Workstations

Digital Storm Slade PRO

10 Apr, 2014 By: Art Liddle

First Look Review: Attention to detail is evident in the design and construction of this high-end workstation.


Highly RecommendedThis review is Cadalyst Labs' first look at a workstation from Digital Storm. The company, founded in 2002, is based in Fremont, California, just a few miles from the heart of Silicon Valley. The company's website touts the stability and up-to-date technology of its products — two key features to look for in any new workstation. As you will read, we found that Digital Storm delivers on both promises.

Upon opening the shipping box of the Digital Storm Slade PRO, we were immediately struck by the interesting method of securing the workstation: a thin-film membrane stretched between the sides of the box, supporting the system from above and below. This flexible, yet sturdy material carefully cradles the merchandise, mitigating the bumps and shocks of the shipping process. This fine attention to detail was evident not just in the packaging, but in every aspect of the workstation itself.

Digital_Storm_Slade_Pro.png" ALT="Digital Storm's Slade PRO workstation performed well on Cadalyst's benchmark test and includes an excellent warranty.
Digital Storm's Slade PRO workstation performed well on Cadalyst's benchmark test and includes an excellent warranty.

System Features

Digital Storm built the Slade PRO around an ASUS Sabertooth 79 motherboard (P9X79 PRO), powered by an Intel 3.4-GHz i7 4930K processor (six cores, twelve threads). Paired with Intel's Turbo Boost 2.0 automatic overclocking technology, the CPU's clock speed ramps up to a maximum 4.4 GHz, based on system demand, the number of active cores, current power consumption, and its internal temperature. After assembly, Digital Storm performs a 72-hour stress test on each workstation to verify that everything works as it should.

A Corsair H100 sealed liquid-cooling system (complete with radiator) keeps the CPU operating at acceptable temperatures. This is augmented with a total of five 4-3/4" system fans located in strategic locations in the case. In addition, the graphics card, power supply, and motherboard each have integrated fans. The front vents are angled for noise reduction and the ventilation screens include magnetic dust filters that you can easily remove and wash. The system runs cool and considering all the fans, it's surprisingly quiet.

The motherboard has eight dual-channel DIMM sockets (supporting a maximum of 64 GB of system memory), four of which are filled with 8-GB DDR3 1,866-MHz Corsair high-performance DIMMs, each topped with an aluminum heat spreader. There are six PCI expansion slots: two PCIe 3.0/2.0 x 16 (x16), one PCIe 3.0/2.0 x 16 (x8), two PCIe 2.0 x 1, and one standard PCI. A single slot is filled with an NVIDIA Quadro K2000 graphics card. This midrange option is the updated version of NVIDIA's venerable Quadro 2000. It is loaded with 2 GB of GDDR5 memory, and provides one dual-link DVI-I port and two DisplayPort 1.2 connections, supporting as many as four monitors simultaneously (using daisy-chain connections) with a maximum resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 at 60 Hz with 30-bit color.

Digital Storm Slade PROThe stylish, matte black, stamped-steel and aluminum case, measuring 8.6" x 19.5" x 20.9" (WxHxD), includes a removable, dual-swing door that provides access to four external drive bays. Two of these are filled with a DVD+RW/DL+/-R/CD-RW 24x optical drive and an all-in-one digital media card reader. There are an additional six tool-free internal bays, two of which are filled with a 240-GB solid-state drive (Corsair Neutron GTX) and a 1-TB Western Digital Caviar hard drive (7,200 rpm). With all of this expansion room, the Corsair RM850 power supply (850 W, with zero-rpm fan mode) provides peace of mind with power to spare.

Opening the case is a snap; a single button releases the side panels for quick access. Inside, the first thing we noticed is the lack of wires running everywhere. All cables are hidden behind a false panel, emerging through rubber sleeves where required. Sound-damping material is applied to all surfaces where practical, including covers for unused ventilation areas. You can open vents as required when adding components.

 

The front face of the Slade PRO incorporates two USB 3.0 ports, microphone and headphone jacks, and the power and reset switches. The rear of the case hosts more ports than you could ever need: ten USB 3.0 ports, two eSATA ports, one Gigabit Ethernet port, six assorted audio jacks, one optical S/PDIF audio-out connector, one IEEE 1394 (FireWire) interface, and one USB BIOS Flash port.

Performance

To gauge system performance, we used the Cadalyst c2012 benchmark running AutoCAD 2014, and SPECviewperf 11. (We also ran our benchmark with AutoCAD 2012 to permit an apples-to-apples comparison with previous test scores.) Per our standards, we enabled hardware acceleration for AutoCAD, turned off the graphics card's vertical sync, and set the screen resolution to 1,280 x 1,024 (32-bit color). We ran all tests on Microsoft's Windows 7 Professional 64-bit operating system.

The Slade PRO workstation's Cadalyst benchmark scores for AutoCAD 2014 (with AutoCAD 2012 shown in parentheses) were as follows: total index of 576 (592), 3D graphics index of 1,260 (1,257), 2D graphics index of 446 (491), disk index of 254 (266), and CPU index of 342 (354). That total index score of 592 for AutoCAD 2012 has only been topped by one other workstation reviewed by Cadalyst Labs — a system with a 4.6-GHz overclocked CPU and an intelligently cached solid-state drive scored a 614.

The test results for the SPECviewperf 11 suite of tests, single-sample mode only, were even more impressive. Six of the marks (shown in bold) represent all-time top scores here at Cadalyst Labs, with the other two ranking a very close second: 46.02 for catia-03, 29.39 for ensight-04, 98.02 for lightwave-01, 86.91 for maya-03, 19.34 for proe-05, 62.06 for sw-02, 38.94 for tcvis-02, and 34.57 for snx-01.

We did our own 72-hour stress test on the Slade PRO, mainly to see if the system's maximum performance is affected by running at full throttle for such an extended run. We discovered that the c2012 total index score for a 72-hour run was only 0.3% slower than a single run.

Putting It All Together

The Slade PRO, which is Digital Storm's entry-level workstation, has a base price of $1,881. The configuration reviewed here carries a price of $3,517 and includes Digital Storm's Lifetime Expert Customer Care with three-year limited warranty. This covers all parts for one year, labor for three years, and phone support for life. In addition, the power supply carries a three-year warranty and system memory is warranted for life. Considering its excellent performance, amazing expansion capacity, and obvious attention to engineering detail, the Digital Storm Slade PRO is a worthy choice for anyone in the market for a new CAD workstation. Highly Recommended.


About the Author: Art Liddle


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