on-site service. Highly Recommended.



ThinkStation S10

Lenovo
866.968.4465
www.lenovo.com
Price: $1,896


The Lenovo ThinkStation S10 is a sleek, compact, solid, and very quiet workstation that also is very well engineered. Lenovo S10 models are single-processor systems, with the D10 systems providing a second processor socket. The ThinkStation S10 Cadalyst received was based on a 3.16-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 processor mounted in a custom Lenovo motherboard. The motherboard used the Intel X38 Express ICH9R chipset and features a front-side bus speed of 1,333 MHz.

Priced at less than $2,000, the Lenovo ThinkStation S10 comes with a three-year warranty for parts and labor.
Priced at less than $2,000, the Lenovo ThinkStation S10 comes with a three-year warranty for parts and labor.

The Lenovo S10 came with 4 GB of PC3-8500 1,067-MHz ECC DDR3 RAM installed, but it can accommodate 8 GB when fully populated. It also included two Hitachi 250-GB SATA hard drives. A standard combination optical drive was included in the configuration — Lenovo uses several vendors for its optical drives.

Housed in a very black 16.8" x 6.9" x 19.0" (H x W x D) case with a built-in handle on the top front, the Lenovo S10 is well-crafted and beautifully engineered with lots of attention to detail. The fittings are excellent and the system is compact but substantial and unlikely to tip over. It's also remarkably quiet — some noise emits from the optical drive when it's active, but otherwise the system is nearly silent. A beefy 650-W Delta Electronics power supply combines with nine drive bays, 10 USB 2.0 connectors (2 in front), and a FireWire 1394 connector to offer plenty of room for expansion, earning the Lenovo S10 an A+ grade in this category.

The 64-bit version of Microsoft Vista Business with Service Pack 1 was preinstalled on the Lenovo S10, as were NVIDIA performance drivers v7.15.11.6996 (dated May 26, 2008) to drive the NVIDIA Quadro FX 1700 graphics card. The FX 1700 features 512 MB of integrated RAM and is a good mid-range graphics card — not the fastest card in the NVIDIA lineup but a good performer at a reasonable price and a good choice for a budget-minded system.

The first test was the Cadalyst C2008 v5.1 benchmark running under the 64-bit version of AutoCAD 2009. The first of the three segments of this benchmark test ran with the native AutoCAD Direct3D drivers, and the S10 produced a C2008 total index score of 232. Using the NVIDIA performance driver for AutoCAD 2009, the C2008 total index score jumped to 340. Finally, I ran two concurrent side-by-side sessions of AutoCAD 2009 with each running a separate version of the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark. The Lenovo S10 produced a combined C2008 score of 471 in 27 minutes.

The next task for the Lenovo S10 was the MAXBench 4 benchmark running under the 64-bit version of Autodesk 3ds Max Design 2009. With 3ds Max's native OpenGL drivers, the system produced an averaged high/low score of 53.09. With 3ds Max Design 2009's native Direct3D drivers, the combined average high/low score was 74.99. With the NVIDIA accelerated drivers (MAXtreme), the test produced a combined high/low score of 113.92.

Then I ran the full 64-bit version of SPECviewperf 10 at a resolution of 1,280 x 1,024, producing these scores: 36.26 for 3dsmax-04, 42.70 for catia-02, 27.36 for ensight-03, 104.98 for maya-02, 40.11 for proe-04, 64.55 for sw-01, 17.37 for tcvis-01, and 18.60 for ugnx-01.

Priced at $1,896, this Lenovo S10 is one of the two 64-bit workstations in this roundup priced at less than $2,000. Warranty coverage for the system is three years for parts and labor with limited on-site service coverage.

PolyStation P4500A

Polywell Computers
800.900.583
www.polywell.com
Price: $2,499


Polywell Computers produces a broad range of systems, from desktop PCs to RISC-based workstations and cluster servers for various uses. Polywell also makes CAD workstations such as the PolyStation P4500A, which it submitted for this review. The PolyStation P4500A Cadalyst received was based on an Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 dual-core processor, running at its native 3.16 GHz. The processor was mounted on an ASUS P5Q motherboard that uses the Intel P45 Express chipset and features a front-side bus speed of 1,333 MHz. This particular model is not overclocked; for those who want this capability, Polywell offers the PolyStation X4800.

The PolyStation P4500A packs a lot into its compact 18.2" x 8" x 19.3" case.
The PolyStation P4500A packs a lot into its compact 18.2" x 8" x 19.3" case.

As requested, the PolyStation P4500A arrived with 4 GB of 1,066-MHz DDR2 RAM installed, out of a possible 16 GB when fully populated. Two 300-GB Western Digital SATA-II 10,000-rpm hard drives were included in the system, as well as a Lite-On 20X optical drive.

The PolyStation P4500A is housed in a compact 18.2" x 8" x 19.3" case that features a large ventilation fan on a removable side panel. The case features an access panel at the top front of the system, with a cover that flips up to provide access to two USB 2.x connectors, an e-SATA connector, and headphone and microphone jacks, in addition to the power switch and the reset button. The system was generally quiet, with the primary noise coming from the optical drive when it was actively reading an optical disk. The PolyStation P4500A earned an A+ grade for expandability, with its 10 drive bays, 6 USB 2.x connectors, a FireWire connector, and an e-SATA connector. The system includes a moderately beefy SPI 600-W power supply to drive expansion.

Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate x64 with Service Pack 1 was preinstalled on the system, as were NVIDIA drivers 7.15.11.6996 (dated May 26, 2008) for the NVIDIA Quadro FX 3700 that provided speedy graphics. The FX 3700 is a PCIe2 graphics card that features 512 MB of integrated DDR3. Windows Vista Ultimate and the Quadro FX 3700 are pricey choices for an economical workstation, but the system as configured squeezed in just below our $2,500 price limit.

I launched into testing the PolyStation P4500A using v5.1 of the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark running under the 64-bit version of AutoCAD 2009. With AutoCAD's native Direct3D drivers, the system produced a C2008 total index score of 285. When I switched to the NVIDIA Performance drivers for AutoCAD, the C2008 total index score jumped to 422. Lastly, I ran concurrent sessions of AutoCAD 2009 x64 with separate copies of the Cadalyst C2008 bench-mark, producing a combined total index score of 653 in 27 minutes.

Next came the MAXBench 4 benchmark running under the 64-bit version of Autodesk 3ds Max Design 2009. First, I used 3ds Max's native OpenGL drivers and generated an averaged high/low score of 62.52. I switched to 3ds Max's native Direct3D drivers, and the averaged high/low score was boosted to 99.95. Finally, I ran MAXBench 4 with the NVIDIA performance drivers for 3ds Max Design 2009, which produced an averaged high/low score of 150.27.

The last test for the PolyStation P4500A was the full 64-bit version of the SPECviewperf 10 benchmark, which produced the following scores: 37.61 for 3dsmax-04, 46.94 for catia-02, 41.15 for ensight-03, 150.88 for maya-02, 46.12 for proe-04, 93.23 for sw-01, 25.31 for tcvis-01, and 27.53 for ugnx-01.

The Polywell PolyStation P4500A as configured for this review was priced at $2,499, which included a five-year warranty on parts, a three-year limited warranty on labor. On-site service is optional. The PolyStation P4500A is a fast, well-designed 64-bit workstation. Highly Recommended.



SYS DesignPro QN6200

SYS Technology
888.797.7248
www.sys.com
Price: $2,279


The SYS DesignPro QN6200 is the first of two 64-bit workstations that SYS Technologies submitted for this roundup. The QN6200 is based on the Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 processor running at 3.16 GHz — a popular dual-core choice for the CAD workstations in this roundup. The processor is mounted in a GIGABYTE GA-X48-DS4 motherboard that uses the Intel X48/ICH9R chipset and features a front-side bus speed of 1,333 MHz. The DesignPro QN6200 includes 4 GB of 1,066-MHz DDR2 RAM out of 8 GB possible.

Drives included a 300-GB VelociRaptor 10,000-rpm SATA2 hard disk and two optical drives: an LG DVD R/W drive and a Sony CD-RW/DVD combination drive. A Mitsumi FA404 series internal USB 2.0 flash media and floppy drive completed the drive configuration for the DesignPro QN6200. A Logitech MX400 Performance Laser Mouse was included.

The mid-size case for the DesignPro QN6200 measures 21.3" x 8.1" x 19.9" (H x W x D) with a thin, lockable drive-bay door that swung open for access to the externally accessible drives. Roughly halfway down the right front of the case are two USB 2.x connectors, a FireWire connector, and the power and reset buttons. A substantial 750-W Thermaltake power supply provides enough power for future expansion. The system was relatively quiet, with the predominate noise emitting when the optical drives are actively reading a disc.

The SYS DesignPro QN6200 had 11 drive bays, 10 USB 2.x ports (2 in front), and 3 FireWire IEEE 1394a ports (one in front). Along with the 750-W power supply, this earned the system an A+ grade for expandability.

The system arrived installed with Microsoft Vista Business x64 with Service Pack 1 and the NVIDIA graphic drivers v7.15.11.6919 (dated November 30, 2007) for the installed NVIDIA Quadro FX 1700 graphics card. The FX 1700 had 512 MB of integrated DDR2 memory and offered good mid-range performance at a moderate price.

I ran the full benchmark suite on the DesignPro QN6200, starting with v5.1 of the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark running under the 64-bit version of AutoCAD 2009. With AutoCAD's native Direct3D drivers, the system produced a C2008 total index score of 202. Running the NVIDIA accelerated driver for AutoCAD 2009, the C2008 total index score was 309. Finally, I ran two concurrent sessions of AutoCAD 2009, with each running a separate copy of the C2008 benchmark. The combined C2008 total index score for these sessions was 453 with a completion time of 28 minutes.

Next came MAXBench 4 running under the 64-bit version of Autodesk 3ds Max Design 2009 — first with the native OpenGL drivers, which produced an averaged high/low score of 53.32 and then with the native Direct3D drivers, which generated a score of 71.96. At the time of testing, I was unable to obtain NVIDIA accelerated drivers for the x64 versions of Autodesk 3ds Max Design 2009, so there are no test results in that category.

Last, I ran the full 64-bit version of the SPECviewperf 10 benchmark, which produced the following scores: 21.97 for 3dsmax-04, 39.06 for catia-02, 26.36 for ensight-03, 105.30 for maya-02, 38.06 proe-04, 61.66 for sw-01, 17.37 for tcvis-01, and 18.60 for ugnx-01.

The SYS Technology DesignPro QN6200, as configured for this review, was priced at $2,279, which includes a one-year warranty for parts, labor, and on-site service.

SYS Performance Pi720

SYS Technology
888.797.7248
www.sys.com
Price: $1,429


The second workstation from SYS Technology is the SYS Performance Pi720, a compact, no-frills system also based on an Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 dual-core microprocessor running at 3.16 GHz. The Performance Pi720 Cadalyst received had the processor mounted in a GIGABYTE GA-P35-DS3P motherboard that used the Intel P35 & ICH9R chipset and supported a front-side bus speed of 1,333 MHz.

At $1,429, the SYS Performance Pi720 is the least-expensive workstation in this roundup, but do not let its price tag fool you.
At $1,429, the SYS Performance Pi720 is the least-expensive workstation in this roundup, but do not let its price tag fool you.

What is immediately striking about the SYS Performance Pi720 is its price, a remarkably low $1,429. This system is easily the least expensive workstation in this roundup, earning an A+ grade in the Pricing category.

The SYS Performance Pi720 came with 4 GB of 1,066-MHz DDR2 RAM installed, although it can accommodate a maximum of 8 GB. The drive inventory for the system included a Western Digital 500-GB Caviar 7,200-rpm SATA2 hard disk, an LG DVD R/W drive, a Sony CD RW/DVD combination drive, and a Mitsumi FA404 series internal USB 2.0 flash media and floppy drive combination.

The Performance Pi720 case is remarkably compact, measuring 16.7" x 8.1" x 18.2" (H x W x D) and offering a moderate amount of room for expansion. This configuration included a 550-W Antec power supply and a total of eight drive bays: six USB 2.0 ports (two in front) and two FireWire IEEE 1394 connectors (one in front). The case is finished in high-gloss black with a matte silver front panel and trim. At the bottom right of the front panel, just below the power switch and reset button, are two USB 2.x ports, a FireWire port, and microphone and headset jacks. The system was very quiet overall, with the only significant noise coming from the optical drive when reading a disc.

Vista Business x64 with Service Pack 1 was preinstalled on the system, as were NVIDIA drivers v7.15.11.6255 (dated August 4, 2007) to support the NVIDIA Quadro FX 570 graphics card. The FX 570 is a relatively low-cost option in the Quadro family that provides good performance in situations that don't require the utmost in graphics performance.

Needless to say, I was very interested to see how such a low-cost system would perform on the benchmark tests. Quite well, I soon learned. First, I ran the new version of the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark under the 64-bit version of AutoCAD 2009. With the native Direct3D drivers in AutoCAD 2009, the Pi720 produced a C2008 total index score of 206. Using the NVIDIA Performance driver produced a C2008 total index score of 287. For the final tests with AutoCAD 2009 x64, I ran two concurrent sessions of AutoCAD with each running a separate copy of the C2008 benchmark. The combined C2008 total index score was 392, completing in 32 minutes.

Next I ran the MAXBench 4 benchmark under the 64-bit version of Autodesk 3ds Max Design 2009. With 3ds Max's native OpenGL drivers, the P9720 produced an averaged high/low score of 50.07. Switching to its native Direct3D drivers yielded an averaged high/low score of 65.13. As with the SYS DesignPro QN6200 in this roundup, at the time of testing I were unable to obtain NVIDIA accelerated drivers for the x64 versions of Autodesk 3ds Design 2009, so only two scores appear in this section.

The final benchmark was the 64-bit version of the SPECviewperf 10 benchmark, which produced the following scores: 16.86 for 3dsmax-04, 38.31 for catia-02, 21.86 for ensight-03, 62.87 for maya-02, 30.31 for proe-04, 45.08 for sw-01, 8.91 for tcvis-01, and 8.72 for ugnx-01.

The SYS Pi720 comes with a one-year warranty on parts, labor, and on-site service. There's much to like about this system, which delivers 64-bit workstation power in a compact package for a very attractive, budget-friendly price.

ProMagix W160 High Performance Workstation PC

Velocity Micro
800.303.7866
www.velocitymicro.com
Price: $2,399


For this roundup, Velocity Micro submitted its ProMagix W160 High Performance Workstation PC. The W160 is built around an ASUS P5N-D motherboard with an Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 dual-core processor. The E8500 chip is nominally rated at 3.16 GHz, but in this instance Velocity Micro had overclocked it to 3.8 GHz. The ASUS motherboard used the NVIDIA 750i chipset and featured a front-side bus speed of 1,333 MHz.

Velocity Micro s ProMagix W160 sports a clear window to show off the blue lights that illuminate internal components.
Velocity Micro s ProMagix W160 sports a clear window to show off the blue lights that illuminate internal components.

The ProMagix W160 included 4 GB of Corsair XMS2 DDR2-800 RAM, although the system can handle 8 GB when fully loaded. The W160 included two hard drives — a Western Digital Raptor 10,000-rpm SATA 150-GB drive and a Hitachi 7,200-rpm 250-GB SATA drive. A Lite-On combination DVD/CD drive and a 52-in-1 media reader completed the drive inventory.

Velocity Micro's ProMagix W160 was housed in a 17.75" x 8.27" x 19.25" (H x W x D) brushed metal case with a large, clear window on the removable side panel, no doubt to show off the numerous blue lights shining on the internal components of the system.

The system had a total of six USB 2.0 ports — four in the rear and two in front — and a single FireWire connector, also in the front. It had a 550-W power supply and a total of seven drive bays — four of which were externally accessible.

This workstation was not the quietest I've heard. It produced moderate noise from the optical drive and cooling fans and a fair amount of noise from the hard drives.

The 64-bit version of Windows Vista Home Premium with Service Pack 1 was installed in the system, along with NVIDIA drivers v7.15.11.7604 (dated June 20, 2008) to drive the NVIDIA Quadro FX 3700 graphics card included in this configuration. The Quadro FX 3700 had 512 MB of onboard GDDR3 RAM and was a speedy, though somewhat expensive, choice for a budget system. The Quadro FX 3700 is a PCIe 2 graphics card that supports both DirectX 9 and DirectX 10 under Vista.

I ran the ProMagix W160 through the benchmark paces, starting with v5.1 of the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark running under the 64-bit version of AutoCAD 2009 with Service Pack 1 installed. With AutoCAD 2009's native Direct3D drivers, the W160 produced a C2008 total index score of 296. I switched to the accelerated NVIDIA drivers for AutoCAD 2009 and ran the benchmark several times, with the best performance yielding a C2008 total index score of 413. My final tests with AutoCAD 2009 x64 were with two concurrent sessions of AutoCAD, each running a separate copy of the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark and both using the NVIDIA accelerated driver. The combined total index score was 619, completing in 21 minutes.

Using the 64-bit version of Autodesk 3ds Max Design 2009, I ran the MAXBench 4 benchmark in three different configurations. With 3ds Max's native OpenGL driver, the ProMagix W160 generated a combined averaged high/low score of 70.66. With 3ds Max's native Direct3D driver, the combined averaged high/low score was 103.48. With the Direct3D version of the NVIDIA accelerated driver, the averaged high/low score was 162.49.

The last benchmark was the complete 64-bit version of SPECviewperf 10, which produced the following scores: 42.39 for 3dsmax-04, 63.69 for catia-02, 47.29 for ensight-03, 185.45 for maya-02, 57.65 for proe-04, 97.1 for sw-01, 25.23 for tcvis-01, and 27.50 for ugnx-01.

The price for this Velocity Micro ProMagix W160 is $2,399, which includes a two-year warranty on standard parts and labor, business-hours support, and depot repair service. Highly Recommended.




About the Author: Ron LaFon


AutoCAD Tips!

Lynn Allen

Autodesk Technical Evangelist Lynn Allen guides you through a different AutoCAD feature in every edition of her popular "Circles and Lines" tutorial series. For even more AutoCAD how-to, check out Lynn's quick tips in the Cadalyst Video Gallery. Subscribe to Cadalyst's free Tips & Tools Weekly e-newsletter and we'll notify you every time a new video tip is published. All exclusively from Cadalyst!
Follow Lynn on Twitter Follow Lynn on Twitter


Poll
At your company, who has the most say in CAD-related software purchasing?
CAD manager
CAD users
IT personnel
vice-president/department manager
CEO/company owner
Submit Vote